Detail statements When multi-talented Pat Choffrut found painting, it became her passion.
"When I was young I was a shy person. I was a teacher then and had to be outgoing, an extrovert type of person. I've learned as I've grown older that I'm more of an introvert. Painting allows me to express myself and allows me to connect. I want to paint in a way that connects me with other people."
- Pat Choffrut
by Norma Smith Olson
"My mom was in her 80s at the time, and still had really nice legs," said Pat Choffrut, recalling the day that sparked the painting of three generations of legs. "That's my daughter, on the left with the tattoo, my mom in the middle and me," she said.
The three had been shopping at Marshall Field's, and all fell in love with a pair of sequined shoes from India, so they each bought a pair - the same pair. Later that day, Choffrut lined up the trio on an outdoor ledge at her home and took photographs of their sparkly new shoes, which led to her painting, "The Tomassoni Girls."
For Choffrut, this painting evokes a feeling of closeness and emotion. "We're close, very connected. That's partly from being Italian," she said.
Painting is a fairly new venture in Choffrut's creative life.
Born in Chisholm, she grew up on Minnesota's Iron Range. Her father was an engineer in the mines. She was encouraged in her creativity by her mother as they drew figures and worked on art projects together.
"I've always wanted to create things," Choffrut said. "I've always been really adventurous, a risk-taker."
She has made jewelry and was a weaver, working on large looms. She was a professional musician, playing and singing in several bluegrass bands.
"And I was always taking photographs. I thought I couldn't paint, so I took photographs," she said.
Defined by her times, art and music were just for fun, not a career choice. Choffrut graduated from high school in the 1960s, "when women could be nurses or teachers," she said. She was the first in her family to go to college. She became a teacher.
Choffrut taught high school French in Minneapolis and in an Appalachian school in Ohio. She taught English in a culinary school in France, where her students became chefs, wait staff and hotel managers. She lived for 16 years in Avignon in southern France.
"I also like to cook and learned a lot through that experience," she said. "Avignon is on the same latitude as Italy. The cooking there is very much like what I grew up with, very healthy, with lots of olive oil and vegetables."
Zeroing in with paints
Choffrut now lives in the White Bear Lake area with her husband, having moved back from France in 2001. She has two grown daughters.
She started painting about 10 years ago, taking a watercolor class at Century College "just for something to do," she said.
"I discovered painting and just let it all loose," she said. "I was just nuts about it. This is the one art form that I have kept now for a long time."
As she worked with the elements of color and light, she recognized the influence on her perspective from living in southern France.
"The south of France has that incredible light. Van Gogh and others went there to live because of that light," she said. "It's more yellow. When I came home to Minnesota I thought it's so white here. Then I realized, it's the light."
The subjects in her paintings often have a European feel - cityscapes, houses, castles, vegetables, flowers. Emotion, excitement, adventure, surprise, wonder, hope - these are words that Choffrut uses to describe her approach to painting, and how she describes her paintings.
"I paint with the idea of possibilities," she said. As she paints, she lets the scene define itself. "I let my hand loosen up with the idea of possibilities. The ideas are in my head for quite awhile. Once I start, it's very focused and very intense. I lose all sense of time, I forget everything."
Choffrut says she paints slowly. A small painting of radishes may take a few days, a château a week. She likes to paint parts of things instead of very large subjects, zeroing in on what is important to her. A couple of tulips, a bunch of radishes, a vase with water, two or three boats on the water - not a lake or city street or a whole church.
"That's too much for me," Choffrut said. "I'm interested in the statement of a detail."