A prolific artist and well-known downtown shoe cobbler, James Patti is still remembered for his extraordinary sculptures. Patti chose sculpture over other artistic mediums because he believed in its unlimited possibilities. He studied and worked with the late Bernard (Poco) Frazier and with Professor Elden Tefft at the University of Kansas. Patti served as executive director for the Kansas Sculptors Association and initiated community events such as the Downtown Lawrence Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition and carving workshops teaching sculpting techniques and methods. During his career, Patti created many notable masterpieces that are on public display in Lawrence.
In connection with the 1976 Bicentennial celebration, Patti created a statue of American writer and social activist Langston Hughes. The statue portrays Hughes as a boy delivering the Saturday Evening Post and holding a book by W.E.B. Du Bois. Patti made the structure using a twelve- piece mold coated with bronze colored polyester resin and filled with polyester resin, silicate sand, and marble dust. Today it is on display at the Watkins Museum.
In 1982, ABC-TV commissioned Patti to make a life-sized plaster statue of a pioneer man for the television movie, “The Day After.” Since the producers planned to film the sculpture and then later destroy it in a subsequent scene, Patti used impermanent materials such as water pipe, Styrofoam and plaster.
In 1988, Patti designed a buffalo statue permanently located at the intersection of Clinton Parkway and Lawrence Avenue. Patti and members of the Kansas Sculptors Association sculpted the buffalo from 4 tons of stone. Today the neighborhood lovingly decorates the buffalo to celebrate festive seasons.
On March 10, 2013, Patti received special recognition for his artwork memorializing Leo Beuerman, a Lawrence icon. Beuerman’s life story became famous in a 1969 Academy Award-nominated film. Standing 3 feet tall, Beuerman was unable to walk or speak clearly, and he was deaf and nearly blind. He made his living selling pencils, pens and other items from a handmade cart that he parked on downtown Lawrence streets. Years-ago, Patti designed a bronze plaque and unglazed ceramic sculpture in Beuerman’s memory. The City of Lawrence is preparing to relocate the iconic plaque and sculpture to a new location in a downtown flowerbed. During the transition, Frank Janzen, Kim Tefft and friends brought the items to Patti’s Bridge Haven home so he could see them again. Patti recognized both items and exclaimed, “I made that!” An upcoming reception is in the works to commemorate Beuerman’s legacy and to honor Patti for his contribution.