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Gene Inglis-Ward, diva of paint daubs, queen of collage, wonder of watercolor and beloved mentor to dozens of artists in the Santa Ynez Valley, is leaving her friends and acolytes, the gallery she helped found and the Solvang home and art studio that served as classroom and clubhouse.

The movers arrive Dec. 19, after which she will join her daughter, Stacey Stone, living in San Diego.

Since Gallery Los Olivos opened 20 years ago, Gene has sparkled up its walls with her multi-media paintings and collages, some off-kilter whimsical, some boldly abstract, some classically composed, all impeccably executed. Her work is in private collections in the U.S., Europe and Asia.

She has numerous memberships in prestigious watercolor and other art associations.

She has been a member of the Santa Ynez Artists Guild and the Santa Barbara Art Association. She has won batches of awards.

Through the past 20 years, she has given her Valley art students sound design principles, solid grounding in color and values, and invaluable drawing and painting tips, but peppered it all with motherly fussing, tasty coffee klatch treats, spicy gossip and confidence-building encouragement.

She greeted arriving students at her front door with a smile. “Hello there. Come on in.

How the heck are you?”

She waved them into her immaculate, art-filled home and ushered them into a cozy studio, with paper-topped tables arranged in a U shape, where chatter and critique blended seamlessly during morning- and afternoon-long classes. Paint splattered. Punchlines punctuated the conversations. Laughter abounded. “I never wanted it to get too serious.”

Mid-way through the half-day session, her husband, Gene – yes, that’s right – would stop in with a tray of fresh coffee and treats. More than one artist was known to dip a paintbrush absent-mindedly into his or her coffee cup instead of water jar. Never mind.

Before coming to the Valley from Los Angeles, Gene exhibited and taught at the Viva Gallery in North Hollywood. She continued to teach there once monthly, and to exhibit there for 10 years after leaving LA. The gallery has since closed. “But I still hear from my students.”

Her teaching career in the Valley began immediately after she arrived here. “When I came here, I mentioned to someone that I intended to teach. I hadn’t even unpacked the boxes when a woman came to my door. “She said, ‘Are you teaching art classes?’

“I said, ‘Yes, but I have to move in first.’

“She said, “I’ll be back next week with six others.’” She was.

When Gene leaves the Santa Ynez Valley, with her will go the love, gratitude and best wishes of Valley men and women, who will pick up the paint brushes she taught them to use, and paint better for the lessons she gave them. Sally Jones, a local watercolor and oil artist, a colleague of Gene’s at the gallery and a student and friend of hers over many years, said, “She encouraged me to keep working and be mindful of the art principles she taught me. And to enjoy what I was doing.”

Longtime Solvang resident Barbara Young, a watercolor artist who studied with Gene at her studio, said she remembers “her wonderful sense of design and the kind way she has always helped artists to improve their work, without imposing her way of doing it herself.”

Gene held art shows over the years for her students at the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art in Solvang, at the Santa Ynez Historical Museum and in her own home. She participated over the course of several years in the home studio tours sponsored by the Wildling Art Museum.

But then this past September, as the Los Olivos gallery she helped to found was preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary in October, Gene lost her husband. He died suddenly and peacefully one morning at home. Gene took stock. It was time, she decided, to say farewell not just to her beloved husband, but to the Valley, which she has called home since 1992.

Just a few weeks after her husband’s death, Gene oversaw the display of the 20th Anniversary Gallery Los Olivos Featured Show, which included the work of more than 40 area artists who are members. It was to be her goodbye to the gallery.

As Gene removed her paintings from the walls of Gallery Los Olivos on Dec. 3, tears glistened in her eyes. “I don’t like goodbyes. I like ‘I’ll see you later.’”