The Pattons have amassed an impressive collection of abstract art that they are now promising to the Ackland Art Museum's exhibit "Space, Abstraction and Freedom: Twentieth-Century Art from the Collection of Mary and Jim Patton," that opened Sunday.
"I think art, if you let it in, changes how you look at life itself and the world around you," Jim Patton said.
The Ackland currently is showcasing 24 pieces from the Patton collection -- abstract pieces from the late 20th century including artists such as Adolph Gottlieb and David Park. Space constraints at the Ackland prevent the Patton's entire collection from being displayed at once. So the exhibit will act as a preview until the Ackland can expand to house the works.
The Pattons' preference for the abstract genre grew over the years. Jim Patton said they like all kinds of art, but abstraction requires an input from the viewer. "We both have a strong preference for abstraction so we can fill it with our feelings and our interpretations," he said.
"If (viewers) make the effort, they'll find out something about themselves, because that's what they've got to go back into. If they don't find something, maybe that'll tell them something else."
Jim and Mary Patton met as children in Durham. Mary had a talent for art as a child, and after two years at the Women's College (now UNC-Greensboro), finally attended art school.
Jim's artistic interests took a little more time to develop. He graduated from UNC-CH in 1948 with pre-med work under his belt but decided instead to attend Harvard Law School.
He credits his professors here at UNC-CH with opening his mind to possibilities he wasn't aware of during his childhood.
"It was a narrow existence, and it was wonderful to have these incredibly great professors fire up your imaginations and talk about great masters and writers and simply have all that learning around you that you can soak up," he said.