By Darl DeVault
On his way to becoming a physical education teacher, Broken Arrow resident Clancy Gray ended up teaching art, the love of which he discovered right before he began his student teaching. That new love of art added onto his first love of teaching and coaching allowed the Osage Nation member to create an art legacy of intergenerational impact in the Tulsa area.
The University of Central Oklahoma art education graduate says teaching all that art keeps him excited about his own artistic efforts. Gray, now 66, creates his own art, mostly in his summer breaks. He says he is too busy during the school year, busy those 37 years of shepherding thousands of students through a rigorous art curriculum. The two concepts support one another in addition to having an impact on nearly 4,000 former art students, as Gray has become a fine art modern master. The art teacher and artist has been doing pottery, painting, sculpting, and designing jewelry in his Native American themes of collectible quality from the start.
“For me teaching is sharing, sharing those things I hold precious to me…..so it is only natural that I care the most about sharing my art through teaching since I get to see it affect young artists positively every day.” Gray said.
His dramatic use of depth in the impasto style of using a palette knife to apply his vivid acrylics allows light to animate the painting. The style allows Gray to create a modern ruggedness that celebrates the sparkle built up in some areas to ceramic glaze depth with skillful repetitious palette strokes of the water-based acrylic paint. Those high gloss highlights have a richness of color that captures the eye, whether portrait and figure, still life, and landscape.
There is a stillness, balance and yet movement in his work. He can build up depth in the painting that can be highlighted by brilliant hues or light catching the shiny acrylic as intended.
The artist’s fondness for color, texture, and asymmetrical design is also reflected in his jewelry and his love of nature shows up in many of his portrayals of animals in action. This has allowed him to win many prestigious art awards in his long career in designing silver jewelry and sculpture. His silver jewelry is often the most collected of his work. This nationally collected art teacher has won numerous awards in exhibitions and museum shows, such as in 2012, he was part of a Red Earth invitational sculpture exhibit at the Myriad Gardens in Oklahoma City.
He is equally proud of the achievements of his art students in Tulsa, both at McLain High School for 17 years, East Central High School for 18 years and these last two at Edison High School. He insists the students master the basics and then encourages them to create original works rather than copying pictures. Gray has guided many art careers as he has taught more than 4,000 students have graduated from his careers at three schools.
Along the way he has often coached boy’s and girl’s soccer, baseball, girl’s softball, boys and girls cross-country and boys and girls swimming. "We've had student artists earn important scholarships, and become award-winners in art competitions and students whose work is shown in galleries,” Gray said. "We have high expectations, we really want them to grow as much as possible as artists along the way, and hope that means some will win numerous art competitions in the state and nationally.”
"Students are given strong basic skills, as they learn those skills can take them anywhere they want to go as artists.” Gray said. The result is a highly productive teacher who has helped many graduating students receive college scholarships and awards.
Passion for teaching and creating a nurturing educational setting for all his students was a given. After his double major in art and physical education, Gray went on to earn a master's degree in education at UCO. In his case he gets to see the talent evolve and adapt to create great art. That often stimulates him to keep up with his own art career. Gray sells his artwork and jewelry at surrounding area art shows, usually setting up his work at shows about seven times a year.
Locally, his work can be found at the Greater Tulsa Indian Arts Festival, Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival and Oklahoma Indian Summer Festival, he said.
He said it has been satisfying as a teacher to see his student’s foster multigenerational relationships within the art community as they seek their fortune. After talent, the intangibles make the artist, he said. Gray communicates the positive outlooks on those intangibles to model positive outcomes for his students.
Although he points to his influence in nurturing artists as a teacher in the formal setting of a high school as his greatest success, often spanning generations, Gray has mentored his own family. While showing respect to his forefathers’ art, Gray’s multigenerational influence as an art educator has already given him a rich legacy, including an art teacher son and an education administrator son.
The artist’s legacy started with his family, where his two brothers and sister all have artistic ability. Younger brother Shan Gray is known as a world renowned sculptor in bronze. Gray’s older brother is talented silversmith and his sister is known for her watercolor and pottery.
His son Brett is teaching art at the Freshman Academy in Broken Arrow. He also is a UCO art education graduate, teaching since 2006. And his youngest son Dax is a former history teacher and now an assistant principal in Broken Arrow at Ernest Childers Middle School. Mendi Gray Parker, his daughter, is helping manage store marketing and public relations for Quik Trip in Tulsa.
Gray is humble in person, often more comfortable talking about his artist friends and family. “My wife Sherry’s support for my art has made a huge contribution in our 37 years of marriage,” Gray said of his spouse who manages a catering firm in Tulsa.
“My younger brother Shan Gray has always had the natural ability to see things and recreate them in three dimensions. Shan is a true artist with a God-given talent,” said Clancy. “I got to help on the statue’s hands when Shan did the Shannon Miller statue in Edmond.”
He was able to teach his father, once he started teaching, saying “Yes, I taught my Dad how to do silversmithing. And then later I taught my older brother Greg to do silversmithing and jewelry makingHe became quite an accomplished silversmith, as well.”
The Navajo style jewelry Gray creates has a story, where the design is built around the stone. His jewelry can range from $20 up to as much as $8,000.
But it is still about the teaching, interacting with young people, he says. He points out that youth are far more visually oriented at their age than he was at the same high school age in the 1970s. He attributes the graphic rich world we now live in as stimulating younger artistic eyes and how they recreate the world in art.
Firmly on the path to being a physical education teacher and coach because his love of playing baseball had motivated him in college, Gray embraced art late in his college career.
No doubt he could get a college degree; no doubt could he become a teacher. The only question was: Could he create the same intensity and robustness of teaching art that he displayed as an athlete and coach. Now 40 years from that fateful decision to change his life’s direction, it is evident he has displayed an intense amount of interest and caring in his life’s work—that shows in thousands of artists he has instructed and nurtured.
Throughout Gray’s teaching career he has planted the seeds of art and art appreciation in his student artist’s lives, opening them to growth in self-awareness, self-expression, and self-confidence. Some would say his impact is profound. Inspired by his teaching and his love of art and freedom of expression, many of his students have gone on to become professional artists, designers, architects and educators. Hundreds more still have a deep love of making, and looking at art, and participate in these interests whenever they can, recognizing the enrichment it brings to everyone’s lives.