Jean Perry Yates Biography

Jean Perry Yates




Jean Perry Yates was born in Houston, Texas on November 18, 1921. His talents as an artist were apparent from an early age, with his Aunt Cecil hiring an art tutor for Jean when he was eleven. His early life was focused on drawing and painting, until he enlisted in the Air Corps one year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

World War II took Jean across much of Africa and Asia. A radio operator, he took part in thirty-three bombing missions over China and Burma. Throughout his long life, Yates always considered his military experiences central to who he was, and how he developed as a young man.

After the war, he attended the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, before enrolling at the Art Institute          of Chicago. It was there he developed his interest in techniques related to three-dimensional objects. He also met painter Maury Lapp,  who later moved to California, eventually landing a teaching job at Santa Rosa Junior College. During a short teaching stint of his own at the Art Institute, Jean met his wife, Sabina. They would move to California where they raised three daughters.

Jean’s early employment in California included stints as a mechanic for a ceramics manufacturer in Los Angeles, and a designer and craftsmen for a furniture maker in Sausalito. Inevitably, however, he returned to teaching. His first full-time position began in 1954 at Sonoma Valley High School, where Jean Yates not only built up the arts program but oversaw construction of a new building that housed the school’s art department. After eight years at the high school, at the invitation of Chicago friend Maury Lapp, Jean took a full-time position teaching painting, drawing, sculpture and ceramics at the rapidly growing Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC). After Lapp, he was the school’s second full-time art department faculty member.

At the time Jean came to SRJC, a burgeoning revolution was  taking place concerning the uses of clay. What people made from clay had mostly been limited to wheel-thrown pots, plates, cups and the like. But during the 1960s, the world of clay took radical turns into sculptural forms, both figurative and non-representational. A new sense of freedom among ceramicists blossomed. Jean took courses with Robert Arneson, Marguerite Wildenhain, Paul Soldner and Toshiko Takezu. He credited all of them with inspiring new possibilities for his work.

Regarding his art, SRJC colleague Sarah Gill wrote:

“Walking around Jean Yate’s ceramic sculptures is a bit like walking through his life. Powerful, complex shapes, earthen-colored bodies, richly textured surfaces embellished with thick glazes or thin washes, intriguing negative spaces—all are integral to Jean’s aesthetic choices.”

Beyond being a father, teaching and creating art, Jean was an itinerant wanderer who enjoyed extended adventures in Utah, the American Southwest and Mexico. In 1981, he and Sabina, an accomplished painter in her own right, built a house and studio in forested hills west of Sebastopol. This endeavor involved mostly the two of them, the timber and the land.

Jean Yates’ last years were spent in Benicia, California where he died on October 23, 2014.


Scott Lipanovic, Santa Rosa, California, 25 July, 2019