Metro-East Living

African artist feels blessed to live and work in America

Kenyan artist Pat Ayano now lives in O'Fallon

Pat Syano is one of about 400 vendors who will display and sell his work at Kay Weber’s Fall Art and Craft Show, Nov. 25-28, at Belle-Clair Exposition Center in Belleville, Illinois. He specializes in charcoal drawings of African landscapes and an
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Pat Syano is one of about 400 vendors who will display and sell his work at Kay Weber’s Fall Art and Craft Show, Nov. 25-28, at Belle-Clair Exposition Center in Belleville, Illinois. He specializes in charcoal drawings of African landscapes and an

Pat Syano was an organic artist before organic art was cool.

The Kenya native chewed up the ends of sticks to make paint brushes and dipped them in a charcoal-and-water paste to create his African landscapes and animal images. If he wanted to add color, he crushed flowers or tree bark.

Pat still uses ground charcoal and occasionally sticks for his drawings, but now he has access to paint brushes, ink pens and colored pencils if needed.

“Everything in America is different than where I’m from,” said Pat, 46, of O’Fallon, who moved to the United States in 2010. “You have a very blessed country.”

Pat is one of about 400 vendors who will display and sell their work at Kay Weber’s Fall Art and Craft Fair from Nov. 25-27 at Belle-Clair Exposition Center in Belleville.

Returning favorites will operate booths alongside new vendors, such as a man who gathers his own vines for grapevine wreaths and another who repurposes old sewing machines.

There will be jewelry, adult and children’s clothing, wood carvings, knitted items, purses, ceramic pottery, Christmas decor, quilts, soaps and other handmade body products.

“These are all original items,” said promoter Kay Weber. “The people who make them don’t live in China, and prices are good because they don’t have the overhead.”

Patrophers “Pat” Syano is a newcomer to the Belleville show. He will sell framed and unframed pieces of his work, including greeting cards ($10 to $200).

“Everything is original,” he said with a strong accent. “I don’t sell copies.”

Pat’s charcoal images are representations of his homeland. He grew up in a remote village in Kenya’s Eastern Province, living in a hut with dirt walls and a thatched roof. Elephants, rhinos, giraffes and gazelles were part of the local landscape.

Pat’s father hunted to feed the family of nine before he died in 1981. Pat went to live with a school headmaster who had employed his brother.

“He became my guardian in a way,” Pat said. “I was able to go to school and, in exchange, I helped take care of his animals.”

Money problems prompted Pat to quit secondary school a year before graduating. He learned how to carve animals out of wood and sold them as souvenirs near Mount Kenya.

Pat was about 25 when he began doing charcoal drawings.

“Tourists liked them,” he said. “I would go to missions and meet students from America and different parts of the world, and they would buy little cards.”

One customer was his future wife, Debbie Schachner, an O’Fallon native who was teaching children there to read.

After returning to the United States, she began raising money for a library in Kenya and kept in touch with Pat by letter and email for five years.

“He was basically my eyes and ears when I wasn’t there,” said Debbie, 40, now a nurse at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.

One of her fund-raising efforts involved hiking from California to Connecticut on the American Discovery Trail, speaking to clubs and organizations in towns along the way.

Debbie raised $68,000 and returned to Kenya to start library construction in 2008.

“I was amazed by this young girl who wanted to build a library,” Pat said. “Back home, men build things like houses and bridges.”

After the library was completed, Pat traveled to the United States. Less than a year later, he and Debbie got married.

Pat took English classes at Southwestern Illinois College and worked a couple of jobs washing cars before getting back into his artwork.

“I had to learn how to drive,” he said. “It took me like two years. I had never driven before. And I worked on my citizenship. Last year, I got my citizenship.”

At a glance

  • What: Kay Weber’s Fall Art and Craft Fair
  • When: 3 to 8 p.m. Nov. 25 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 26 and 27
  • Where: Belle-Clair Exposition Center, 200 S. Belt East in Belleville
  • Admission: $4 on Nov. 25 and $2 on Nov. 26 and 27
  • Don’t bring: Baby strollers
  • Show information: Call Kay Weber at 618-233-0940 or visit the Facebook page
  • Pat Syano information: Email to pjmsyano@gmail.com
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