Artist in Motion
Patty Yates was one of the first women to drive big trucks for the Pacific Bell Telephone Company.
In Patty Yate’s family, “motion was the potion, older brother in the air and younger on the ocean,” she laughs. Her father was a pilot, her older brother followed suit, while her younger brother became a lobster fisherman—and she became a truck driver.
She was a “military brat”. Her family followed her father’s career as he taught instructors how to best teach flight students. Starting in Minnesota, they moved to Iowa, Texas, California and New Mexico before California, where the family settled. Patty eventually went to San Jose State University and studied art.
“Then I had to make a living,” she said. She landed a job with Pacific Bell Telephone Company. Luck and affirmative action got her a transfer to the supply department and eventually a move into the then-male domain of driving big trucks for the company. She started “eating miles on the highways of California and Nevada” piloting semis.
Her worst driving moment was when the binders broke on a heavy semi-load, and everything cut loose. “Oh! It was scary,” she said “but nobody got hurt.”
“I loved trucking,” she said, because she was moving through the landscape and “all that beauty of nature. I painted pictures in my brain all day long.” And she still does.
Art came early into her life and has never gone away. “At four years old I was drawing all over everything—embellishments.” She said she has tried about every medium, but chose watercolors. “Watercolor is a joyful challenge,” she said---more difficult for her than acrylics and oils, and therefore more interesting.
In the 1970’s a friend of hers, Linda Gretzner, had a restaurant above Donaldson’s Department Store in Omak. That first brought her into Okanogan County. Then, in about 1980, she traveled the Loup Loup highway with her friend. When they broke over the top and she saw the Methow Valley for the first time, she was stunned. “Linda,” she said, “I have to live here.” (She laughed that Methow Valley resident Harold Heath had a similar experience).
Patty today, framed by two of her hand-painted scarves.
“I fell in love with Twisp,” she said, “the grasses and the trees and the mountains.” She started saving money to move. Of course, there wasn’t a trucking job handy. Her first landing spot in the valley was in Steve and Nancy Dammann’s basement. She washed dishes at the Virginian, and worked as a “construction grunt” for contractors and for Lloyd Logging in the off-season. Then she and Jim Gerlach built the first Riverside Rib, a Conestoga wagon food stand where the Hotel Rio Vista is now. That was flooded out when the irrigation ditch broke, so they moved the business to the corner now occupied by Sheri’s Sweet Shop.
Patty Yates is ‘retired’—sort of. She teaches watercolor painting, as she has for 14 years. “We were out in the field all summer this year,” she said. “Classes have expanded recently.” She not only teaches at the Confluence Gallery, but also at the Spinners and Weavers Guild building on the old highway between Twisp and Winthrop.
“I’m appreciating other people’s art” these days, she said. “It’s just so wonderful to see what they create, to see where their mind goes.” She said favorite student topics are trees, sunflowers, balsam root, and “throw in a mountain or two.”
And she isn’t done trying new stuff: she just started painting on silk scarves.
She’s been an avid member of Friends of the Pool for the last six years or so. She said it’s a great tragedy when someone drowns simply because they never had the opportunity to learn to swim, and she’s put money where her belief is—helping raise funds to maintain the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp.
Her reward for the group’s work is “listening to the kids giggle and watching them and knowing they’re safe in the pool.” And safer, too, in the Methow’s many waterways.
At 17, Patty gave up a son for adoption: she was too young and had no income to help care for her out-of-wedlock baby. She believed he would do better with another family.
But when her son, Jeff Uttley, turned 30 in 1999, he came to Twisp to meet his birth mother. His adopted mother had said, “There’s always more room in your life for more love,” Patty reported. So Patty has relationships with them all, and she said it gives her great joy.
Her son has become a successful mechanically-oriented operating engineer with his own family in Lodi, California. That’s right, Patty is three times a grandmother now, and loving every minute of it. “I’m so glad I know him and the kids are so fun.”
Meanwhile, she lives on Burgar Street in Twisp in a pleasant home with Theodore Peterson.
Two final facts: Patty Yates dreams in bright colors and she gets carsick when she isn’t doing the driving.
Below: four watercolors by Patty Yates.