Mendocino College Faculty in Focus: Paula Gray
Well-known for her whimsical animal portraits, art professor, Paula Gray, specializes in teaching painting, drawing and design; however, she also oversees the Mendocino College (MC) Art Gallery, as well as the textile arts and graphic design programs.
Originally from the fishing village of Moss Landing, in Monterey County, Gray has taught at MC for over 25 years: first, part-time, and since 2004, as a full-time faculty member.
Extremely shy as a child, Gray felt comfortable only with her animals, and she retreated into art at a very early age. As a room in her family's home housed the public library for the small community, Gray had access to many art books, which she pored over daily. A Walt Disney art book was a particular favorite. A budding artist, she was first recognized for her art talent in elementary school.
Gray attended Cabrillo College, then continued her education at Chouinard Art Institute of the California Institute of the Arts (CAL Arts) in Los Angeles, where she earned a Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree.
While she was in art school, she landed a job at Disney in Burbank, where she designed and constructed attractions for Disneyland and Walt Disney World, including Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion, among others.
She has also worked as the curator of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff; co-directed a city-wide mural project in Los Angeles; and created comic books and film strips. She has been a fashion photographer and a book illustrator, as well as a public school art teacher, and a freelance graphic artist. Her paintings and constructions have been shown publicly over 100 times during her career.
Gray moved to Anderson Valley (AV) in 1980, after she successfully applied for a grant from the California Arts Council to provide art experiences for court-placed children in residential facilities. She noticed that the AV schools had no arts program, so she wrote another successful grant, with which she hired local artists to teach in the elementary and high schools in AV.
Gray is proud that she built her own house in AV, by hand, and that she lives entirely "off the grid." She loves the AV community, and feels fortunate to call "the Valley" home.
She says "color and composition" is her favorite class to teach, "because it is the basis for everything: drawing, painting, design, sculpture, and even film." She notes that artists use the same principles of color and composition that occur organically in nature, music, and mathematics.
Gray says her best teaching moments are "when students' eyes are opened, and they perceive the world in a new way." She believes that "art is a marriage between craft and magic," and she loves to share that perspective with her students. She stresses that "while students develop their craft with the materials of the class, their personal content is always the most powerful aspect of the work."
Gray, who is known for her dry sense of humor, says she believes most people would be surprised to know that she likes to smell dog's feet! "They smell like salty popcorn," she says.
"Animals are important to me. They have always been a major part of my life," she says. Besides domestic animals, she enjoys the fawns outside her window, and a pair of ravens who knock on her door to remind her to give them their breakfast.
However, her fondest connections are with her students. "They continue to inspire me," she says.