Ray Strong was born in Corvalis, Oregon in 1905. While still in high school, Strong began painting en plein air with Clyde Keller of Portland. Realizing his passion for art, Strong enrolled first in the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco (now the San Francisco Fine Arts Institute). Strong then went to New York, and studied with Frank Vincent DuMond at the Art Students League.
In the early 1930s, Strong returned to San Francisco where he helped found the Art Students League of San Francisco. There he studied and taught with Maynard Dixon (1879–1938), Frank Van Sloun (1879–1938) and George Post (1906–1997).
Strong painted murals for the WPA. Golden Gate Bridge, from 1934 was selected to hang in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt White House. At present, about 25 murals and large public paintings across the US have been identified. Millard Sheets (1907-1989) was another California WPA artist selected to hang in the White House. Both artists also used public art to brand banks in California.
In 1960, Ray moved to Santa Barbara, California, for “the birds and the banks.” He had been commissioned to paint the backgrounds to dioramas in the Bird Hall of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, as well as some paintings for a local bank.
Five years later, he and James Armstrong (b. 1937), John Gorham (1910-1985), Joseph Knowles (1907-1980), and Douglass Parshall (1899-1990) founded the Santa Barbara Art Institute. In 1973, he helped found the Santa Barbara Art Association’s first cooperative gallery, Gallery 113. In 1985, Ray Strong and Arturo Tello co-founded The Oak Group – a kind of plein air Art Student’s League devoted to landscape painting and to preserving California open spaces from development. By stipulating that Oak Group members should give 50% of sales from Oak Group shows to land conservancy, Ray Strong’s Oak Group tied plein air painting to the Environmental Movement.
Ray died in 2006 at age 101. He is missed by all who knew him.
*Photo courtesy of Easton Gallery, Montecito, CA