Vernida Brown grew up in Delaware and always loved art, from the time she could hold a pencil or paintbrush. When she was fifteen, a watercolor she had done attracted the eye of a neighbor, who bought the painting from her. Soon after, she did a drawing for entry into the Academy of Arts in her area. To her surprise, a black limousine showed up at her home, and escorted her miles out into the country where the Academy of Art School was located, and gave her a tour. They offered her a scholarship that would pay for half of the costs of attending the school. Vernida was so excited she couldn't believe it. "I knew that was where I belonged, that this was what I was supposed to do with my life." Unfortunately, her parents didn't have the money for the other half and didn't truly understand the value of art. Vernida's heart was broken and she didn't do any more artwork for a very long time.
Like many women "back in the day" Vernida got married right after high school, at 19. That marriage lasted until she was 32 and she remarried at 36 and had two children. Unfortunately her husband was abusive, and Vernida got out with the help of Project Sanctuary before things got real bad. She was in Napa at the time, but the branch there could not take her, and recommended the one in Ukiah. The counselor there asked her, "If you could be anywhere, doing anything, what would it be?" Vernida replied, "In a roomful of paint." The counselor suggested she go to school, and so, at age 49—34 years after putting down her brushes, Vernida walked into Admissions and Records in MacMillan Hall at Mendocino College and asked if she could enroll in some art classes. They informed her there was a painting class taught by Nancy Teeling going on right then, and so Vernida went over and started class that very afternoon!
The other art class Vernida will never forget that first semester was Color and Composition, taught by Paula Gray. Being older, shy and extremely intimidated by the art world in general, Vernida says "Going into Paula's class was the best decision I ever made. She made me feel so comfortable. If it wasn't for her, I would not have gone on."
She decided to go full-time and work toward her A.A. degree as well. She found other subjects very interesting, in fact the only thing she didn't really like was math. Sometimes she would get down on herself and wander over to the art building. The art teachers always cheered her up, and she realized time and time again that is where she belonged; "The art building was my home."
Vernida did not realize her own potential, and would "shake like a leaf" when it came time to put her work up for other students to critique. Everyone seemed to love her work, but once in a while she encountered some negative criticism. Usually when that happened, the other art students would jump to her defense!
Vernida soon became a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Mendocino College Art Club, and was also involved with the Associated Students of Mendocino College (ASMC). She was awarded a commendation from ASMC (2007-2008), named "exemplary student" in April, 2008 and received a full-time faculty award for Academic Excellence in May, 2008. Vernida also received several scholarships, including the Mary Oosting Fine Art Award in 2007 and the Mendocino County Art Association Ina May Scott Memorial Scholarship in 2008.
The first time Vernida had someone ask her what medium she worked in, she did not know what it meant, and so she replied "All of them!" That actually became true for her, she learned them all, but does find acrylics work best for her. "I can work faster with acrylics. I have a very creative mind and my hand can keep up with the acrylics … I get thoughts all the time when I'm working and like to keep that paint flowing."
Her unique style became loved by the entire campus, and many of her works of art still grace the halls of the Career and Transfer Center, the bookstore, the art building, and the President's office. Many others reside in the homes of faculty and staff who commissioned her to paint portraits of their loved ones.
People know and respond to Vernida's work, and she has learned that in the end, after listening and learning from others advice and criticism, "Vernida is going to do what Vernida is going to do. I've learned to stand on my own. People know my style—it is such an honor for them to say that. I am what you see."
Vernida hasn't had much trouble selling her work; usually all she has to do is show people her paintings and they want to purchase them. She has art displayed locally at the Ukiah Co-op, the Corner Gallery and in Willits, and as far away as Michigan and Tennesee, all pretty much from word of mouth. She recently brought 18 paintings to Fresno for a visit with family and within 20 minutes had sold 16 of them to friends of her brother.
Success is defined in many ways in our world. Vernida views it like this: "When I do a painting and someone wants to purchase it, and put it up in their home—that is my definition of success. My ultimate goal is not to sell my art, but to produce art. While I enjoy doing portraits and commissioned work, when something comes straight from my mind and my heart, and I'm able to put that on paper—that is my best work."
Vernida wants to become a "known artist," and here at Mendocino College and the surrounding community, she already is. We look forward to seeing her continue to progress as an artist, and to see what she comes up with next.
Vernida Brown, Mendocino College Student Success Story Date of Interview: 7/25/2012
Written by Christine Mullis