By Melinda Photis
My mother, Pat Lasch, has the distinction of having had her artwork lost or discarded by the Museum of Modern Art in New York two years ago—not one of MoMA’s high points! But that’s only a small part of her history.
My mom was born in Gotham Hospital on 5th Avenue. My grandmother was raised in Hell’s Kitchen and Brooklyn, and her side of the family lived in the West Village going back five more generations. My grandfather was a pastry chef who emigrated from Germany in 1930. My family moved to Westbeth when Mom was 25 years old and I was a small child.
Mom has been a feminist artist since the early 1970s when she helped pioneer A.I.R., the first all-woman gallery in SoHo. Only token women like Helen Frankenthaler were being shown in galleries at that time. As a single mom she taught art, worked in her studio, shopped, cooked, and very occasionally cleaned. It was clear her artwork was her priority.
Mom knew she wanted to be an artist at the age of four, and she has a spiritual side. Being brought up Catholic influenced her work tremendously. The purples in Lent were for mourning; the greens were from her Irish roots; the reds were the Sacred Heart. Her work has always revolved around death and life. When I was small, she went to Calvary Cemetery, where an ancestor from seven generations ago is buried, and dug up dirt in which to plant avocado pits. She said she liked having the family around. Her early pieces, in which she sewed thousands of tiny, detailed stitches, each representing a life, were based on generational progressions: one for self; two for parents; four for grandparents; eight for great grandparents; going back 20 generations through which it takes over one million people to make each one of us. She says we are all related.
The work for which my mother has become known is her pastry cake sculptures, and more recently her dresses made entirely out of paint. Cakes mark time: birthdays, communions, bar-mitzvahs, weddings. Having learned my grandfather’s trade when she was a teenager, she was easily able to translate her abilities in icing cakes to paint. She questioned why we never make death cakes, so she made some.
Her wedding dress made entirely out of paint and real pearls has been shown at the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Hudson River Museum, and the Century Club. Her black cake sculptures express deep and sorrowful feelings, while the white and colored ones exude joy and delight. She focuses on women’s experiences of celebration, marriage, and divorce, interwoven with private symbols she creates to express human feelings. Her work ranges from sorrow to rage to joy and delight—the gamut of all that each of us experience.
She just closed a show a few months ago at Meredith Ward Fine Arts on 74th Street in New York, which represents her work, and is presently in a show in Brooklyn at Accola Griefen Gallery, where they are also showcasing Alice Neel, Judy Pfaff, Hilla Rebay, and Janet Sobel. Her art will be included in an October exhibition at MoCA in Los Angeles, and her works are included in numerous museums including the Metropolitan Museum and MoMA in New York City, the Smithsonian and National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., and the Palm Springs Art Museum in California.
The Village has been my mother’s family’s home for seven generations now, and we continue to love living here and to honor our deep roots on Hudson Street.