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Patti Curtis never expected to be a small business owner. She had a thriving career as an executive for a large cosmetics company, but at age 53 she was laid off without warning. So she polished her resume, updated her LinkedIn and thought she would quickly land a new job. But she couldn’t even land an interview.
“I really had a fire in my belly. I was mad, I felt it was really unfair,” Curtis said. “I just decided, you know what, I’m so sick of people treating us like old fogies and we’re not. We’re still cool, we’re still hip.”
Curtis decided to dive back into a world she had left behind years ago. As an art major in college she was passionate about expressing herself, but never thought it could be a career. Now suddenly jobless, she found solace in creativity. She also found many other artists her age with an abundance of talent but nowhere to display it. An idea was born.
“I took the word ‘fogie’ and I made it into ‘Fogue’ and gave it a really cool font that probably looks familiar,” Curtis said.
With a font and sensibility similar to a certain stylish magazine now established, Curtis started building out her business, called Fogue Studios. The criteria was simple: a collective of artists over 50 who wanted to make and sell art alongside one another. She opened in 2018 with an 800-square-foot space. In less than two years, Fogue Studios has grown to a 6,000 square-foot gallery with 37 resident artists and regularly hosts large events including classes, live music, poetry readings and, of course, selling art.
And while Curtis was the studio’s sole proprietor, the memory of being jobless and frustrated loomed large. So she put people over profit, describing Fogue Studios as the “anti-gallery.”
“The gallery only takes a 15% commission on art sales,” explained Curtis. “Most galleries take 50% to 60%. “I really wanted to give back to the artists, as an artist myself, and we all take care of one another and support one another.”
Curtis’s plan for growing Fogue Studios was working, too. She was considering a second location in Seattle and possibly starting a nationwide chain. Then COVID-19 hit, and in an instant everything changed. No more exhibitions, no more gatherings and almost no more sales.
Like many other business owners and entrepreneurs, she was scared. But Curtis pivoted by building a robust online store, leaning into social media and even starting her own YouTube channel. Sales were down significantly at first, but she said they’re now rebounding.
“I think the most successful entrepreneurs are the people that can really change with what’s happening in society, in the environment, in their neighborhood and with their customers,” Curtis said.
As quarantine restrictions slowly ease, Fogue Studios continues to adjust to the new normal, now regularly holding outdoor events. Curtis has recently taken on a business partner and still hopes to expand, but at a slower pace than before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, her own art reflects the passion that drives her. She takes vintage animal skulls and bejewels and paints them with bright colors to give them new life.
“The concept of my art is the beauty is in the bones,” she said. “I want people to know that just because you age on the outside, the bones are still there and the beauty is on the inside.”
Curtis’s journey is far from over. She’s proven she can roll with the punches and remain standing, even when the blows are from a deadly pathogen. In person, she’s sincere, confident and wickedly funny. And while she doesn’t take herself too seriously, she feels strongly about the realities of ageism and changing the paradigm of what age looks like.
“When I got laid off, that was one of my lowest points — I really had nothing else that was offered to me,” Curtis said. “So I had to make my destiny, and I had to make my future. And that’s not an age thing, that’s a life thing.”