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East St. Louis Grandmother Hands Down Legacy Of Art And Activism

Eugenia Alexander, left, and Edna Patterson-Petty
Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting, the saying goes. And in the case of East St. Louis’ Edna Patterson-Petty and her granddaughter Eugenia Alexander, the frosting is artistically done.

Road to Redemption by Edna Patterson-Petty
Credit Provided by the artist
Road to Redemption by Edna Patterson-Petty

Patterson-Petty is a fiber artist and art therapist.Alexander grew up enamored by her grandmother’s work, which includes an art quilt made for President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

Alexander is 24, and a painter. She created a piece called “Justice” for the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” art exhibition that responds to the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. She painted it to express her feeling that everyone should be held accountable.

“Justice needs to be served and it needs to be equal, no matter if the person is black or white, no matter where they come from,” Alexander said.

Stopped In Her Tracks

When dance professional Sara Burke saw Alexander’s “Justice” at the Lois Ingram Gallery, she knew she had to buy it.

“It stopped me in my tracks,” Burke said. “Injustice makes my blood boil so when I saw this incredible work that just says ‘justice,’ it was hopeful and yet, a call to arms, in a way.”

Not only does the work have a powerful message, it’s also beautiful, Burke said.

“The way in which she painted the letters is almost like figures dancing, and then the background is like almost a classic African struggle with those surges of orange and green,” Burke said.

Justice by Eugenia Alexander
Credit Provided by the artist
Justice by Alexander

Then Burke found out the artist was the granddaughter of Edna Patterson-Petty, someone she’d long looked up to.

“I’ve always been a fan of Edna’s. Her quilts spoke to me on so many levels,” Burke said.

Patterson-Petty and Alexander are planning a joint project and duel exhibition, perhaps in the spring. Patterson-Perry can’t think of anyone she’d rather collaborate with because of their warm relationship and their like-mindedness.

“We work from intuition, we work from that gut feeling and we let that guide us,” Patterson-Petty said.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.