Indispensable woman of Md. arts

THE BALTIMORE SUN

She's our North Star," Gerald Heeger, president of University of Maryland University College, says of Pikesville's Doris Patz.

The North Star is the most recognizable of all stars, not unlike Patz in Maryland's art world.

Patz's decades of networking among Maryland artists, art organizations and people has resulted in a music program, an art collection, a mansion, a regent's scholarship and a writing contest.

Patz was thrust into the fine arts arena through her music in Pittsburgh, where, as a child, she played violin and viola.

In 1928, at the age of 16, her musical talents landed her a scholarship from Pittsburgh's Department of Music to attend the debut of the National High School Orchestra Camp, created by Joseph Maddy in Interlochen, Mich.

Interlochen opened with John Philip Sousa at the podium. Patz said she will never forget him.

"He stood out, not just because of his talent," Patz said. "It was his attire and appearance I remember. He conducted in his military uniform."

Patz received formal music instruction at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Tech School until she married Nathan Patz in 1932 in Ventnor City, N.J.

The couple moved to Baltimore that year, and Patz immediately joined the Baltimore Women's String Symphony Orchestra and the Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra. She played with both groups until the 1940s, when they disbanded.

During World War II, she was a member of the Civil Mobilization Corps in Baltimore.

"We would meet at the Enoch Pratt Library in downtown Baltimore," Patz said. "My job was to place volunteers all over the city wherever they were needed for the war effort."

The organizational skills she gained and the contacts she made helped her make her way in the Baltimore art world.

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said he met Patz in the early 1980s. During that decade, she helped Kirwan and others at the University of Maryland build the music program.

"Through her philanthropy and knowledge of music, she helped us create a strong music program," Kirwan said. "During this time we built a magnificent performing arts center. If you look at one volunteer for catalyst for the arts program at College Park, it would be Doris.

"There's no question that without her inspirations, financial support and encouragement this would not have happened. She has wonderful contacts in the music and art world, and her friends are supporters of the arts. She helped encourage the program through sponsoring of events more than anyone else."

Through her philanthropy and contacts, Patz created one of the state's most significant repositories of works by Maryland artists. The Doris E. Patz Collection of Maryland Artists is displayed at University of Maryland University College's Inn and Conference Center. The collection totals more than 400 pieces and continues to grow.

The idea for the collection came to her, Patz said, when she noticed that the walls of the new conference center at University College were empty. She devised a plan to fill them.

"I went to Dr. John Toll [former president of the University System of Maryland] and asked if I could establish an art collection to hang on the walls," Patz said. "John said he'd love to have the walls covered. So I went over and looked at the walls to see what I would need to fill them and went home and got to work."

Patz started with about 150 letters to Maryland artists.

"My first response came from Eugene 'Bud' Leake," Patz said. "He wrote, 'I doff my hat to you for recognizing Maryland artists. We have always been a second-class citizen in our state." He sent Patz artwork along with the letter.

Patz worked tirelessly each year to see her project realized, Heeger said.

"Doris is 93, but she's a 45-year-old visionary about what Maryland artists should be," Heeger said. "She spent thousands of hours every year working on the collection. She did it herself. If an artist required a letter, she wrote it. If they required a visit, she got in her car and visited. It was her personal energy and intellectual leadership that reached out to the artists, and they responded in a big way."

" I enjoyed visiting the Baltimore Museum of Art," Patz said. "On one visit, I noticed my favorite collection of 26 mythical bronze pieces missing from its galleries. They were changing art around and it wasn't being displayed."

Patz went home and wrote a letter to the museum, asking for the pieces for her collection for UMUC.

The museum responded with a letter saying, "We can't make a judgment now, but we'll be in touch."

"After reading that, I thought there was no way we would get them," Patz said.

When the museum called saying the collection was hers, she was pleasantly surprised.

"I saw the gesture as the start of a wonderful rapport between the Baltimore Museum of Art and the University of Maryland," Patz said. "However, the catch was I had to come to the museum, where a security guard would be waiting and go straight to the college and deliver them."

Also during that time, Patz was instrumental in getting the chancellor's home bequeathed to the school.

She and her husband were having dinner with Toll and his wife, Patz said, when Toll asked her whether she knew of any available homes that could be used by the chancellor.

"I said, 'I do,'" Patz said. "My husband looked at me with this look. He thought I meant our house. But I was referring to a house owned by Jacob France, known as Hidden Waters."

Patz said the Frances had no children or heirs and didn't entertain in the house.

"This house is a huge and gorgeous mansion," Patz said. "It was built on about 100 acres of land. I wrote a treatise on it and took it to Bob Smith [a vice president at the university] and I told him to read it and get me that house."

Patz said everyone thought the Frances would donate the property to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, but she took her entreaty to Bob Merrick, the attorney for the France estate.

Later, Merrick called Patz and told her, "I must have lost my cotton-pickin' mind to give you all that, but I'm giving it to you."

Patz said, "He gave us the house, the land and everything in it."

The part Patz played in acquiring the property exemplifies her and the impact she has on everyone she comes into contact with, Toll said.

"She was the moving force in getting the house willed to the college," Toll said. "She's a leader in developing support in everything she does. She's even helped to get University of Maryland campuses to work together."

In 1993, at the age of 81, Patz started a creative-writing contest open to all Baltimore County students.

"I love to write and wanted to do something to recognize kids for their writing abilities," Patz said. "And it isn't just writing, it's reading and thinking as well."

The contest is divided into four categories: grades 2-3, grades 4-5, middle school and high school. Savings bonds are given to first-, second- and third-place winners.

"I offer the contest in the fall. I come up with the topic," Patz said. "An example of a topic might be: 'If you were to go to another country and visit with natives there, what would you say about Maryland?'"

Patz said she spends the winter reading through the entries. She has had as many as 800 students in one year.

This year she held the first awards reception for the winners of the Doris E. Patz Creative Writing Contest. They were:

Grades 2-3: first place, Hannah Cosby, Chase Elementary; second place, Lexie Lee Jordon, Chase Elementary; third place, Isobel Townsend, Rodgers Forge Elementary; honorable mention, Sabrina Burkholder, Chase Elementary.

Grades 4-5: first place, Nicole Elise Dale, Dogwood Elementary; second place, Mallory O'Connor, Prettyboy Elementary; third place, Jonathan Gorman, Summit Park Elementary; honorable mention, Cody P. Miller, Pleasant Plains Elementary.

Middle school: first place, Cindy Wei, Cockeysville Middle; second place, Kathryn Franke, Cockeysville Middle; third place, Nathan Villagaray-Carski, Hereford Middle; honorable mention, Stephanie Kiefer, Hereford Middle.

High school: first place, Brittany Long, Eastern Tech; second place, Rae Borsetti, Towson High.

This spring, Patz was recognized for working with Baltimore County children through the writing contest. She received a lifetime achievement award from the county and several citations from government officials.

In 1994, in conjunction with her husband, she established the first Regent's Scholarship for the Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland. The full academic scholarship is awarded to one student every four years.

"She is the kindest and most generous person I've ever known in my life," Kirwan said. "Her contributions reach far beyond the Baltimore region."

Heeger said, "On my best days I get to have lunch with Doris and talk about art. She walks me through who's doing what and who is being influenced by whom. She is always guiding the way. She's truly our North Star."

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