Upland Chronicles: Raymond Patterson was known as a gifted painter

Jun. 25, 2014 @ 03:01 PM

When Raymond Patterson was in the fourth grade, his teacher told his father that there was no use in sending the boy to school, since he didn’t do anything but sit in the classroom and draw all day. So Raymond quit school. Although he had no formal training, by the time he was grown, Raymond used his artistic talent to earn a living.

A son of Sire Edmon Patterson and Nancy Matilda Dunn Patterson, Everett Raymond Patterson was born Oct. 18, 1905. His father, the first professional photographer in Sevierville, could often be seen walking or riding his horse throughout the county with a tripod and camera.

After leaving school, Raymond often assisted his father in Patterson’s Studio, located at the corner of Joy Street and New Road (now Parkway) in the upstairs of the family home. Raymond’s siblings, who included Zorah (Sheppard), Victor, Ollie Mae (Johann) Victor, Eddie, Lenton and Lara, also helped in the studio.

Raymond married Ellen Osteen Ward, who worked at the Sevierville Hosiery Mills. Although Raymond and Osteen never had children of their own, they raised Osteen’s nephew Carl Rains and her niece Brenda Hembree (Ogle).

Camera equipment and postcards made from Edmon Patterson’s images were among the items sold at Patterson’s Studio, and as word spread of Raymond’s proficiency as a painter, he was commissioned to paint signs for various businesses and individuals. Eventually, the business was moved to a building on Main Street near the old Five-Span Bridge, which has since been replaced with the Fred C. Atchley Bridge.

The building in which the Patterson’s Studio was housed consisted of two stories above ground and two floors that were basement level. Raymond used the upper basement floor as his workshop. He painted signs for businesses, posters for candidates running for office and a wide array of other items as requested.

During World War II, Raymond was drafted into the U.S. Army. After basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., he was assigned to Company B First Engineer Training Battalion at Bolivar, Va., where he was granted a medical discharge on Oct. 15, 1943, having served for about five months.

Shortly after he returned home from the Army, Raymond obtained a position in the graphics department at Clinton Engineer Works, later known as Oak Ridge. Raymond painted directional and caution signs used throughout the Manhattan Project as well as street signs and business signs.

Some of the signs he painted were used to mark strategic sites important to the national security, while others were more whimsical. He and other artist painted thousands of signs in all shapes and sizes, some of which are now displayed in the Atomic Energy Museum in Oak Ridge.

In order to report to work on time, Raymond boarded a bus in Sevierville before daylight each morning to travel to Knoxville, where he transferred to another bus destined for Oak Ridge. When he returned to Sevierville, he often stopped at his studio, where he worked as late as midnight painting signs he had agreed to do for his friends and neighbors.

Two years after World War II ended, under the authority of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Oak Ridge was shifted to civilian control. Raymond continued to work there for several years as the once secret city evolved into a conventional town.

Meanwhile, Raymond was often called on in his hometown to paint signs and pictures. During the Christmas season, many downtown merchants hired him to paint holiday scenes on their windows, and others displayed his artwork on their walls. He was particularly fond of painting pastoral settings and horses.

Jim Atchley once hired Raymond to paint the roofs of two barns, one on Chapman Highway and the other on Newport Highway, advertising Atchley Funeral Home. The signs covered the entire roofs and were similar to the familiar “See Rock City” barn signs. Carl Rains recalls as a young boy helping his uncle on the project, earning $1.50 a day for his assistance.

Alf Newman remembers Raymond as a good friend whom he often hired to paint holiday scenes on the windows at Newman’s Café. Newman also displayed a number of Raymond’s paintings on the walls of his restaurant.

“One day Raymond was sitting on a stool in my restaurant when he noticed a picture of Jesus walking on water,” Newman remembered. “I think I can paint that scene,” said Raymond.

“He went out and bought a 2x3 canvas and captured the scene beautifully,” said Newman. “I gave the painting to Alder Branch Baptist Church, where it was displayed for many years. Later, I let some of his family members have it.”

Raymond was employed to paint a mural behind the baptistery at Alder Branch Baptist Church, where his family had long been associated and buried their loved ones. Later, a set of chimes were donated to the church in memory of his sister, Ollie Mae Johann.

His favorite pastime was fishing, but his work was his passion. “He just had a God-given talent,” recalled Alf Newman. “If he had had an opportunity to receive training, it is hard to imagine what he could have accomplished.”

Sadly, Raymond was stricken with lung cancer and died on June 25, 1959 at age 53. He is buried at Alder Branch Cemetery, behind the church where he once painted the beautiful mural for the baptistery.

Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.

The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments; please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or cmcmahan@scoc.org.