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[VIDEO] Finding art and strength in survival

Thursday, May. 22 | By Hannah Dellinger
Artist (and cancer survivor) Patricia Rice from Warrenton pictured here at her studio at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton with one of her most recent works painted on copper.
Photo by Adam Goings
Patricia Rice’s life has been affected by cancer three times.

Her aunt, her son and she have all been diagnosed with cancer. Each experience has motivated Rice to do what she feels god put her here to do: paint.

Rice believes that she inherited her artistic ability from her late aunt Dottie, who she was never able to meet.

“My mother saw in each of her daughters a little bit of her sister,” said Rice. “In me she saw her sister’s artistic talent. She always encouraged that.”

Rice’s aunt was diagnosed with Leukemia when she was 19, and died two weeks later.

“My mom had already known from the time that I picked up a crayon that I had artistic ability like her sister,” said Rice.

When she was 10 her family moved next door to an art teacher. Rice began taking art lessons and excelled. She continued to study art in High School, but was intimidated by the talent of her peers.

“I doubted what I was capable of as an artist,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m not event the best artist in my school. How could I possibly support myself as an artist?’”

Rice decided to leave her artwork behind and received a degree in nursing from the University of Maryland.

Years later Rice married and moved to Warrenton, where she continues to live today. It wasn’t until 1994 that she went back to the easel.

During that time Rice’s fifth child, Chris Rice, who was 2 at the time, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain stem glioma.

“That is generally not a curable diagnosis,” said Rice. “We opted for radiation only, because the cost-benefit ratio to him as a child was acceptable.”

She said that the news was devastating. She had five other children to look after, one of them being a newborn baby, while having to cope with the tragic reality of the disease that her son was suffering from.

“That diagnosis for me was life-changing as a young mom. Those were really dark, hard times.”

Despite the bleak diagnosis, the tumor stopped growing and her son has remained stable ever since. Over twenty years later, her son has lived a rich life, serving as a marine and starting a family of his own.

While Rice was tending to her sick son, her next-door neighbor asked if she could teach her daughter to draw.

“The request to teach the drawing class came in the deepest part of that valley,” said Rice. “Teaching the class and painting brought a lot of joy in the midst of a very hard time.”

The drawing lessons opened up a world of art that Rice had previously left behind.

“I began drawing again and couldn’t stop drawing,” she said. “I would put the kids to bed and I would draw until two or three in the morning.”

She began teaching more and more classes. Her husband encouraged her to take some painting classes at a technical college, and her talent flourished.

Rice eventually began painting commissioned portraits for clients.

“After a couple of years I realized, this is a business,” she said. “I can do this.”

Rice progressively began taking her craft more seriously. She joined the then fledgling portrait Society of America and took classes with renowned artist Daniel Greene in New York City. She said that taking the time to paint every day helped hone her skills by building her muscle memory.

After a couple of years, Rice outgrew her home studio and got a new studio in the Work House Art Center a year after it opened. Rice continues to teach and paint in her studio in the old repurposed prison in Lorton.

When Rice moved into her studio her mother bought a bench with a nameplate on it in remembrance of her late Aunt Dottie. Rice said that the bench is a reminder of where her talent came from.

Rice was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma about seven years ago. She wasn’t able to catch it early, and there were metastases all over her body.

“I kind of carry that in the back of my mind,” she said. “I don’t know what the end of my story is. Maybe they caught the melanoma and it’s gone, maybe not.”

Rice got a wide excision in her leg and as a result, she has a lymphedema, which is common for cancer survivors. She says that the lymphedema is a constant reminder of the melanoma.

She says that in a way cancer has been a blessing. Rice truly believes that everything happens for a reason. She believes that God has given her these challenges so that she can better appreciate the gifts of her life.

“The gift that comes with surviving cancer is that you have a real appreciation for the gift that every day is,” she said. “For me, I had a clearer sense of what my calling is and what is important to me. I really do feel called to paint. I feel like that is a legacy and no matter how long I live I have a tangible expression of what I think is beautiful and worth remembering.”

Rice has her great grandmother’s paintings and she says that she is amazed that her ancestor’s hands touched them. She looks at the paintings and sees a piece of her great grandmother.

Rice says that cancer has also put her goals in perspective. Her main goal is to paint a portrait of each of her children and now her grand children, which continues to be a growing number.

While her artwork has received many prestigious awards including a place as a finalist in the coveted Portrait Society’s International Portrait Competition, her favorite pieces are of her family.

One striking painting depicts her three sons standing together in uniform. All three served in the Marine Corps and her other three children served in the military as well.

Rice’s life is like her art, it continues to grow and flourish. Her unique and strong perspective allows her to connect with portrait subjects in a personal and empathic way that shows in every paint stroke.

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