As a young mother living in the Michigan countryside, Pat Underwood would often visit her two neighbors, both older women, and while away afternoons having tea by their potbellied stove, watching the birds outside the window.
"I thought, if I could inspire anybody the way they inspired me: the way they lived their life, worked with nature, their sense of the inside and outside environment, how everything was so cozy," muses Underwood.
Since then, Underwood's life has revolved around art in one shape or form. Today she creates vibrant garden-inspired mosaics, many of which are featured in the beautifully restored 1914 house in downtown Bradenton where she lives with her husband, Cal, daughter and two grandchildren. As well as artwork, books and antiques she and her husband have collected over the years-such as a collection of chimney pots from a foraging trip to England-Underwood has her own ceramic and mosaic creations scattered throughout her house. Birds and flowers in burnt umber and kingfisher blue adorn the mosaic walls that line her front steps, and an endearing ceramic frog graces both that mosaic and the one she made for her living room mantelpiece that features an exuberant frieze of frogs and ferns.
Underwood never took formal art classes, but has always painted or sketched. As a mother of four, there was often not enough money for home decorating projects, so she would paint her walls herself, stencil designs, and paint and refinish furniture. After her children went to bed, she would bring out her canvases and oil paints to practice and paint.
She began her career in Sarasota after she and her husband moved here 18 years ago, after falling in love with the city while visiting parents in North Port. Here, Underwood stenciled and hand painted furniture and walls for six years, and began to sell excess pieces at a regular stall at the downtown Farmers Market. That was such a successful move that she rented a 400-square-foot property and opened a store, Different Strokes, which within nine months, had expanded to 2,500 square feet. The theme was shabby chic garden-oriented furniture and mosaics she and her husband made or collected.
While planning a daughter's wedding reception, Underwood decided to make steppingstones in the garden out of stained glass, and that's how her love affair with mosaics began. She bought books and began to incorporate old tiles, broken dishes and statuary into her designs. Clients started requesting custom pieces, so she took a class and started making own tiles. "It was a new way for me," says Underwood. "It was more tactile. I could touch and feel and create with three-dimensional pieces."
Five years of seven-days-a-week involvement in the store took their toll, however, and the Underwoods decided to call it a day and take more time out for family, travel and art. But old habits die hard, especially for an artist so prolific: She just opened another studio, also called Different Strokes, in Bradenton's Village of the Arts this month, at 1017 10th Ave. W., where she will showcase her own and other artists' work.
Underwood creates her pieces-birdbaths, mirrors, desk, plant stands and flower pots-in her home studio, which is filled with baskets and boxes of tiles and broken china, molds for her own tile patterns, and all sorts of found objects: mirrors, lamps and chandeliers. As well as custom pieces for clients, Underwood has created ceramic lines, including a series of teapots with women's faces, birdhouses, and decorative crockery with motifs of chickens, roosters and frogs.
"I just think anything related to the garden is so peaceful," says Underwood. "To me it's just the most relaxing way to live."