Chromatic Gate, a monumental painted steel sculpture, was erected on the Santa Barbara waterfront in 1991 under the guidance of a committee chaired by Paul Mills.

PAUL MILLS: 1924-2004

A Pillar of Public Art
in Santa Barbara

From the Santa Barbara News-Press

Paul Chadbourne Mills, former director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, died of lung cancer on Friday (9/17/04) surrounded by friends and family. He was 79.

For three decades Mr. Mills was a powerful force in the public arts scene, ranging from spearheading a project to line the breakwater and Stearns Wharf with flags to raising money for the rainbow sculpture, Chromatic Gate, near Fess Parker's Doubletree Resort.

Mr. Mills was a champion of many local causes, serving on the boards of the Santa Barbara Flag Project, Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, Contemporary Arts Forum, Prime Timers and Gay Santa Barbara.

His daughter Katie Mills, of Los Angeles, said he "is probably the busiest person ever to die."

Mr. Mills was born Sept. 24, 1924, in Seattle. After high school, he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Alaska as part of the communication corps. From 1945 to 1948 he attended Reed College in Oregon and for the next three years worked as a reporter with the Bellevue American in Washington state. In 1953 he earned a bachelor's degree in art history from the University of Washington.

Mr. Mills' lifelong career in the arts began with a part-time job at the university's Henry Gallery, where he served as assistant curator for a year beginning in 1952. He went on to the fledgling Oakland Museum, starting as art curator before being named director, a post he held until 1970.

In 1955, he married a friend from high school, Jan Dowd.

Mr. Mills was active in the Bay Area Figurative Movement and the Pop Art Movement.

"He gave Richard Diebenkorn his first show," said his daughter, "and wrote notably about painter David Park, who was the focus in his 1961 (master's) thesis in art history from UC Berkeley." That work -- known as the only firsthand book on the artist -- was published in 1988 as "The New Figurative Art of David Park."

During the 1960s, he and his wife were also active in Oakland's civil rights movement, and Mr. Mills helped his wife open a collection of stores and restaurants in Oakland, the Bret Harte Boardwalk, in 1963.

They also worked for passage of bonds for a new building for the Oakland Museum of California, Katie Mills said.

The couple moved to Santa Barbara in 1970 when Mr. Mills took over as director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Soon after, he was drawn to flag design -- and he later designed the Santa Barbara County flag, which hangs in the county Courthouse arch.

In a 2001 News-Press interview, Mr. Mills said, "Flags are a combination of modern design and history. Heraldry I find interesting."

In 1977, Mr. Mills started the Santa Barbara Flag Project, 36 colorful flags that line the breakwater, each representing a community organization. The project also encompasses the Cedric Boeske Memorial, a dozen historic flags of California on Stearns Wharf.

When his wife died in 1999, Mr. Mills came out as a gay man, his daughter said. He served as vice president of Gay Santa Barbara and organized Pride art shows. His daughter said he also joined Trinity Church and "actively explored his beliefs and religion."

He also joined Santa Barbara Prime Timers, of which he served as president.

Mr. Mills "remained vibrant, loving and clear-minded up until the very end of his busy life," said his daughter. "Many never guessed the extent of his illness because he remained so active and committed to his causes."

In addition to his daughter Katie, Mr. Mills is survived by a daughter, Megan Kitchen of Santa Barbara, a son, Mike Mills of Los Angeles, and two granddaughters.

A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday (9/25/04) at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, then move to the Courthouse, where friends and family will gather under the Mills flag.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Paul Mills Archives of California Art at the Oakland Museum.