Painting Her Way Through Grief

Valle Crucis, Pamela Haddock

On July 2, 2011, Sylva-based watercolorist Pamela Haddock experienced every parent’s worst nightmare.

Earlier that day, her 29-year-old son, Joshua, loaded his car with rock climbing gear and headed for Rumbling Bald near Lake Lure. “The morning he left,” Haddock remembers, “Joshua hugged me and thanked me and his dad for our generosity — something he made a habit of doing often.”

Hours later, Haddock found herself painting an Appalachian landscape in vivid indigos and earthy greens when the phone rang. The voice on the other end explained that Joshua had been rappelling down a cliff when his rope came loose from a climbing pin. He fell 30 to 40 feet, breaking his neck on impact.

“Fellow climbers came to his aid, and he was airlifted out,” Haddock says. But sadly, Joshua did not survive.

A View From the Meadow, Pamela Haddock

In the wake of that tragedy, Haddock struggled to paint. Particularly on Saturdays — the same day of the week Joshua left this earth — every brushstroke was a painful reminder. But Haddock knew giving up art wasn’t an option.

“Sometimes grieving parents feel they must take up some cause in their child’s name or follow some path to complete something for their child,” she notes. “I felt it was important to simply be the same person my son loved, consistent with the things he loved about me.”

Being herself meant returning to the canvas — no matter how much it hurt.

Homestead, Pamela Haddock

A self-taught watercolorist, Haddock adopted the “fickle” medium in 1990 when she, her husband, and her two children moved to Jackson County. Before then, the native West Virginian had dabbled in pottery and drawing — even sketching illustrations for geology publications in college. But it wasn’t until she witnessed the rugged terrain of Western North Carolina that she settled on watercolor.

“The mountains, the streams that carve those mountains, the houses and barns, the changing seasons, and the drama of the weather made this home to an Appalachian girl at heart,” says Haddock. “Those scenes inspired the body of work I have created over the years.”

Today, Haddock’s “emotional and evocative” pieces range from ethereal waterfalls framed by vibrant foliage to shadowy farmhouses sagging with age. Some paintings feature the artist’s original wet-on-wet process, which uses 140-pound cold press paper and allows the “watercolor to do the work.”

Magic in the Water, Pamela Haddock

More often, however, Haddock paints on YUPO paper or clayboard, “applying pure watercolor pigment in an abstract fashion before employing a subtraction process of scraping, lifting, and manipulating the paint.”

“[The painting] begins as an abstract,” Haddock explains, “and the images reveal themselves.”

Since Haddock adopted this new technique months after Joshua’s death, he never got the chance to witness it. But she believes he would have been pleased with her looser, less structured approach.

“My son was one of my best critics,” Haddock says good-naturedly. “I would like him to see what I am doing now; I think he would like it.” 

Pamela Haddock, Sylva. Haddock is represented by Twigs & Leaves Gallery (98 North Main St., Waynesville,, Tsartistry Art Gallery (20 Cullasaja Vista Ln., Franklin,, and Gallery 1 (604 West Main St., Sylva, To learn more about the artist, visit

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