F. Patton was born in south side Chicago in 1944. As a child she
realized that she had a talent for drawing. After high school she
attended Roosevelt University in Chicago, earning in 1966 a B.A.
magna cum laude in humanities with a concentration in studio art.
She enrolled at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana and
received an M.A. in 1969, with a thesis on Georgione, a 16th century
Italian Renaissance painter. She then enrolled at the University
of Chicago and, in 1970, entered the doctoral program in Art History.
In 1980 Patton received her Ph.D. in African Art History at Northwestern
University. She studied Museum Management in the Museum Studies
Program at the Smithsonian Institution (1988) and was part of the
Management Development Program at Harvard’s Graduate School
of Education (1996).
Sharon Patton’s professional experience began in 1968 as an
instructor in the Art Department at Mankato State College, Minnesota,
where her specific interest in African-American Art began to grow
and where she developed her conviction that it is difficult to separate
art from the culture that produced it. Subsequently, she served on
the faculties of Lake Forest College, Illinois (1971-72), the Virginia
Commonwealth University, at Richmond (1972-73), and the Art Department
and African-American Studies Program at the University of Houston,
Texas (1976). She served as assistant professor in the Art Department
at the University of Maryland from 1979 to 1985, becoming Director
of Art Galleries at Monclair State College, New Jersey, in 1986 and
Chief Curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York in 1987. In
1991 she moved to the University of Michigan as an associate professor
in the Art History Department and the Center for African-American
and African Studies, becoming director of the latter in 1996. Two
years later, in 1998, Patton was named the John G.W. Cowles Director
of Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum. In 2003 Patton
moved to Washington, D.C. to become director of the Smithsonian’s
National Museum of African Art.
Patton has organized nearly 20 exhibitions, of which three, mounted
in the Studio Museum in Harlem, received much critical acclaim: “Memory
and Metaphor, the Art of Romare Bearden, 1940-1987”; “Home:
Contemporary Urban Images by Black Photographers”; and “The
Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s.” Patton’s
first book, Memory and Metaphor: The Art of Romare Bearden (Oxford
University Press, 1991) grew out of the Bearden show; and her second
book, African American Art (Oxford, 1998) garnered Choice’s
Outstanding Academic Book of the Year Award.
Among the catalogues Patton has compiled are Traditional
Forms and Modern Africa: West African Art at the University of
Witches, Demons and Metamorphoses (1987); and Vincent
C. Smith, Reding on a Blue Note (1990). She is a prolific writer of articles
relating to many aspects of art, and has delivered many papers,
lectures, and presentations to a variety of groups, as well as
serving as a
consultant, juror, and evaluator. She has been the recipient
of numerous grants, awards, and fellowships throughout her career,
and has held
membership in several professional organizations.