Patricia O'Brien Parsons, 83, of Redding, Conn., and Essex, N.Y., and formerly of Burlington, Vt., passed away in Danbury, Conn., on Saturday, November 30, 2013, following a brief illness.
Born to Isabel Munroe O'Brien and John Larkin O'Brien in Albany, N.Y., on May 26, 1930, Pat attended St. Agnes School in Albany and graduated from Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Conn., and Vassar College.
Before moving to Burlington in the early 1980s, Pat lived in Bedford, N.Y., where she raised a family and owned a contemporary art gallery, Webb & Parsons. Upon seeing the artwork of an inmate named Inez Nathaniel Walker at the nearby Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in the early 1970s, she started showing and collecting the work of self-taught artists as well.
After arriving in Burlington, she opened Webb & Parsons North, adjacent to the Flynn Theater, where she exhibited works by contemporary and self-taught artists. She continued to operate as a private dealer after closing her gallery space downtown, mounting shows in her condominium at Overlake and involving herself in community-based art events, most notably the Hay Project in 1998, a series of art installations and educational programs at Shelburne Farms and elsewhere in Vermont that united farmers, artists and environmentalists in a summer-long celebration of hay. "I always think that hayfields are magnificent and am aware that they are shrinking as the farms are shrinking and the agricultural industry is challenged," she said at the time.
Pat was an ardent advocate for the arts in Vermont, presenting shows by Vermont artists Dug Nap, Gayleen Aiken and Larry Bissonnette, among others, and supporting Burlington City Arts and the Vermont Studio Center, where she was a board member for many years. Pat shared her love of art passionately, insistently and generously, and she donated many works from her collection of self-taught art to museums, including the American Folk Art Museum and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar, where her collection was the subject of an exhibition, "Faith and Fantasy in Outsider Art," in 2009.
An artist herself, Pat saw beauty everywhere she looked. Her extraordinary enthusiasm for life, art, people and martinis will be greatly missed by her family and her many friends of all ages.
Pat was predeceased by her brothers, Jerry and Duncan O'Brien, and her former husband, James O. Parsons Jr. She is survived by her daughters, Laurie of Hoboken, N.J., and Amy of Bedford Hills, N.Y., and Amy's husband, Paul Bird, and their children, Isabel and Henry.
A service was held at St. Matthew's Church in Bedford, N.Y., on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, at 11 a.m., with a second service planned for next summer in Essex, N.Y.