Poland native finds her niche

Dan Xayaphanh

When Monika Pate left Poland with intentions to seek a Ph.D. in animal physiology at Iowa State, she never thought she would receive the unique education that she did.

The knowledge that she has learned has kept her in Iowa, Indiana, Colorado, Texas and any other state that holds original pieces of her work. Having no previous lessons in painting, she came to Ames as a biologist and progressed into a self-started, nationally renowned artist.

“Her technique is breathtaking. It’s amazing what she can do with the paint and a brush,” said Theresa Cannon, program advisor of arts for the Memorial Union.

While studying at Iowa State, Pate discovered the Octagon Center in downtown Ames, where she was introduced to the world of watercolor painting. This introduction would unknowingly change Pate’s life forever.

In Poland, Pate spent her spare time drawing, but only with pencil and charcoal. Her other love was photography. These combined talents helped produce the stepping stones to her success in painting.

Through classes at the Octagon Center, 427 Douglas St., she finely tuned her skills as a painter.

During her seven years of painting, Pate has had more than 100 shows of her artwork in contests and galleries around the nation. Her progression into the art world was moving quickly and the first showing of her artwork was in 1994, the same year she began.

“I got accepted and I even sold my painting – I was quite surprised,” said Pate about her first showing at the Iowa State Fair. “Some of these shows, just getting accepted is a big deal.”

With her first taste of success, her desire grew deeper and she began sending more paintings to competitions.

Primarily working with watercolor, Pate’s artwork mainly consists of still-life paintings such as flowers, china and intricate glass.

Pate said she chooses her subjects by picking scenes where certain differences challenge her, such as the way the light hits a certain object and casts an interesting shadow.

“It helps to be able to take good pictures and have a good reference,” Pate said.

Among her hundreds of paintings, Pate said the one that is the most valuable is a watercolor painting of a red dahlia flower from her mother’s garden in Poland.

“The color is very rich. From her paintings, you can tell she enjoys working with color,” Cannon said of Pate’s work.

Usually her artwork will take between 20 and 40 hours and can sell for $100 to $1,500. She has also donated her work to various charities.

Although her main expertise is watercolor, she has experimented with pastels and color pencils. In the future, she hopes to combine all three elements along with different canvas textures to create a new style of art.

Pate’s inspiration is derived from her admiration of Claude Monet’s paintings of gardens, impressionists in general and the works of several Polish and American artists.

The Polish artist Jan Matejko, an oil painter of the 18th and 19th centuries, has had the greatest effect on Pate’s artwork. Matejko’s artwork consisted primarily of battle and action scenes.

“They were very realistic and when you’re looking at them, you almost feel like you’re there,” she said when describing Matejko’s paintings.

Pate said the work of contemporary American artists has also inspired her, including Jan Kunz, Linda Stevens-Moyer and Gerald Brommer.

Although painting is her full-time job, Pate’s time is divided between her part-time job and her family. While painting exercises her mentally, her part-time job as a personal trainer strengthens her physically.

She occasionally teaches classes in the Ames area, but Pate said her main diversion is her role as a wife and mother. As a mother of two boys and one girl, ages four, five and six, she tries to find a little time between the children’s activities to paint.

“There’s always something on my table that I’m working on,” Pate said.

Pate said her artwork is never finished because every time she looks at her finished project she always finds something to make her paintings even more perfect. Her portrayal of an ideal artist is one who believes in what he or she is doing and likes it at the same time.

As a signature member of many watercolor societies, including the National Watercolor Society, Pate has been and will be enjoyed by local and national art lovers.

Her paintings can be seen as close as the Tea Room in McKay Hall or farther away at her show in July at the Harris Gallery in Houston.

No matter where these paintings are seen, an impression will be left on their viewers.