By Evan and Robin Mills

The pandemic has wrought hard times for the arts in the world at-large and in a beautiful little corner of it known as Idyllwild, our famous art town. 

  Idyllwild’s Courtyard Gallery has been continuously operated since its founding in 1980 by artist Carol Mills, making it the longest-standing gallery in town and indeed among the oldest cooperative galleries in California. 

Carol Mills with some her paintings in 2009. Photo by Evan Mills

  Our parents, Carol and Roy, were part of the team that designed and built the Courtyard Building, which the family has continued running after their passing. The gallery was its first occupant.

  In recent years, as the long-standing co-op members went in new directions, the Art Alliance of Idyllwild stepped in and revitalized the gallery. Now, in the COVID-19 crisis, we are sad to see them have to step away from the enterprise. We appreciate their efforts, dedication and support for a major retrospective of Carol’s work last summer.

  Early on, Carol saw that local artists had things to say that were not necessarily mainstream or commercially oriented, and some had no opportunities to exhibit in the community. With great excitement — as a prolific artist in her own right — her goal was to provide a more formal and carefully curated alternative venue, and one where the art did not have to compete with commodity “pretty pictures.”

The gallery featured painting, drawing, printing, photography, ceramics and sculpture. Among the exhibiting members during the earlier years were names familiar to many readers: Helen Atik, Bob Bebe, Steve Chadwick, Chinlee Chang, Anna Chellton, Bill Crawford, Debbie Crowell, Thomas Frankovich, Marcia Cox, Claire Hughes, Nel Ivancich, Paul Jacobson, Jan Jaspers-Fayer, Rick Knowlton, Mark Meader, Elanie Moore, Roger Mosser, Jan Priestley, Terry Rothrock, Sandra Shelton, Cher Townsend and Trish Tuly. Many guest artists were also featured.

Carol nurtured a professional but unpretentious safe haven for expression and enabled artists to retain virtually all sales proceeds. Sustaining an environment like this meant charging no rent or commission for decades, and later, only a fraction of what the real market would have required. Pressure to sell was low, while the challenge to stretch and do honest work was high.

  As things open up again, we welcome interest from others wanting to reinvent the space to continue the Courtyard Gallery tradition and help keep Idyllwild on the arts map. 

  Perhaps someone is ready to think even bigger … 

  In addition to celebrating masterpieces by active artists, consider the unviewable treasure troves of historic work squirrelled away around the Hill. This includes archived pieces by past world-class instructors at Idyllwild Arts Academy (including renowned Native American artists), works of Ernie Maxwell, Dorothy Lewis, Lora Steere and others housed at the Historical Society and elsewhere, and pieces in private collections. 

... An Idyllwild Art Museum anyone?