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Obituary: Gary Michael Keith

Artist, antique dealer, writer, renaissance man

Artist and antique dealer Gary Michael Keith, a longtime resident of both the Central Coast and Upland, died suddenly on December 20, 2021 from unknown causes shortly after a routine surgery.

Born to loving parents Hartwell and Mary Lee Keith in 1955, he spent his early childhood in San Diego, after which his family moved to Westminster, California. He attended La Quinta High School, where he received numerous awards and commendations for outstanding academic and athletic performance, and where he ranked fifth out of 368 students upon graduation. He held various leadership positions, including art editor for the annual, as well as being elected student body president by his peers.

He was deeply interested in art and design throughout his life; while most teenagers sought to blend in, Gary’s independent spirit and love of fashion often sought expression in atypical school attire, for instance, wearing knickers or other unusual choices (it is not known what his football and track teammate friends thought of these choices).

He continued studying art after high school, earning a B.A. in studio arts from the University of California, Davis in 1979. While at Davis he spent several summers fighting forest fires. He was then awarded a fellowship to the Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University), where he earned his M.F.A. in painting in 1983.

He was an artist and quintessential renaissance man who took joy and quiet pride in his pursuits. His first and lifelong loves were drawing, animation, painting, collage, multimedia and sculpture; but his wide ranging and endless well of creative interests also led him to pursue learning how to craft shoes, jewelry, perfume, and clothing. He would collect rusted metal and oak galls to make finishes and dyes; he pounded wool to create felting. He wrote poetry and short stories, some of which were published. However, he was happiest and most at home creating art in his studio, or at an opening where his displayed work could communicate with an audience.

He was a man of great sensitivity, a very private man who deeply felt both life’s beauty and its pain. He loved his friends, family, and all critters big and small, and was at his loving best with small children and animals (especially dogs), who were drawn to his compassionate nature and gentle presence. He drew strength from quiet times in nature, watching the lizards and birds and observing the changing light of day.

Early in life he displayed a tendency to seek treasures that others might overlook. His fearless and focused curiosity kept him up nights hammering on rocks to expose a tortoise fossil, or exploring his mind to uncover ideas for his next artistic project. This hunting instinct, combined with his intellectual interests and love of design, led him into the antique world, where he became a dealer.

His business associates knew him as a man of great integrity. He considered fellow antiques dealers as friends and often valued the interactions he had with them as much or even more than the financial outcome of these business transactions. He was often a resource for colleagues, and his breadth and depth of knowledge, generosity in sharing information, irreverent humor and honesty made him deeply respected and well-liked by those who knew him. His loss has deeply affected his family and community; he will be greatly missed.

Shortly before passing, he wrote: “This morning was another connection: I was leaving my studio and the sky was still dark, just lightening to blue. Walking out my door, raising my eyes only a little, I saw Venus. Viewing it was pure and reassuring. All my worldly duties didn’t matter, Venus would continue to return to the sky and I can meet it as long as I shed my concerns. I rise to the sky.”

He is survived by ex-wife and friend Maria Junco; brother Jeff Keith and wife Ginger; sister Kim Smith; nephew Brent Miller and wife Marina; nephew Derrick Foge, wife Julie and his beloved great nieces Amelia, Eliza and Caroline.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Gary Keith’s name may be made to the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research at https://www.fpwr.org/donate.

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