By Donna Cornelius
The newest chapter in artist Patty B. Driscoll’s creative story is inspired by women. Thus, it’s fitting that another woman who’s a friend and fellow artist is helping her write it.
Driscoll’s Agatha Studio is a collection of decorative brass door knockers, each of which has a strong female for its namesake – and a captivating story behind it. Katharine Marx has given the creations a beautiful showcase at AMW Inc., her Homewood jewelry store.
Patty B., as Driscoll is known, grew up in Birmingham and then majored in studio art at Skidmore College in Sarasota Springs, New York. She earned a master’s degree in fine arts at the California College of Arts before returning to her hometown.
“While I was working on my master’s, I was a weaver,” Patty B. said. “After that, I was sick of school and started decorating cakes, sculpting in sugar. I did that until our second child was born.”
She’s also a painter; her luminous still lifes often feature silver pieces and flowers, including roses from gardens cultivated by Patty B. and her husband, Dave. That led to another medium: photography.
“The roses would open up before I could paint them, so I started making photographs to work from,” Patty B. said.
Katharine encouraged her friend to show her photographs. Now, Patty B.’s photos of flowers, fruits and elegant silver pieces are displayed at AMW along with the door knockers.
Katharine, also a Birmingham native and gifted photographer, moved to New York City after graduating from Virginia’s Hollins University. She studied 19th and 20th century art at Christie’s, the well-known auction house, and then worked in Vanity Fair magazine’s editorial and photography departments.
Her mother, Margot Marx, started AMW in 1980 with two other women: Lynn Adams, the daughter-in-law of Birmingham antiques dealer Mary Adams, and Barbara Walthall. The store’s name comes from the first initials of each woman’s last name.
“I was close to my family and went back and forth between New York and Birmingham for a while,” Katharine said. “I found that I loved working with my mother. She was dynamic, and she made everyone who walked through the door feel comfortable, whether they were buying a $50 pair of earrings or pink diamond earrings.”
Patty B. and Katharine connected through a mutual friend, the late Dr. Jeannine O’Grody, who was curator of European art at the Birmingham Museum of Art. They all were among a group of women who would gather for dinners at Chez Fonfon.
After the Fire
Patty B. said her door knockers came into being “out of the ashes.” In 2013, her family’s Redmont house caught fire after it was struck by lightning.
“We went back with the original design almost exactly but changed a few things to make it more modern,” she said. “It took us two years to rebuild. As an artist, I got obsessed with the hardware.”
A trip to Paris to celebrate her 50th birthday was an opportunity for Patty B. to research door knockers in the city’s St. Germain neighborhood. She found that most were made from brass, not bronze, so decided to use brass herself. She also learned more by studying at the Penland School of Craft near Asheville, North Carolina.
At Penland, she met the person for whom her very first door knocker, which has a Regency dolphin design, is named.
“She was a bold little 4-year-old named Charlotte who was the daughter of one of the instructors,” Patty B. said.
Other knockers are named for exceptional women, such as St. Agatha, the patron saint of breast cancer patients and rape victims; Paula, a memorable server at a New Orleans restaurant; and Katharine, for Marx.
Each piece is painstakingly created.
“I sculpt the original out of wax and then make a duplicate mold from wax,” she said. “Next comes chasing, which is the process of defining the details, such as bird feathers.”
Then the piece goes to Birmingham Sculpture, a metal foundry run by artists John Stewart Jackson and Joe McCreary.
“That’s where it becomes brass,” Patty B. said.
She suggested that since many modern doors are glass, the knockers also can be used on garden gates or other entrances. Katharine said she likes displaying them on tabletops.
“Most of us have doorbells now, but door knockers represent who’s on the other side of the door,” Patty B. said. “They are more sensory, involving touch, sound and sight. I think of them as jewelry for the house.”
She’s pleased with the direction her art is taking, and she has more time to devote to her work now that her children, Will and Dede, are grown. She’s also looking forward to her show set for October 2022 in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama Gallery.
“I’m excited to work with the art students there,” Patty B. said. “I think they’ll be interested to see all the different mediums I use.”
A Lovely Legacy
Although Margot Marx died in 2020, her influence can still be felt at AMW.
“We wear black because my mother always did, to show off the jewelry,” Katharine Marx said. “She came to work every day in high heels, too. She worked with local artists and loved supporting Birmingham’s talents.”
Margot eventually became the sole owner of AMW, which is one of the top venues in the Southeast for estate jewelry, fine silver and 20th century photography. Over the years, the store has drawn clients from all over the country.
A staunch supporter of her daughter’s photography, Margot hosted a show for Katharine and always bought the first photo from each of Katharine’s photo series. While Katharine describes herself as being “more of a dealer now,” her striking black-and-white photographs can be seen in her AMW office.
“My passion is photography, my mother’s was silver, and jewelry is our business,” she said.
Patty B.’s door knockers and photographs will be among the many treasures displayed at AMW’s holiday open house, Dec. 2, 4-7 p.m. AMW is at 1829 29th Ave. S in Homewood. For more information about the store, visit amwjewelry.com. For more information about Patty B.’s door knockers, visit agathastudio.com.