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Gregg Symonds – Old Agoura Icon – Died May 2012

Sep 15, 2019

Gregg and his wife Dee, built their custom Old Agoura home in the 1980’s AFTER their kids were grown and on their own. Gregg had an amazing life.

Gregg wrote the following after he had started to paint art which became a very important part of his life, it was a great joy for him to be able to put the people in his life into a painting.


For many years my son- in-law, Jim Daly, an artist well known for his painting of children of the 1920’s and 1930’s, was after me to try painting, I could not tell you why he thought I could paint. In high school in the 1930’s I had taken art and stage art, it was required in those days, along with reading, writing and arithmetic but afterwards I never gave art another thought. Oh, I liked to look at “good” art through the years but never considered trying to paint anything, especially portraits. At his urging, sometime in 2000 I started to paint in acrylics, a few landscapes and flowers in my yard, nothing of any consequence. In March of 2005 Jim sent me a book, ” Portraits from Life in 29 steps” by John Howard Sanden and Elizabeth Sanden, it changed my life in thinking about painting. At the age of 84 after reading John Howard Sanden’s book I decided to take the challenge and paint one of the subjects in the book, (page 51) in acrylics, I would have gotten a “D” in school. As I read thru the steps outlined I could understand them, “Voila!” An artist was born. Next step was to purchase a paint kit, John Howard Sanden’s Pro Mix color system produced by Martin/F Weber co.,. My son in law mixes all his own paints, but he was impressed with the Pro Mix paints when I painted with him in December 2005 working on my first portrait, a self-portrait from an old picture and a mirror. With steps outlined in “Portraits from Life” and a few pointers from Jim Daly on my first three portraits (I use the term loosely), I have gone on to paint 70 portraits of family and friends, heads and shoulders only. All my portraits are painted from photo’s I have taking myself and printed on my computer, no posed pictures, both outside and inside, different light, shadows. ETC. I know, live models are best, it says in the books. Painting from photo’s I’m learning to measure and observe before the brush strokes.

So what happened in the first of 88 years?

Born Robert Gregg Symonds on August the 24,1921, at home 1310 No. Broadway, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A church is now at that location; I’ve gone back and looked. My father was Robert Clinton Symonds and my mother Gladys Elizabeth Gregg Symonds. My father was a Realtor all his life, we moved a lot, California, Florida, back to California. Santa Monica, Burbank, Glendale, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Studio City to name a few. We drove over the wood highway thru the sand dunes on the first trip to California, over paved two lane roads (no interstates in those days) to other places and back thru the Panama Canal on the H M Alexander on the return to California in 1928.

I went to schools in all these cities but managed to finish high school, 7th thru 12th, in North Hollywood, California in 1940. During this time I worked in the fields, picking up potatoes behind the digger machine (did not last long in that job), in a restaurant washing pots and pans, some food prep, in a gas station and auto shop among other things after school and summers. After high school I worked for a Dodge dealer in Burbank, California. Then came my first challenge! I met my wife in the restaurant I used to work for, she was with her brother waiting for one of the employees to close up. As I seemed to be sitting around and helping to close up, she wondered who I was, asking her brother the next day. Frank told her he thought I was looking for work and she told him that the First National Bank of Glendale was looking for people, ME working for a Bank ?, remember this was 1940 times, anyway I went to the Bank and was hired. As it was raining that day I took Davida Ingram home and 69 years later I still go home to her. (She still speaks to me) The Bank paid $75.00 a month, five and half days a week. After we were married, August 31, 1941 I went work for Western Air Lines in Burbank California for .33 cents an hour and all the overtime I could use, on the ramp crew, cleaning the cabins, loading the planes, figuring the weight and balance for the captains on Boeing 247’s, Lockheed
Loadstar, and DC 3’s, even weighting each passenger and assigning seats in some aircraft.

So the Challenge goes on. In late 1943 I was drafted into the USNAVY 13th NCB Battalion. In Hawaii we connected the two small airports in Honolulu which is now the main airport in the Hawaiian islands, From there we went to Tinian and built the 4 airstrips for the B29’s which flew to Japan and back bombing the cities we read about in history. We went to Okinawa building the airstrips and hospitals for the invasion when the white airplane flew over on it’s way to the Philippines that ended WW2 on that day in1945. Discharged in December 1945, I returned to work at Western airlines. 1946 I took up Flying, I hold a commercial, instrument and multi engine pilots license and owned a V-Tail Bonanza, flying all over the USA for work and pleasure. In 1955 I left Western airlines and went to work for my father building stores, shops and industrial buildings At the age of 48 I took up motorcycle racing with my son David in the desert earning number 9 in district 37 having become a member of the Checker motorcycle club before breaking a wrist and moved into off-road cars at age 55 and joined the Checker car club becoming president in 1985. Off-road racing is a family sport, I drove with my son and 2 daughters in many races in the California, Nevada and Baja Mexico, while Davida handled the pit radios as “Checker Main” that cared for us in our races. I was sponsored by Toyota and Yokohoma tires for 5 years but lost out when I turned 70. From there I went to circle track racing NASCAR and MSRA pro 4 class, earning number 2 at the end of the 1994 season. Turning 80 after 35 years of racing I gave up racing and took up Golf. Oh, Tiger does not have to worry about my Golf game, but it’s fun and the challenge goes on.

LIFE is a challenge. So at 84 I took up Portrait Painting.. In September/ October 0f 2006 having dabbled in Portrait painting, I had painted 15 or 20 portraits from snapshots I took and gave away, when I saw a class at the local art supply store by Johanna Spinks. Johanna had studied under Everett Raymond Kinstler and introduced me to another method of mixing and painting including the painting of live models, got to cover all the bases. I have purchased Kinstler’s books for further study, to date have painted 70 portraits of family and friends and joined the Portrait Society of America. Johanna and my wife have been critiquing my work (task masters). My wife has a degree in art but has not painted in 50 years and my daughter Carole Daly does not hesitate to get a word in to this date I have given my painting away in some inexpensive frames and they can always be used for a Dart Board if my work displeases you. What will be my next challenge!!?

BELIEVE ME NO ONE IS MORE SURPRISED THAN I AM THAT MY PAINTINGS HAVE COME OUT SO WELL. One never knows what one can do if one will only try.


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