#IAmCullman: Meet Patti Morrow Ward

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Cullman’s Patti Morrow Ward poses with one of her many unique paintings. (contributed)

 With this feature series, The Cullman Tribune is highlighting everyday individuals all around Cullman County who make our community a great place. #IAmCullman

“I’m really just a dabbler.” That’s how Patti Morrow Ward describes herself. Ward has always loved the arts: music, writing, crocheting, drawing and painting. She’s done a little bit of everything, but recently, it’s her painting talents that have people buzzing.

Patti is a Cullman girl. She graduated from Cullman High School in 1974 and by the time she was a junior, she had already recorded her music in Nashville. She had a record on the radio and was traveling and performing. One of her biggest, and last, shows was an outdoor show with Willie Nelson.

She recalled, “Willie Nelson was the main guy, and he was huge at that time. I had gone down there with my band to perform. There was a lot of drugs going on. Willie Nelson was high as a kite. I couldn’t wait to meet him, and when I got there, he smelled so bad that I couldn’t even get close to him.”

Patti sang pop and contemporary gospel and wasn’t sure how to handle the concert so, she said, she went backstage to pray about it.

“I thought, I will just go out there and do my gospel songs,” she continued. “Maybe that would do some good. About that time, Willie Nelson went out there. He wasn’t supposed to because all the little acts were supposed to go out first. He was so high, he just went on out there and the first song he did was ‘Amazing Grace.’ At that point I was like, ‘I get it Lord. This is not for me!’”

Patti still sings and still writes music. She has a song on YouTube called “My First Love Was Paul McCartney.”

She said, “It’s a really cute ballad about me growing up when the Beatles first came out and them becoming famous.”

She wrote the song five years ago but decided to record it at the beginning of the pandemic because, she smiled, “What else do I have to do?”

She also published her novel, “Mavis,” in the early 2000s. She published another book for a friend of hers in south Alabama.

“It was a children’s book called ‘Debbie and Me,’ she said. “It’s really cool because this was a black lady and she became friends with my blind cousin, Debbie. They became super cool friends after she saw Debbie at church one day. She said to herself, ‘I need to be her friend because she is blind and all alone. Her husband had left her. Then she wrote this cute little book about black and white, about racial problems.”

Patti illustrated and published the book.

Her novel “Mavis” is about a Southern girl.

“She was born about the time my mom grew up in a town a lot like Cullman County would have been at the time. She’s very mean but terribly funny,” Patti said. “The book does have humor in it, but it does deal with a serious problem. She was abused by her father and that’s why she was so mean. She always felt unloved and it goes into a lot of that.”

The book is not about Patti’s own family. She describes her father as the “greatest dad in the world.” She said she never experienced abuse and credits her mom’s storytelling skills and phenomenal memory for the setting and time period of Mavis’ story.

“It did well. I didn’t lose money and I sold every copy. I have three copies left for my grandkids,” she said. “I had a briefcase full of songs I had written over the years. When I wrote the novel, I told my mom that I can’t afford to keep sending it to publishers who won’t even look at anybody that’s not already published. I can’t handle being turned down over and over again. I decided to publish it myself because I just didn’t want the manuscript in a briefcase with all my songs. I wanted it in a book form for my grandkids so they’ll know their grandmother can do something!”

Patti has had several different businesses through the years. She lost her job at the beginning of the pandemic and she called the experience “discouraging.”

“I was just sitting on my couch one day just really depressed about the whole thing and not having anything to do,” she said. “I looked at my wall where the fireplace is and it was kind of dull. I thought, ‘I gotta paint something and brighten that up. Maybe that would cheer me up.’”

After she finished the painting, she was on a group chat with some of her friends. She was hesitant to share her work on social media but did show her friends her new painting. They loved it and encouraged her to share her talent on Facebook.

Patti described her paintings, saying, “I take your house, you send me a picture of your house, and I paint the front of it with a whimsical setting. I can do your house, church or school. It’s keeping me busy. People want to see their house in a whimsical style, especially right now. It’s cheerful.”

Now, the demand for her painting is keeping her busy and happy. She has also lent her talents to a new mural inside St. Andrews Methodist Church.

She said, “They asked me to paint a mural up and down the hallway for their children’s area. I did this big, long painting of Jerusalem, but it has little store fronts with names like Samson’s Gym and Adam’s Rib Shack. It’s really cute. It wasn’t my idea; I just painted it.”

She added, “I just fell into this. It was really just, I think it was a God thing. I am a very spiritual person. I am a Christian and I really believe it was God’s way of saying, ‘It’s OK that you lost your job. I’ve got something better for you that you will enjoy more.’”

Patti said being left-handed played a role.

She laughed, “You know what they say about left-handed people? We are creative and we’re in our right minds.”

The painting she created for the wall by her fireplace brings Patti such joy.

“Now I have this really nice picture of my home at my favorite time of year because I have window boxes on the front of my house. They are SO pretty in the spring. My husband does all the yard work. I never do any of it. He plants these really pretty begonias in my window box and they are just GINORMOUS!” she smiled. “So I wanted to paint the house with the window boxes full and at the time of year when everything has bloomed. Now it’s hanging on my fireplace and it makes me very happy. It really did cheer me up.”

Helping and encouraging her painting is Patti’s husband, Michael. He has been her biggest supporter. So much so, he gave up his “man cave” to give Patti room for all her paintings. She said the orders for her paintings have been steady, but luckily, not overwhelming.

“I never really landed on anything that I thought was my calling, but maybe art ends up being the thing,” she said. “Who knows?”

Michael and Patti have been married for almost 12 years. They attend Grace Chapel Church. Patti has one daughter, and combined, Michael and Patti have seven grandchildren.

Patti also enjoys volunteering with her second cousin Ashley Wilson at Curt’s Closet.

“I’m really into that,” she said. “Ashley’s mother Dianne Lee is the reason I do all the things that I do. When I was a little kid, she was the most creative person you could ever imagine in your life. She was just so creative. She could do everything. I just patterned myself after her. I just wanted to be talented and artistic like she was. She’s just super talented. Way more talented than I.”

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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com