Pat Kehoe’s life might sound like a John le Carré book. We met one evening over a pint (after Pat’s cherished tap dance class) to talk about how art and life had evolved.

Pat & Howard icing up on F/V Wanderer at SSS before heading for Cape Edgecumbe. Photo © Jana M. Suchy 1980s

Trained as both artist and nurse, Pat came to Sitka from Washington in 1980, specifically to go fishing. She’d been working as an RN in a “very intense setting” and needed to do something different. She and a friend put their VW van on the ferry, got to Sitka on July 4th and settled in at Starrigavin campground. When the rainy season started, Pat’s first gig was “housesitting at Bill Babcock’s little modular home behind the hospital.” Eventually, she rented Warren Christianson’s A-frame island cabin, where he had “cut six trees off at the same height for a foundation – it was magical!” As was the cannery scow she renovated into a floathouse.

Giant Pacific Octopus

In spring 1981, Pat went longlining for black cod and halibut, then trolling for salmon. Women were just then making inroads into what had been a male-dominated world and fishing welcomed people who might not have fit into more traditional jobs.

Pat met her future husband, Howard Pendell, at the 1983 Juneau Folk Festival. They fished together in the summers, traveled (and she worked part time as a nurse) in the winters. Fishing was “perfect for us – we did it together as a family.” They also built their home and homeschooled their two daughters on Galankin Island outside of Sitka.

Pat in front of Island Artists Gallery, 205 Lincoln St., March 13, 2020. See more of her watercolors at the Gallery, at Julie’s Fine Jewelry & Gifts in Ketchikan, and online at islandartistsgallery.com.

After working as an RN at Sitka Pioneer Home, Pat returned for six years fulltime, prior to retiring in 2019. “The best part of my job was listening to the elders telling their stories of exploring SE Alaska.” She also spent many years as a Guardian Ad Litem, working for the best interest of children in the court system.

Pat had always drawn and painted but began watercolors when she moved to Sitka because they so expressed the marine environment. Now it’s been 40 years, and she kept painting “around the edges of raising Coral and Katy and fishing commercially.” Portable paints were the key. A founding member of the Island Artists Gallery (co-op) in 2013, Pat has since taken her art more seriously. She also facilitates a drawing group and an informal painting gathering that has met since the ‘70s.

Howard still has his boat, daughter Katy crews with him and Pat is the “third hand.” So, what’s next?

Says Pat, “Paint every day, foster more community art – maybe a mural project?”