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Omaha Magazine

Patty Talbert's Power Flows from Each Brush Stroke

Oct 01, 2021 01:41PM ● By Josefina Loza
Patty Talbert in front of bright mural

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

It’s hard to miss the utility box along 62nd and Dodge streets near the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus. The colors are vibrant and lively—sunshine yellow, candy apple red, aqua blue—just like the artist who created them. 

Patty Talbert is a sweet-spirited woman who quickly endears herself to everyone she meets.

According to fellow artist Tim Guthrie, “Patty’s soul is art. For Patty, art is community and connection. It’s friendship and affirmation. And the explosion of colors is celebration. Her positive energy permeates every artwork she creates.”

Talbert, 57, doesn’t shy away from vibrant pigments. Her creative energy only intensifies as she continues to evolve as a Council Bluffs artist. In fact, this creative has been a force of change since she can remember. 

“I’ve always expressed myself artistically,” she said. “From the way I wore my hair [dreadlocked] to the way I dressed.

“You don’t realize how much power you have when you are being your authentic self until…” Talbert paused thinking of the near 30 years she styled beautiful, twisted sections of her hair. “Well, sometimes we perceive ourselves by the energy we are given.”

They’re cut off now, though not by choice. The locs weighed her hair down, so they had to go. Never mind how long they’ve been gone, she’s still grieving them. 

“I knew the power of my hair…I still feel the power of them now that I’m without,” Talbert said.

She described that energy as, “trying to be authentically yourself without shrinking yourself for others.” She uses that same energy in her art. The intricate designs, clean lines, and batiking technique she creates, be that cloth, canvas, or wood, have become her seal. 

Talbert was raised the youngest of six children and began her college career as a Goodrich Scholar at the University of Nebraska at Omaha when she was in her 30s. She graduated in 2001 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art. “My journey as an artist came fairly organically,” she said.

“It took me eight years to get a degree,” she recalled. “I wasn’t in a hurry, mostly because I liked being instructed.”

She completed a summer training with MacArthur Award winner Deborah Willis at the prestigious National Museum of African American History and Culture. She also trained under the watchful eye of the talented late Jamaican artist Dawn Scott. The techniques she learned are the foundation and inspiration for her more than three dozen group and solo exhibitions. 

Talbert’s storied career includes a visual arts nomination for emerging artist at the OEAAs, as well as a feature on Heartland Focus and a guest feature on Omaha’s WOWT for her North Omaha Positive Affirmation project. The project is a culmination of painted pattern-like backgrounds with words such as “right,” “think,” “context,” “truth,” and “Black love.” These signs are placed on utility poles in North Omaha for the community to see. The project, which started in 2016, holds special ties for Talbert, who grew up in the area. 

“It was a way for me to have a voice without speaking and still being able to have some type of impact,” Talbert said. “But what intrigues me most about it…I don’t know who sees our community. Yet, it allows me to reach strangers through kindness without having to actually meet them.”

Talbert’s work is showcased at the Harvester Artist Gallery, College of St. Mary’s Hillmer Art Gallery, Charles Drew Health Center, and the Roberta and Bob Rogers Gallery. She serves as a mentor for several high school students through Kent Bellows Studio’s mentorship program, and she was a 2020 fellow at The Union for Contemporary Art, where her work was showcased as well. 

Omaha artist Rachel Ziegler is currently working with Talbert on a mural outside of Millwork Commons, a collaborative creative space near 13th and Nicholas streets.

“Patty is not only talented, she’s an uplifter,” Ziegler said. “The work she makes inspires people to think better-feeling thoughts. I’ve benefited so much from collaborating with her and am grateful to her.”

Through the years, Talbert’s style has evolved. A flurry of thoughts flooded Talbert as she explained her technique:

“I didn’t ever realize that—until recently—that I’m creating a brand that is unique. My work can’t be duplicated. It can be printed but never replicated.”

The buildup of colors, patterns, and textures gives Talbert the freedom to express her innermost feelings and pay tribute to her ancestral power. 

“My pride doesn’t come in the form of accomplishments,” she said. “Because I know I haven’t reached my potential.”

Now a mother and grandmother, she recognizes the internal struggle of being one of the only Black working artists in the Omaha metro area for many years. It was lonely at the table, she said. 

Now, times are changing. She’s thrilled to see others come up just as eager, ambitious, and unapologetic for making their own space in the local art scene.

“We shouldn’t have to dim our lights, with people thinking there isn’t enough room for all of us,” Talbert said. “Because there is room for all of us.”

Lincoln artist Jevon Woods called her
an inspiration.

“Her smile, energy, enthusiasm, and vibe is all contagious,” he said. “You just want to be around her…Patty’s artwork is alive and living in anyone who gets the chance to lay eyes on it.”

Art is where Talbert finds her power. She wants others to experience that as well.

“I cannot control anything else in the world but my art,” she said. “I can’t control what people think about it. But I can control what I create. No matter whatever is going on with me. No matter who is f**king with me, who is pissing me off, I always can come back to my artwork.” 

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This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  
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