This teacher of art is a work of art


Tonight, when the Fells Point Creative Alliance's second annual group show opens, the path from venue to venue will be charted with brilliant windsocks created by art teacher Patti Anne Battaglia and her Elkridge Landing Middle School students.

But don't just follow the neon windsocks to "The Big Show." Follow Battaglia, who undoubtedly will be lighting the way in something ingeniously outrageous. A multimedia artist and confessed "clothesaholic," Battaglia, 42, once made all of her clothes, but now will dabble with a cuff, meddle with a collar to make her wardrobe hers and hers alone.

Where did you get the itch to create your own clothing?

When I was 11, my grandmother had her mother's old treadle sewing machine. I learned to sew and learned to design. I designed and made my own clothes in high school. I had a great big carpetbag. My mother never let me wear wild clothes for school. I had one look I went out the door with and another look [in the carpetbag] that showed up at school.

Do you remember in particular any outfit that you made?

I made a really wonderful, sort of salmon-colored satin minidress that doubled as a tunic. It had bands of piping around the neckline. I wore it to see Jimi Hendrix in concert. I [also] wore that in school with purple elephant leg denim pants. My grandmother showed me how to do rag curls, so my hair bounced up and down while I walked through school. Platform shoes topped off the outfit.

Why don't you sew as much anymore?

I don't have much time to sew. I also make jewelry, do art and teach art in middle school. I will make an outfit on commission. I've sold a few pieces. I had this one really neat harem kind of outfit, made out of purple silk in two shades that I bought in Jamaica. It had real blousey pants that were tight at the cuff with a fitted, wraparound top, V-neck and three-quarter-length sleeves and a cummerbund waist. My girlfriend modeled it at the [Fells Point Creative Alliance] "Fash Bash." She said, "I don't want to take it off." So she bought it.

What do you do instead of sewing to make your clothes original?

They don't call me the accessory queen for nothing. I collect everything from antique clothes and coats to things from Kmart and things from Saks. If it's a really posh suit, if I have to, I'll change it. Tighten it or shorten it. I find a lot of clothes nowadays at Nordstrom's Rack and Pier One.

Is your personal style constantly evolving?

I'm more sleek than I was before. [At Nordstrom, I bought] wonderful velvet, wide-leg pants that I can wear with a long tunic, or wool jackets, or more casually with a tucked-in shirt and a vest. One pair I bought, in deep hunter green, I wore so often I've worn the velvet off.

Do you receive donations from friends?

I have a beautiful red Anne Klein jacket given to me by a girlfriend who got it from a woman who lost a lot of weight. My friend said I'm the only one who can wear it with my red hair. And I have an exquisite, hugely bright red fake fur coat from Saks. My friend who gave it to me said, "I don't have the nerve to wear it."

How do you justify spending so much time dressing?

Somebody once described me as not just an artist, but as a work of art, meaning that I don't need to produce a piece of art, that the way I dress is supposed to be my art.

What do your students think of your outlandish flair?

They like it. They say, "Really cool outfit, Miss Battaglia." As an art teacher it helps to dress with originality. If I'm living it, that shows I'm not afraid to be an individualist. They're at this age where they're scared to be anything. Hopefully, I'm giving them the strength of character to be different.

What are some of your best bargain buys?

I had some clothes made in Egypt. I watched the tailor measure me, lay the cloth down in a rectangular shape and cut without a pattern. He made me several pairs of big harem pants for five dollars and a jump suit for $20.

Where do you draw the cost line?

Shoes I can't make, and I still have to have the right shoes. In Seattle, I saw Fluevog shoes, which are Dutch, and the only way I would buy them was if they were on sale. They cost $150. That's my limit. The shoes look like Beatle boots. They have two-inch platform heel and are made of suede.

Where do you put it all?

I have four closets, not counting the wardrobe where I store my antique clothes. My boyfriend gets one closet.

What are you going to be for Halloween?

This year, I haven't even made a costume. Two years ago, I made this whole outfit based on the Toulouse-Lautrec poster of Jane Avril. I wore a big red hat, and the black dress with a snake wrapped around it. I won $150 at a bar in Fells Point and I only got second place!

What will you wear tonight?

Probably a '60s thing that was given to me. It's made of turquoise, boucle material with metal threads running through it. It has bell-bottom sleeves and a high empire waist. I'll wear it with wild jewelry that was my grandmother's made of real gaudy, shiny, blue-green rhinestones. Maybe I'll pull my hair up and wear a switch, and I'll wear my platforms with that.

Pub Date: 10/03/96

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