Partner Morris Graves

Queer Places:
2605 E Lynn St, Seattle, WA 98112
Santa Barbara Cemetery Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County, California, USA

Paul Chadbourne Mills (September 24, 1924 - September 17, 2004) was a Seattle-born museum professional who had attended the University of Washington and was working at the university's Henry Art Gallery as assistant curator in 1952 and '53. Morris Graves met and fell in love with him. Mills, who was 14 years younger than Graves, was living a closeted existence, but that didn't stop Graves from falling for him. Their relationship was brief but intense. Surving letters show Graves for once as the shunned partner. Mills addressed his conflict in an undated letter to Graves: "I'm at last beginning to learn something you have learned for yourself and have tried to tell me, the importance of calming down. I have also discovered, by watching myself and seeing what I get confused about and when I get along well, that homosexuality is something that creates too much of a strain on me and makes life difficult for me, hence I had better give that up. The next chapter of my life is going to be devoted to developing a nice, calm "middle". I have investigated the extremes of experiences a little too thoroughly." Graves responded: "This is what I cannot withhold letting you know: You are in my thoughts almost constantly, but those earlier thoughts which (during the months before winter) were set in motion by you (and willingly together) are now thoughts cheated of their long & urgently needed expressions. You have killed half of my heart, half of my spirit. You have replaced a kind of growing buoyancy with a negative vacancy. You have, at last, by your behaviour, put a kind of solid vacancy into my spirit, into my whole way of being & breathing & searching and that which in my life was, by you, once invited into a renewed living & expanding & creating experience has found finally only the drying effect of your smashing & that is why you, whom I loved, I now feel only hatred for." Mills, resigned to his stand, replied: "Morris, the answer seems to be "no" and quite a final one. And it would only make things more difficult for both of us if we were to see each other again." Mills went on to marry a friend from high school, Jan Dowd, in 1955 and had children. They remained married until his wife's death in 1999, after which he came out as a homosexual and became an activist in California. His son, Mike Mills, wrote and directed an award-winning fulm titles Beginners in 2010 based on his father's complicated life.

Paul Chadbourne Mills was born in Seattle, Washington, the son of Reed Chadbourne Mills (1895–1982) and Lillian Hoey (1896–1977). 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. 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.

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 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 Mills took over as director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. For three decades 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. 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."

He was drawn to flag design and he designed the Santa Barbara County flag, which hangs in the county Courthouse arch. In a 2001 News-Press interview, Mills said, "Flags are a combination of modern design and history. Heraldry I find interesting." In 1977, 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, Mills came out as a gay man. 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. 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, Mills is survived by a daughter, Megan Kitchen of Santa Barbara, a son, Mike Mills of Los Angeles.

Paul Mills died of lung cancer on September 17, 2004, surrounded by friends and family. He was 79. The Paul Mills Archives of California Art are held at the Oakland Museum.

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