Phil Patton, one of the leading design writers of the era, will be remembered at a memorial service at Patton Methodist Church in Franklin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 11, 2016. He passed away in September in New Jersey at the age of 63 of pneumonia after a long hospitalization from emphysema.
Born Lewis Foster Patton in Durham, he was named for his father, an Army Air Corps bombardier badly wounded in a raid over Japan in World War II. But the young Lewis was always known as Phil, after the crew member who saved his father’s life and who died shortly after Phil’s birth. His mother, Mildred (Dwyer) Patton, gave the young Phil his love for books, a passion he pursued with boundless curiosity for the rest of his life.
From an early age, Phil and his younger brother, Dave, spent a great deal of time in Patton Valley and in the old family home on Harrison Avenue in Franklin. Phil’s grandmother, Mamie Slagle Patton, had infused her children with a love of art that was passed on the Phil and formed the foundation for his career.
After graduating from Needham B. Broughton High School in Raleigh in 1970, Phil left for Harvard, where he became the arts editor of The [Harvard] Crimson and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and history. He married Joelle Delbourgo and moved to New York, where he graduated in a single year from Columbia University with a master’s degree in comparative literature.
Phil became a prolific and sought-after writer on art, design and technology. With a keen eye for details and their hidden cultural significance, he was a frequent contributor to magazines such as Esquire, Art in America, Architectural Digest, Smithsonian and WIRED. His article, “Top This,” exploring the design of coffee cup lids for I.D. [International Design] Magazine, became an icon of design journalism and the centerpiece for a book of his essays published posthumously by the Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian’s design museum. He was a regular contributor to CBS News and appeared as a commentator on several television programs on PBS and the History Channel. He appeared on NBC Today, CBS Sunday Morning, The Charlie Rose Show and more.
For many years Phil wrote for The New York Times, where he started the “Public Eye” column, contributed to The New York Times Magazine, and was a regular contributor to the Automobiles section. He became best known for his writing on the design of cars, but authored more than a dozen books on widely ranging subjects, from sports to the secrecy that spawned legends of alien beings at Area 51.
As a curator or consultant, he collaborated on numerous exhibits, notably at the Museum of Modern Art, the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., the Phoenix Art Museum and The Museum of the City of New York. He also authored numerous exhibit essays and catalogues.
Phil was among the inaugural faculty of the School for Visual Arts’ Design Criticism program, where he taught a graduate course on typologies.
He lived in Woodland Park, N.J., and is survived by his second wife, Kathy Hamilton, and children of his first marriage, Andrew and Caroline. His brother predeceased him.
Bryant-Grant Funeral Home is serving the Patton family. Online condolences are available at bryantgrantfuneralhome.com.