Artist lived for what she loved

Alice Patnode's favourite expression was that she painted for her own amazement. "She just enjoyed it so much," said Lois Cameron, who worked with Patnode at the Yukon Arts Society many years ago.

Alice Patnode’s favourite expression was that she painted for her own amazement.

“She just enjoyed it so much,” said Lois Cameron, who worked with Patnode at the Yukon Arts Society many years ago.

“(Patnode’s) favourite thing to paint were northern lights,” she said.

Wonder and curiosity were the driving force behind Patnode’s life, especially when it came to people.

“She was the type of person who reached out to people,” said Cameron.

“She made friends easily and she always had an ear for people,” she said. “She had many friends, a network I guess you’d call it.”

Patnode passed away on March 16 at Whitehorse General Hospital at the age of 97.

She drove until she was 93, cooked family dinners until she was 95, and tended a garden behind her Porter Creek home until she was 96.

Patnode pushed life to the limit.

In her late 80s, Alice Patnode was planting Saskatoon bushes and tin cherries, plants that wouldn’t bear fruit until long after her death, said her grand-daughter-in-law Anne Williams.

“She was very optimistic,” said Williams.

Patnode was a spirited gardener.

“She was experimental,” said Williams. “She loved to dig things up and move them around repeatedly.”

“She loved to give away plants with the weeds attached to them.”

Patnode was unstoppable in what she loved, and she lived her life by that rule.

“Whenever you’d visit her she wanted to know how you were doing and what you were doing and what was happening in the country,” said Ruth Armson, a former colleague at Whitehorse Elementary. “She was such a good listener. She was always questioning people. She never talked about her problems.”

When Patnode moved to Macaulay Lodge a year ago, she needed help keeping track of who came by to repay the attention she once gave others.

“I finally got her a little book so we could write down every time that we visited so her family knew who was visiting,” said Armson.

“She went regularly to the Carcross barn dances in June if she could get a ride,” said Armson, adding that Patnode even made it last year.

She was a renaissance woman from an era when womanhood was a very confined role.

“In our home, there wasn’t a women did this and men did that kind of thing,” said her daughter Sharon Jensen. “I think she was more adventurous than many people in that era.”

It was Patnode’s upbringing on a farm in Donalda, Alberta, that developed “that mindset of loving what you’re doing,” said Jensen.

Patnode, nee Hagen, moved around as a school teacher in Alberta and British Columbia, and settled in Dawson Creek, BC, after marrying Larry Patnode in 1941.

The couple went to Toronto around that time so that Larry could enlist for the war. When doctors found a heart ailment and Larry couldn’t fight, the Patnodes stuck around to join the war effort.

“She worked in an ammunitions factory in Toronto,” said Jensen. Larry worked in another facility.

Jensen was born in Toronto, and a son, Bruce, soon completed the family.

In 1953, the four of them moved from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse to pay the farm bills.

Patnode’s area of interests widened in the Yukon, where she often joined her husband who prospected as a hobby.

“They were doing something they liked and that’s what’s important,” said Jensen.

Patnode worked most of her northern life at Whitehorse Elementary where she taught Grade 2.

She was a charter member of the Yukon Teacher’s Association and the Women’s Retired Teacher’s Alumni, said Armson.

“She rarely missed their monthly breakfasts, their June teas and their Christmas dinners,” she said.

But art was Patnode’s passion, a talent she began pursuing seriously in 1967.

As a new Yukoner, she was struck by the beauty of the northern lights.

“(She painted) when the spirit moved her,” said Jensen.

Like everything else in life, Patnode didn’t walk into painting without a bang.

She was one of the original 14 founders of the Yukon Arts Society, and was the society’s first president when it opened in April 1970.

“She was a founding member and the backbone of the arts society for many, many years,” said Cameron.

Patnode did a lot of fundraising and volunteering in those days.

“It was a social opportunity for artists to get together and it was a much smaller arts community,” said Cameron.

Patnode was also a great teacher and very encouraging to young artists, she said.

She painted murals for the Transportation Museum, the RCMP’s 110th anniversary, the Gold Rush Anniversary and the Wildlife Museum at Frontierland in Carcross.

Patnode received numerous awards for her paintings, and two of them were selected for the Yukon Permanent Collection in 1992.

In 1991, friends gathered her oil paintings for her 80th birthday at the society’s Captain Martin House, a property Patnode helped snag for the artists.

“She had a lot of young friends, and when you get that age all of your friends pass away,” said Jensen.

After Patnode broke her hip at 93, she was finally forced to hang up her car keys.

“Then it was her friends driving her around,” said Jensen. “If there was a meeting, people would pick her up in her later years.”

Patnode was deeply saddened when Bruce, whose sculptures can be found around the Yukon, died from a brain aneurysm in 2007.

“That didn’t help her, but she managed through it,” said Jensen.

Patnode’s warm and selfless demeanour kept bringing people back to her, and she has left the family with a deep sense of a missing presence.

“She was a fantastic mother, a fantastic grandmother and a fantastic great-grandmother,” said Jensen.

Patnode was predeceased by her husband, Larry, who died in 1987, and her son Bruce.

She is survived by her daughter, a brother, a grandson and five great-grandchildren.

Not to mention a lifetime’s worth of paintings.

Jensen doesn’t know what she’s going to do with all the artwork left behind by her brother and mother.

“I’ll be sorting for the rest of my life,” she said.

For many, Patnode’s legacy is having lived for what she loved.

“That’s what kept her alive for so long,” said Jensen.

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com.