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The daughter of academic parents, Nancy-Lou Patterson was born in 1929 in Worcester, Mass. She received her BA in Fine Arts from the University of Washington in 1951, afterwards working for two years as a scientific illustrator at the University of Kansas and at the Smithsonian and then for nine years as a lecturer at Seattle University.
In 1962 she moved to the Waterloo Region with her husband, Dr. E. Palmer Patterson, who was to teach at the University of Waterloo. In addition to her position as Director of Art and Curator of the University's art gallery, in 1966 Professor Patterson taught the University of Waterloo's first Fine Arts course, and in 1968 she founded the Department of Fine Arts, twice serving as Department Chair.
As a scholar Nancy-Lou Patterson is well known for her writings in the area of mythopoeic art and literature, with particular focus on the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Charles Williams and Dorothy L. Sayers. She has written extensively on the traditional arts of Swiss German and Dutch-German Mennonites of Waterloo County, and also on the art of Native Canadians. Her work includes both book and exhibition reviews, and exhibition catalogues. She has published both poetry and fiction, including her three novels Apple Staff and Silver Crown (1985), The Painted Hallway (1992), and Barricade Summer (1996). Nancy-Lou Patterson's artistic career began in 1953 when she created a mural for an Anglican Church in Kansas, and includes a series of stained glass windows designed in 1964 for Conrad Grebel Chapel at the University of Waterloo. Her liturgical commissions have involved work in textiles, stained glass, wood, metal, terra cotta, and calligraphy.
In 1993 Nancy-Lou Patterson was named "Distinguished Professor Emerita" by the University of Waterloo, and in the same year received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Wilfrid Laurier University in recognition of "a life dedicated to expression."
Patterson died in Kitchener on October 15, 2018.
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Nancy-Lou Patterson was a writer, artist, scholar, teacher, novelist and poet whose educational and artistic career spans five decades.