Sacred Art - Page 4

Prolific yet unsung, Northern California artist Ray Rice put creative expression at the center of his life
Sacred Art
Sacred Art
Two images from 1955 show Rice's creation of a fireplace mosaic for architect Steve Heller.

“I got kind of tired of the sites I was going to,” Rice told writer Yvonne Mary Peppin in 1978, about his architectural commissions. “I didn’t particularly want to be part of a shopping center development in the middle of orchards, and condominiums that were an intrusion on the landscape.”

Rice also felt “the need to keep moving as an artist,” says his daughter Felicia Rice, a fine arts letterpress printer. And, she adds, “He was not interested in making money at all.”

“When they moved to Mendocino,” she says of her parents, “they said each of them needed $100 a month to survive.”

Ray and Miriam had also tired of Marin County, which had grown wealthier, increasingly urbanized, and noisier. Mendocino was a relief. And it proved to be far from a backwater to the Rices, who helped create an artistic community as early teachers at the Mendocino Art Center, which started in 1959.

The Rices began teaching there in 1960 and bought a tiny house for almost nothing overlooking the Mendocino Headlands with views of the ocean. They moved to town permanently in 1970.

“Living lightly on the earth and doing things as simply as possible was a very high priority for him,” Felicia says. “They were very early environmentalists, both my parents.”

Shortly before quitting his architectural work, Felicia says, Rice turned down a potentially lucrative job—creating the giant ‘S’ for Safeway stores in mosaic.

“He didn’t want to produce meaningless material for a corporation,” she says. “It was the total antithesis of what he was about.”

What Ray and Miriam were about, friends and family say, was clear. They’d made a mutual pact early on, Felicia says, “to make art the center of their lives.”

A Hoosier lad raised in a strict, no-playing-on-Sundays household, Rice maintained a lifetime work ethic that kept him in the studio every day. And his family was a musical household, singing folk songs around the piano.

As a teen, Ray played tuba then bass, and spent a year after high school touring Indiana, Ohio, and Southern Michigan with a ten-piece jazz band, he told Gayle Caldwell of the Mendocino Beacon.