Evan and Robin Mills stand before a painting during the Retrospective Show of their mother, Carol Mills.   Photo by Peter Szabadi

Art aficionados and friends of Carol Mills attended the evening opening of her retrospective artwork at the Courtyard Gallery on July 20. Dr. Evan Mills, Carol’s son, spent many months consolidating his mother’s lifetime of art through purposeful and thorough displays of 75 pieces of her many art forms which appear in a beautifully done professional catalog.  

Evan received some guidance from his longtime friend, David Reid-Marr, visual art chair at Idyllwild Arts. This was Evan’s first attempt at curating an art show. The caliber of this show honoring Carol’s life through her art rivals those in art museums and well-known galleries.

 Upon entering the gallery, there is a timeline of Carol’s life from 1930-2014 showing her early life and each stage of her work. According to Carol’s artist statement, “I acquired the ‘tools’ to make the art: looking at objects, learning how to compose pictures, understanding color theory and applications of technique.” 

Observing each art piece in the show, one can see the transformation of styles, emotions and use of different mediums in each decade. First as a teenager painting still lifes, and later, evolving into strong figurative paintings as an undergraduate at UCLA.

During her graduate work at UC Berkeley the influences of Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline and other artists opened her up to a completely different level of consciousness in her painting. She began looking past the rules and into her emotional response to objects. The inner image became more important than the external reality of objects. Over her lifetime, Carol developed a freedom to explore many art forms. A profound part of the exhibition is her self-portraits beginning with realistic pencil drawings to highly abstract images. 

      After college in 1953, Carol earned money using her talents doing many jobs. First painting pagodas on ashtrays, then progressing to Disney Studios to work on the animated movie “Lady and the Tramp” in 1954.  She later rendered architectural drawings for a firm in Los Angeles. When Carol married Roy Mills, she used her architectural skills to collaborate with her husband to design their two homes — one in the Hollywood Hills, and later, one in Idyllwild in the 1970s. 

     Evan shared several insights into his mother’s life. “My mother lived art. Her life was infused with art in everything she did,” Evan began. “Her home, garden, meal preparation, clothing, and jewelry were all details of her art. She grew up loving folk music. When my sister, Robin and I were in school, she volunteered to teach our American history class through folk music. If she wasn’t doing art, she was singing and playing her guitar. She had a lightness about her and sometimes she would do something that cracked her up and she would laugh at herself. She nurtured her children, but as we became teenagers, she was able to return to her art. Leaving us in the care of a grandparent, she traveled to India in 1973 where she began sketching in books which are on display.”

      When the Mills family moved to Idyllwild in 1975, and influenced by her trip to India, Carol wrote, “Living in the serene calm of Idyllwild’s beauty, and through my personal interest in yoga and Eastern philosophy, deeper levels of inner awareness are surfacing in my current paintings.” This is the period where she begins her vivid abstract expressionistic paintings.

      Carol’s home studio was a place where artists gathered for regular drawing sessions and airing of ideas. Local monks from the Zen Monastery came for weekly meditation and discussions. It was a place of community-making.

      In 1980, the idea of serving the community was the impetus for Carol and Roy to develop the building that houses the Courtyard Gallery. Until her death in 2014, Carol managed the cooperative gallery, put on juried art shows, and fostered a climate of nurturing and sharing with fellow artists.

     Her legacy of community-making lives on. Donna Elliot, president of the Art Alliance of Idyllwild (AAI) writes, “In 1998, something wonderful happened in Idyllwild. A group of like-minded artists banded together to form the AAI. Carol Mills was one of the founding members and on the executive board. The mission statement included ‘providing a venue for local artists and artisans to display their work.’ The Courtyard Gallery founded by Carol Mills as an artist cooperative was key to fulfilling that goal. The AAI is thrilled that 20 years later, the gallery is featuring a retrospective of Carol’s work. Her children, Evan and Robin Mills, have been instrumental in honoring their mother’s legacy. We are grateful to them for their support of AAI, but most of all, we are in awe of Carol Mills’ talent and enthusiasm for helping make Idyllwild the art destination it is.”

    Cynthia Grady, Courtyard Gallery manager and newly elected AAI president agrees, “Through Evan and Robin Mills’ generosity, the AAI has a home gallery where artists can show and sell their work. We have expanded our role to include the Idyllwild Visitor’s Center and are partnering with local businesses. I think Carol Mills would be proud that AAI is carrying on her ideals of maintaining a community that appreciates art.”

     This beautiful and inspiring art exhibition runs through Aug. 5, noon to 4 p.m. at the Courtyard Gallery, 26120 Ridgewood Dr., Idyllwild. Carol Mill’s story and art are a part of Idyllwild’s history. Evan continues to maintain his mother’s website carolmillsartist.com. Fine-art reproductions are available for each and every piece in the show, and some originals are available as well.

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