Last December, when Saybrook dining hall manager John Morris was setting up for a holiday dinner, he knew immediately which of his employees could turn a simple arrangement of tables and decorations into a work of art: Pamela Dear.

Quiet and modest, Dear brings an artistic eye to her work as pantry worker and desk attendant in Saybrook dining hall, where she has been employed since 2005. Students and co-workers agree that she is a gentle woman who is always around to give a helping hand. She is, Morris said, simply a “pure, good person.”

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Between arranging food and swiping cards at the front desk, Dear does not have much time to share her career outside of Yale. And not many students and employees who interact with Dear are aware that she moonlights as an abstract artist who has had her work on display at galleries and events throughout New Haven since 2000.

While Dear has dabbled in various careers throughout her lifetime — from nursing school to day care to her current position at Yale — her passion has constantly remained producing art. An abstract painter and printmaker, Dear works with a wide range of media, including canvas, wood and cardboard.

“When I’m really in the mood, I stay up all night and paint,” Dear said. “As an abstract artist, you paint and see what you come up with.”

Andrea Rankins, a fellow dining hall worker and childhood friend, described Dear’s style as “very contemporary, with a jazz accent.” With classical or gospel music playing in the background, Dear explained, she simply creates whatever comes to her at the moment or whatever the music inspires her to do. While she does not usually start her work with a theme in mind, she said, she employs a lot of color and always tries to create something “happy.”

Dear uses a matter-of-fact tone when speaking about her exhibits, though her resume lists two pages of the many galleries and events that have featured her work over the past decade, including the John Slade Ely House, a nonprofit contemporary visual arts center in New Haven. When asked if many people at Yale know of her work as an artist, Dear shook her head, shyly smiling.

“I talk about it if people ask me,” she said.

K.B. Brown, a cook in Saybrook dining hall who has known Dear for two years, said he was not aware of her talent until last year, when he was invited to one of her exhibits.

“It’s not like she promotes it,” he said, adding that only a few fellow dining hall workers have seen her work.

While Dear has been creating art since high school, she said, she had never considered pursuing art professionally until she enrolled in the Inner City Cultural Development Program, a three-year enrichment program for aspiring artists sponsored by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven in 2000. Through weekly classes, she learned the logistics of professional art, and how, for example, to publicize her work to gallery audiences, she said.

From there, her career simply took off.

Brian Senie ’11, a Saybrook student who frequents his college’s dining hall, said he had no idea she was a professional artist and thinks Yale could do more to promote her work.

“I would love to see some of her work here,” he said, looking around the gothic interior of the Saybrook dining hall.

Rankins also expressed the need for more recognition — not just for Dear, but also for other budding artists in the community. In a small city like New Haven, exposure for artists is limited, she said.

“She’s robbed in that sense,” Rankins said, referring to Dear. “Her work could go a long way.”

But the current state of the economy, Dear noted, is particularly detrimental for artists and the flourishing of the arts as a whole. Everything from gallery fees and studio rent to the cost of basic supplies adds up quickly, she said, especially when people stop buying her art. Dear expressed regret at the fact that art is seen as a dispensable medium when finances get tight.

“I get upset when school systems cut the art programs,” said Dear, a single mother of a recent college graduate. “Kids need the creative aspect in their lives, to make them be someone. When they can perform creatively, it helps them in their other work.”

But Dear has not let financial restraints stop her from doing what she loves; although she no longer rents out a separate studio due to rising costs, she continues to work out of her home in New Haven, she said.

“All of us are blessed with something. I’m blessed to be creative,” she said.