Patrick was a giggler. And while this probably isn’t the right way to begin a tribute to a wonderful curator, colleague, friend, and man, it’s always the first thing that comes to mind when I think of him. And in many ways, I think it says so much about the kind of person he was.
I had the great pleasure and privilege of working alongside Patrick at the AGH for eight years, and I have nothing but the fondest, funniest, and dearest memories of him. All of us do. It’s hard to take so much life and love and whittle it down to a few hundred words. But here is what I remember most.
He was exceedingly kind and thoughtful. Words like these are often overused and undervalued, but Patrick cared deeply and sincerely about the people in his life. He remembered the smallest details, dates, and events and would always quietly mark them with a card, email, flowers, or a few choice words. He was almost childlike in his sweet demeanour and generosity, always unfiltered and true.
He was dedicated: Patrick’s work ethic was beyond compare. He worked days, nights, weekends. Sometimes because he had to, but sometimes, I think, simply because he loved what he did so much. I remember more than once arriving at work in the morning to find that Patrick had curled up on the small couch in his office during the night and hadn’t been home. He kept a toothbrush in his desk.
He was everyman’s scholar: A PhD in art history, Patrick never assumed the clichéd role of esoteric academic (though he was known to sport a bow tie now and again). Quite the opposite. He was unassuming, down-to-earth, and humble with his knowledge. His love of art and history was profound, and yet his communication style was open and accessible, infectious. His ability to translate ideas, knowledge and passion to a wide and admiring audience was one of his greatest curatorial gifts.
He was a wonderful wordsmith: Patrick loved to write and he was really good at it. I often thought he was happiest in the middle of a long catalogue essay, deep in ideas and an artist’s life and work. His vocabulary was impressive but never intimidating; though I distinctly remember him once mentioning an artist’s “Whistlerian impudence” in an acquisition meeting and thinking I really should look that up. So immersed was he in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, through his studies and curatorial work, that he often struck me as being from another time and place, a modern-day dandy who crowded his office monthly with the most gorgeous bouquets of flowers “because they make me happy.”
He was fearless with colour. To this day, I marvel at Patrick’s bold choices for exhibition wall colours: salmon, mint green, pink! His ability to transform exhibition spaces was a true talent. The more experience he gained, the bolder he became, knowing he could trust his instincts with every glorious success. In fact, it was an unwritten employee responsibility to learn the names of Patrick’s paint choices because you couldn’t be in the space and not have someone ask ‘what is this amazing colour?’
He was utterly unique: I have never met anyone quite like Patrick. His sweet eccentricities seemingly belied his keen intelligence, quick wit and curatorial acumen. Maybe there’s a clue in there as to why so many of us loved and appreciated him so much.
He loved to laugh: It would start as a giggle and then crescendo into a deep guttural laugh. He was so free in his laughter, so open and available. And it was in those moments of joy that I came to know the Patrick I cherish most: generous, good, fun, mischievous, and above all, filled with love.
Herewith remembrances from the extended AGH family:
“Patrick was one of the kindest people I ever met. He carried out his work as a curator with such integrity and strong work ethic. I remember him saying his work ethic came from his mother, whom I know he missed dearly. I will remember his big laugh, awesome sense of humour and quirky ways. He was boyish and charming and well loved. He was a big support to me early in my career, and I am so grateful for that. Without his belief in me, I would not be where I am today.”
– Melissa Bennett, AGH Curator of Contemporary Art
“Patrick was so many things to so many people. To me, above all, he was a trusted and beloved friend and colleague who listened without judgement and would work through any problem with you to find the best solution. He was an astute mentor, genuine collaborator and gifted scholar yet was never afraid to embrace the silliness. I would often come to work the next morning after having a stressful day to find Katy Perry’s Firework on my voicemail, playing on a loop. I never had a doubt who was responsible for that.
Patrick arrived at the AGH as our Curator of European Art two short years after we received The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection of 19th century art by donation and navigated us through this new focus within our permanent collection beautifully. He brought a knowledge of European Art that was sorely needed yet also had the ability to unearth other works within the permanent collection that had spent years in the vaults and contextualize them in a completely new way. Registrars and Collection Managers dream of working with a curator like Patrick because he so loved the collection and could see its endless possibilities. Last, his generosity as a colleague is something for which I will be forever grateful. I learned so much from him and miss him with all my heart.”
– Christine Braun, AGH Collections Manager/Research
“Patrick was the sweetest person. Incredibly kind and sincere, gentle and humble. I had the pleasure of working with him on the exhibition Heaven and Earth Unveiled. He poured himself into it, working nights and weekends; his entire office floor was littered with pages of proofs from the catalogue. His exhibitions were always beautiful and thoughtful with so much colour and heart. He was brilliant, and he loved his job. I think all the staff working under him always felt his unwavering support. He never felt like a superior. He was a friend. And just funny, with the best giggle. He wore glitter powder all the time back then, so he literally sparkled.
He also loved his weekly steak dinners at Shakespeare’s; all the staff knew him there. He would stay for hours, reading a book with his favourite drink, Campari on ice. His close friends would always laugh about his famous aggravating answering machine at home. Leaving a message meant you had to wait for the entire Blondie song ‘Heart of Glass’ to finish first. None of this seems real. I miss my friend and will cherish many wonderful memories.”
– Julie Bronson, former AGH Special Projects Coordinator
“Patrick was an incredible person. He had a delightful contagious laugh that would just erupt out of him and end up with the room in stitches. He was very well read and fluent in several languages but his writing and his curating was always accessible; he wanted our visitors to enjoy and appreciate the works as much as he did. He was a thoughtful and generous person, too. After a visit to his childhood home in North Carolina, he returned with books for our daughter, including a much-loved copy of Pat the Bunny. That’s how I will remember Patrick: kind and caring, always giving, with a mischievous glint in his eye.”
– Larissa Ciupka, former AGH Director of Marketing and Communications
“I remember so well when it had come time to clean out the gnarly staff fridge and our Executive Assistant sent an all-staff email that everyone had to get rid of their old lunches that had piled up. She was getting ready to do the big fridge toss. Patrick giggled for days at the mental picture of her grabbing hold of each side of the fridge and giving it a heave. His amusement at this did continue for days – it really did tickle his funny bone. Patrick was so sweet. Honestly, do you know many people who are liked by everyone? So rare….”
– Steve Denyes, former AGH Communications Manager
“What great sadness when someone as talented and knowledgeable as Patrick dies prematurely; an inspired and inspiring curator. I will always remember him as our friendly scholar in residence, a gentle eccentric and a lover of epicurean delicacies. A fond adieu, mon ami.”
– Louise Dompierre, former AGH President and CEO
“Patrick Shaw Cable (or the ‘Patrick Cable Show’ as we used to joke) had an infectious energy and infamous “giggle” that instantly made you feel comfortable and reassured. The twinkle in his eyes always made me think he knew something the rest of us weren’t readily privy to, yet he was never egotistical about his views. Professionally, he had a unique gift of being able to explain artwork in a way that made everyone experiencing art understand it better. Patrick was a gentle and curious soul who will be greatly missed by anyone who had the pleasure of getting to know him. Rest in peace, my friend.”
– Vince Franco, former AGH Marketing Manager
“I regret I never had the opportunity to work with Patrick on something – then and now, a lingering and missed loss because I would have grasped it in a blink. I believe, without either of us ever having to say it, we knew the orbits—what one does in the day-to-day and what can be imagined and realized in small but meaningful ways; to model something and not “impose” the last word.
Our exchanges and respective institutional requests had a short-hand; never belaboured. No reason to—it was a mutual knowing.
In raw-cut terms, there are two kinds of academics – those who will always remind ‘us’ of who they are, and those who are unconcerned but not indifferent. Patrick was definitely the latter, perhaps the exemplar.
We had several (but not enough) emails after he returned to the USA. One from almost two years ago (but not the last). We got into an exchange about pop songs. Not sure why, but it doesn’t matter. He sent me a link to the Avril Lavigne song and video for Complicated (you can find it on Youtube), and wrote “I feel like she’s singing to me.” I replied, “But she is! … otherwise it doesn’t work.”
Patrick knew what worked, and the word/term for me-to-him is best expressed in Yiddish: he was a mensch – a person of honour and integrity.”
– Ihor Holubizky, former AGH Chief Curator
“The memories of Patrick that I cherish the most are his eye-twinkling smile, his easy laugh, and the pleasure he took in a little bit of silliness in everyday things. That, and the voicemails he used to leave on the weekend, which always ended with a song playing. He was genuinely interested in those around him, and empathetic to our ups and downs. He made friends with our partners and spouses, asked about our children and remembered the small details of stories in a way that made each of us feel special. He spoke fondly about his family, his mother and his love of art.
From my first encounter, he was sweet, friendly and encouraging, and that charming way that was uniquely Patrick continued throughout all of the years that we worked together. Over the years we spent many hours chatting about art, work, life and so much more. Professionally, Patrick was a gifted curator, a wonderful writer and speaker and the pleasure that he took from his work was clear and contagious. I learned so much in my time working with him, but it is Patrick, my friend that I will remember most. He was loved by everyone who worked with him, and we are better for it.
A soundtrack for Patrick should begin with Don McLean’s Vincent, be filled with joy and spectacle, a bit of James Taylor, and end with Katy Perry’s Firework – he would enjoy that. A little bit of sparkle has gone out of the world and I will miss him everyday.”
– Laurie Kilgour-Walsh, AGH Senior Manager, Education
“Patrick approached everyone with great warmth and without judgement. He led by example – with empathy and curiosity – and had a way of bringing out the best in people, I think because he genuinely saw the best in everyone. He found in art and curating a way to connect with people around ideas and stories, and I am among many in Hamilton that were touched by his knowledge, generosity, and special Patrick sparkle. Though he wore his gravitas lightly, he was dedicated to the highest standards of art historical scholarship, and his publications and exhibitions will continue to inspire.”
– Sara Knelman, former AGH Curator of Contemporary Art
“I had the pleasure of working with Patrick as the team prepared for the opening of the renovated and expanded Art Gallery of Hamilton in 2005. Patrick’s intelligence combined with an omnivorous passion for life showed in all that he did. My fondest memory was our trip to Budapest to select paintings and secure their loan from the Hungarian National Gallery for future at the Art Gallery of Hamilton. It was an intense period and Patrick sailed through it with an ability to immediately engage with all officials and staff with an acute intelligence coupled with a kind of boyish charm. He liked to end the day with a Campari on ice. Always. He reminded me of James Bond. I told him that and he giggled in the way we are all familiar with. He was our very own James Bond (without the martini).”
– Shirley Madill, former AGH Chief Curator and COO
“The years that Patrick was at the AGH were special. The Gallery had just reopened after the big renovation and everything was new and so was Patrick. I remember his great curatorial tours, but one of my fondest memories is of his modesty. He was so knowledgeable yet Patrick always listened and was truly interested in discussing with us. I learned so much from him and his passion was infectious. He has been fondly remembered since he left the gallery and will continue to be remembered by those of us who knew him.”
– Ann Manson, AGH docent, volunteer, and donor
“When I first met Patrick Shaw Cable at the AGH many years ago, I was a “rookie docent.” My first impression was of a somewhat elfish, very enthusiastic, and extremely knowledgeable individual who absolutely loved his art and profession. I was not wrong.
Over the years that I had the pleasure of associating with him, his office door was always open, and through our conversations around the Gallery’s European Collection and around the many excellent exhibitions he created, crafted, and curated for the Gallery, he taught me so much about the art and artists that were his passion.
For me, the highlights of his time at the Gallery, were his curatorial tours of the exhibitions. His knowledge of the art and artists was truly remarkable, but what was more impressive were his passion and enthusiasm that frequently led his discussion off on diverse related tangents and stories. Then with a twinkle in his eye, and a giggle, he would stop abruptly and say, “But I digress…”
When Patrick left the Gallery, he created a definite void which has never quite been replaced. When Patrick left this world, I know there will be a definite void in the art world he loved so much, one that will never quite be replaced. But I digress…
– Bill Manson, AGH docent, volunteer, and donor
“Patrick was such a genuine person and a joy to be around. He had no airs, was incredibly smart and had a memory like nobody I knew. He remembered everything you ever told him …. EVER. He always took the time to ask you how you and your family were doing and was never too busy to listen or answer any of your questions no matter how silly you thought they were. His office door was always open and he would invite everyone in with his drawl and say “y’all just take a seat.” I am pretty sure he lived off mochas and coffee crisps. But he also loved a good steak dinner, his homage to North Carolina I think. I am going to miss his musical voice mails, his unique wall color choices, like mushroom mousse, fawn pink and melodious harp, that always looked questionable in the can but fabulous on the wall. But most of all I am going to miss my friend. Rest in Paradise Patrick I am so thankful I met you.”
– Paula Esteves Mauro, AGH Preparator
“I didn’t know Patrick for very long, but I remember him very fondly– so brilliant, and generous with his knowledge, with no airs about him. When I first started at the AGH, Patrick was the Chief Curator, and I worked in the retail shop, and he went out of his way to introduce himself to me and took me on a personal tour of the exhibitions. Over the next couple of years, he continued to pop in to say hello and flash his sparkly smile, almost daily. Patrick was a kind and loving person who worked so hard and let others know their work was important and valued. He was an inspiration for how to lead through kindness and humility. We’re all so lucky to have had that time with him in Hamilton. He brought warmth, laughter and a little glitter to the everyday.”
– Alana Traficante, former AGH Manager of Art Sales and Rental and Interim Curator of Contemporary art