Carol Mills passed away Monday, April 14, 2014, at her home in Idyllwild after a bout with a fast-moving cancer. She lived 84 exciting years, with grace and beauty, art and spirit, sharing it richly with everyone she loved. She died at home with her family at her side.
Carol was born in Hollywood, Calif., in 1930 to Dr. Nathaniel and Esther Roe. Her father was a chiropractor and naturopath, which placed Carol in a milieu of natural foods and holistic health decades before they became mainstream social pursuits. Her direction in life was also influenced by her parents’ eclectic circle of friends in Hollywood, including pillars of the liberal political and artistic community such as Norman Corwin, Earl Robinson, “Yip” Harburg and Julius Schulman.
During World War II (in the early 1940s), her family lived in a simple house right on the sand at Coral Beach (just north of Malibu). Her family later moved back to the Los Angeles area.
Her sense of drive and adventure was seeded by a mother who attended law school in New York as one of only three women, graduating in the late 1920s shortly before hitchhiking across the country and landing in Hollywood. Perhaps it is also what sparked Carol’s interest in later riding her bike across Europe shortly after the war.
From early on, Carol’s favorite modes of expression were art and music. She received her BA in painting from UCLA. She went on to UC Berkeley where she received her MFA in the years immediately following Hans Hofmann’s tenure there. Other training included La Esmeralda Art Academy in Mexico City following shortly after Frida Kahlo. She also spent a year living in Paris as a young adult, honing her French, and perfecting the art of eating French pastries and sipping a good dark roast.
Her early work years included Disney studios where she was an illustrator for “Lady and the Tramp,” occasionally waving to “Uncle Walt” in the lunchroom. She also created animations with her brother, Stuart Roe, who was to become a filmmaker and educator. She worked at the Los Angeles architectural firm of Ragnar C. Qvale, where she produced vibrant three-dimensional watercolor renderings of buildings from blueprints. After leaving Qvale, she briefly worked on her own as an architectural renderer. For the next 60 years she was a highly prolific abstract expressionist, painting in oils, acrylics and watercolor.
In 1955, she married Roy (Minsk) Mills, a certified public accountant in Los Angeles who moonlighted as poet and philosopher. Working with an architect freshly out of the offices of Richard Neutra, they designed and built their first home in Laurel Canyon, in the Hollywood Hills, where they raised two children.
Always an avid guitar player and singer, she took inspiration from folk musicians such as Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Woody and Arlo Guthrie, among many others. She frequently attended Hootenannies at Will Geer’s place in Topanga Canyon. She used her musical talents as part of a wandering trio called the Merry Wives at the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire at the old Paramount Ranch in Agoura. The Faire was an integral part of her life from its inception, as she was close friends and neighbors with its creators, Ron and Phyllis Patterson.
Carol was always instrumental in her children’s education, which included regularly visiting their elementary school classrooms to sing American folk songs related to the periods of history they were studying, including immigrant and Native American struggles, slavery and the anti-war movement. Other children from that time comment today, 40-plus years later, what an influence she had on their lives. She also frequently volunteered her time singing for children attending Head Start in Watts. When not singing in the classroom, she also was a major force in the afterschool program at her kids’ elementary school, working alongside other talented Laurel Canyon parents such as the Pattersons and Carole King.
In the late 1970s, Carol became a Hatha yoga instructor, studying at the Integral Yoga Institute in Hollywood. Her interest in eastern philosophy continued throughout her life, leading her to Transcendental Meditation, Tai Chi and Zen Buddhism.
In the early 1950s, Carol’s parents brought her to Idyllwild to camp with her aunt and uncle, Mary and Louis Gast, and their daughter Susan, who later owned and operated Rockhill Lodge. Her parents also were close friends of Max and Bea Krone, founders of ISOMATA, now Idyllwild Arts. Carol later brought her own family to Idyllwild for summers, enrolling both children in art classes from the age of 3 onwards. Carol also took painting and printmaking classes over the years from Françoise Gilot, Sueo Serisawa and Joe Magnani.
In the early 1970s, Carol and Roy designed and built their second home near ISOMATA, on a lot given to them by her father. It was intended as a summer home, but in 1975 the family decided to move to the Hill “on a trial basis” so their children could attend Hi-Lo (Hemet Idyllwild Learning Opportunity), a cutting-edge alternative school led by Dr. Mary Glavin. They never left the Hill. Over the years they added on to the original summer cabin, including an artist’s studio for Carol, among other things. Many beloved pets kept them company at home and on the trail. Carol also was an avid gardener and crafted a drought-tolerant, semi-wild landscape that meanders among large boulders.
Both Carol and Roy have been active members of the Idyllwild community on many levels. Carol was an early supporter of Zen Mountain Center, opening her studio to weekly Zazen meditation sittings for more than 10 years. She also taught yoga at Town Hall for many years commencing in the late 1970s. She helped launch the Art Alliance of Idyllwild, and was founder and benefactor of the collective Courtyard Gallery where her work is still displayed today.
Carol and Roy have been avid world travelers and collectors of folk art. In 1980, they flew to Germany, purchased a VW van and spent the next nine months traveling and camping across Europe and North Africa. On that trip, among many others, Carol kept exquisite travel journals where she sketched and wrote extensively. Other journeys included India, China, Tibet, Peru, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Morocco, Egypt and all corners of Europe.
She is survived by her husband, Roy, of 60 years; her daughter, Robin, of Oakland; her son, Evan, and his family, Erika, and their children Nathaniel, Sasha and Francesca of Mendocino; brother-in-law Stanley Minsk, his wife Rosalie and his children Alan and Jana; sister-in-law Eliane Roe and her children David and Cathy; cousin Susan Klenner and her husband Ed, and children John and Michael.
A potluck and celebration of her life will be held at the Mills home in Idyllwild on June 21, followed by a hootenanny, and is open to the community.
Please visit her website to view her artwork and leave your remembrances at www.carolmillsartist.com.