Oct 12

Remembering Myron Graham

Myron Graham at his home. ©Telegram-Tribune Photo by Ken Chen

He would always greet me with a hearty, “Hello young man!” even when I was into my 40s. I knew Myron Graham from childhood.
Grandma Betty bought her watercolor paints and paper at Grahams Art Store downtown on Monterey Street. There was always a plate with graham crackers to snack on and the pungent smells of paint. Later if she deemed a painting worthy of hanging, Jim Carll would be consulted for the choice of mat and frame. Bill Morem captured Myron’s personality in this story. He died at the age of 99 having accomplished much.

Telegram-Tribune reporter James H. Hayes wrote about Myron Graham April 3, 1982.
‘The Cultural conscience of San Luis Obispo’

“Isn’t that Myron Graham?
The question seemed to puzzle the young waitress in the Chocolate Soup restaurant.
“I dunno,” she replied, putting the foam cup of cappuccino on the table.
“I’ve only been here since December. Who’s Myron Graham?”
To the busy waitress In the soup-and sandwich shop on Morro Street, the framed drawings on the wall are part of the decor.
Few of her young customers could put names with the faces that only yesterday were familiar to almost everyone on San Luis Obispo’s streets:
The 30 drawings – which include retired restaurateur Bob Corcoran, jeweler Dan Frank and radio deejay Captain Buffoon – were done in 1975 by a then authentically starving artist, Richard Yaco.
Now married with two sons, living in Atascadero and commuting by air to Malaysia, where he’s designing a resort community for a Chinese multimillionaire, Yaco recalls: “My good friend Myron was, characteristically, too busy to sit for me. I shot a couple of pictures and drew him from those.”
The unrecognized and unlabeled drawing is one of the clues to the character of a man who draws from longtime peers such praise as :
• “In many’ ways, that warm, good-hearted guy functioned as the cultural conscience of San Luis Obispo” – former Mayor Kenneth Schwartz, with whom Graham served two terms on the City Council.
• “He is a known quantity. We’ve always counted on him to work effectively for our artistic heritage: the County Symphony, the Mozart Festival, the Little Theatre, the Art Association…”- keyboard virtuoso and music Professor Ronald Ratcllffe. a longtime friend.
• “I was just one of hundreds of struggling artists and art and architecture students who Myron helped along the way. He listened to our troubles, overlooked our past due bills and gave us the encouragement we needed.” —nationally recognized painter and art professor Robert Reynolds.
• “He’s been framing my work for 20 years. In fact, he goes back to the days when Phil Paradise and I were in Cambria and Gladys and Stanton Gray were painting in San Luis.
He was one of the people who recognized the talent of Elaine Badgley, who went on to become famous as a contemporary painter in France and San Francisco…”- artist and art teacher Arne Nybak, speaking of the three-time president of the San Luis Obispo Art Association.
There are other testimonials to Graham as a latter-day Caius Maecenas, the aide to Roman Emperor Augustus whose name has become synonymous with enlightened patronage of the arts.
The names of Graham and his wife, Priscilla, are on the bronze plaque among the founding contributors of the San Luis Obispo Art Center. They are listed as patrons in the program of the San Luis Obispo County Symphony.
A handsome metal sculpture by the late John Augsburger swinging over San Luis Creek just west of the Warden Bridge bears evidence of their long love affair with Mission Plaza.
The Grahams have retired to an avid birdwatching life in a redwood dream home. built on pilings beside the Morro Bay estuary.
But two sons, a daughter-in-law and a loyal employee still “mind the store” about which the couple’s lives revolved for a quarter century.
It’s Graham’s Art & Picture Frame Store at 982 Monterey St., distinguished from other establishments on the same side of the street by the presence of a tubbed bamboo and the absence of a blue awning.
Inside, a huge inventory of paints, brushes, prints, canvas and other arty articles from elephant watercolor paper to folding easels compete for 2,400 feet of floor space with a busy framing shop.
A half dozen workers bustle about like so many one-armed paperhangers.
Even after three years of retirement, Myron Graham still holds court there on occasional weekday and Saturday afternoons – dispensing love, art advice and graham crackers to the children.
He Is as casually relaxed as a Roman patronus (Latin : ” like a father.” In Roman law a protector who represented his clients in the senate.)
Slipping a bit self-consciously into new roles as owners and managers are Peter Graham and his wife, Kitson, and 17-year boss framer Jim Carll. Younger son Robert Graham keeps the books and runs the San Luis Film Society from a cramped office.
At 69, Myron Graham is straight and supple from a dally half hour of yoga exercises and an occasional hot tub dip in a plant-shaded alcove off the couple’s bedroom.
He bicycles a score of miles a week, golfs in the 90s and once a month finds time to sail his 14-foot Pelican on the estuary.
At 170 pounds, he could almost fit into the dress blues he wore as a Marine corporal in World War II.
Prisclla Graham, the daughter of a Highland Park, architect, still looks at her husband with the same tolerant fondness she did when they were married 43 years ago.
Retired after 10 years as a Cal Poly reference librarian (“Myron encouraged me to get my master’s in library science from San Jose State”) she still is active in the Library Associates at the university and in the League of Women Voters.
Myron is involved in even more directions from the board of the Civic and Fine Arts Association to membership in Rotary.
He moves through it all garbed in a fashion a reporter once described as “elegantly shabby.”
His manner is a combination of plebeian and patrician – reflecting his youth during the
Depression as one of eight children of a Wichita, Kan. paint and wallpaper family and his fine arts education at Wichita State University and the Chicago Art Institute.
Summed up artist/designer Yaco: “I’m like all the other artists who Myron has befriended through the years. I’d fly halfway round the world to see him.”
That’s the kind of appreciation a patron of the arts deserves.

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