MY FIRST EMAIL EXCHANGE WITH PAT LINSE TOOK place in 2001. We talked about farm animals.
I had sent an unsolicited art submission query email to my favorite magazine, not even knowing if the Art Director was a man or a woman. I'd finished art school a year earlier, and was hoping to move away from the trade that funded my life during my 20s--herding large flocks of 1500 sheep in the wilderness on the Canadian side of the Alaska panhandle. I wasn't qualified to write for SKEPTIC, I said, but I'd be honored to volunteer for some illustration.
"Cold call" mailing to publishers and art directors can be a lonely, demoralizing affair for unknown young artists. Often you get nothing back. A good response is a form letter checklist with something ticked off, or perhaps a more generous handful of sentences on what you need to improve.
To my great surprise, Pat emailed back immediately. "You herd sheep?!??" she asked. "How many do you take care of?" She excitedly welcomed me to the "agricultural art club," naming several skeptics she knew with livestock backgrounds. "I myself won first prize at the international livestock exposition in Chicago judging dairy cattle some years ago," she said. (Not only can you win prizes for a gorgeously perfect cow--judging the perfection of cows is itself a competitive event.) She threw out several questions related to the sleeping habits of sheep and her personal skeptical subspecialty, the urban legend of cow-tipping.
"Oh yes, your artwork," she added as she wrapped up. "I like your style. Send me some stuff."
And I did.
Twenty years later, I am mourning my friend, boss, and mentor. As I think about who she was, I'm recalling for some reason the postscript she appended to the second email she ever sent me: "P.S. I am a cowgirl, not a cowboy."
I think that may be the title of the story of her life.
Pat Linse grew up around cows--a 1950s All American 4H farm girl from a big rural Wisconsin family. This photo from her young life moves me so much. Just look at that kid: chin up, eyes bright and curious, full of big questions and the courage to seek answers. It's right there, clear as day: this country girl is going places.
Getting there wasn't easy, though. She was the first of her sisters to go to college--one of millions of pioneering young women in a changing world. "Sputnik's influence on the school system, the pill, the hippie era which made it OK to dress down...all of those things made my escape easier," she recalled. "Yes I worked my friggin' tail off, but it wouldn't have worked without all of those things."
Throughout her career, Pat was keenly aware of an uncomfortable truth: talent and hard work are rarely enough for success in the arts. Most working artists get where they are through a combination of hustle, unreasonable sacrifice, practice--and blind luck. For many, the deciding factor...