Willis Bruce Gregory was born in Anadarko, Oklahoma on June 27, 1917. The oldest of three children, Gregory was interested in art and his talent was recognized from an early age. His parents were divorced when Gregory was still a small boy and his mother, Natalie Dunbar Gregory, a school teacher, raised the three children as a single parent.
They moved to Rye, New York in 1928 when Gregory was eleven and it was there that he spent his formative years. In Rye his family lived at 35 Vale Place and were members of the Presbyterian Church. Willis was a Rye High School Graduate, Class of 1935. His childhood was short-lived, however, as Gregory was thrust into working life through adolescence to help support the family and to advance himself through his own initiative and art.
1935 – 1936. Gregory attended Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, as a scholarship student for a year before heading to The Art Students League in New York City.
1936 – 1939. Gregory studied at The Art Students League in New York under Arnold Blanch. Other influences there were Yasuo Kuniyoshi, George Picken, William C. McNulty, John Carroll, John Groth. He received a working scholarship as the class monitor for Blanch, which covered his tuition throughout his studies at the League. He spent summers at the art colony in Woodstock, New York, often staying with Blanch, “earning my keep with chores and benefiting from further instruction and contact with many other artists.”
1939 – 1940. Artist and political cartoonist for Common Sense magazine.
1940. Attended The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado, as a scholarship student, studying with Arnold Blanch. Other influences there were Adolph Dehn and Boardman Robinson.
1940 – 1941. Worked with Denys Wortman, creator of the “Metropolitan Movies” newspaper cartoons.
1941 – 1942. Artist/Editorial Cartoonist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Missouri.
1943 – 1946. Willis Bruce Gregory enlisted in the Army on May 6, 1942, in New York City, New York, during World War II. He was 24 years old. WW II, Active Duty, U.S. Army.
1946 – 1948. Freelance artist, New York, New York. During this time, Gregory did drawings and cartoons for publications including The New Republic, The New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune, The New York Star, and Survey Graphic.
1949 – 1951. Studied with French artist Fernand Leger in Paris under the G.I. Bill. Leger was both a creative inspiration as well as an example, teaching Gregory through the rigors and daily interaction of the competitive studio environment.
1949. Married Millie Ann Johnson in Paris, October 22, 1949.
1951. Awarded Prix de L'Annee as best student by Fernand Leger in Paris. This was recognition for Gregory, at 34, of how far he had come.
1951. Returned to the United States.
1952. Fulbright Grant (Buenos Aires Convention).
1952. Execution of F. Leger Murals, United Nations, New York, New York. Leger and Gregory collaborated on the UN mural project, which Gregory painted based on small sketches provided by Leger. Leger died in 1955 without ever visiting the UN or seeing the murals. The most prominent art works at the United Nations, the now famous murals have been seen by world leaders and television news viewers for more than 65 years as the dominant visual feature in the United Nations General Assembly.
1952 – 1956. Color and Design Consultant, Harrison & Abramovitz Architects, New York, New York. Gregory had a close association with architect Wallace K. Harrison, from the time the two met at the UN. During this period, Gregory collaborated on many Harrison projects, utilizing his expertise in color and design. Gregory’s particular contributions included effective placement of design on architectural elevation, his sense of scale utilized in small and large projects, and designs for the projection of color into architectural space.
1950s. Gregory was becoming an important contributor on a number of high profile projects in and around New York. However, the more he progressed, the more Gregory came to see his work in architecture as focusing on creation for the realization of other peoples’ visions rather than as the embodiment of his own artistic expression, and thus, to a greater extent, limiting and unfulfilling. Gregory determined to devote himself more fully from this point forward to his own artistic expression, no matter where it might lead him, which is exactly what he did. This creative independence and the drive to produce quality work were to remain hallmarks of Gregory’s for the next fifty years.
1956. Designed and painted two murals at the Franklin D. Roosevelt School in Manhattan. The murals, entitled “The Struggle for Education,” were completed in consultation with Eleanor Roosevelt in New York and can still be seen today at P.S. 34, Avenue D and 34th Street, in New York City.
1956 – 1957. Instructor, Union College, Schenectady, New York.
1957. Presentation show, one-man exhibition, Woodstock Artists Association, Woodstock, New York.
1957. Completed map mural, Civil Defense Headquarters, New York, New York.
1959-1960. Mexico City & San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
1960. Received Kleinert Award by the Woodstock Guild in Woodstock, New York, for significant contribution in the field of fine art in Woodstock.
1960s. Spent summers in Woodstock, New York and winters in Sarasota, Florida.
1961 – 1984. Instructor, Ringling School of Art and Design, Sarasota, Florida.
1963. Son, Brent Gregory, was born when Gregory was nearly 46.
1965. Daughter, Amy (Gregory) Taylor was born.
1968. Friend and mentor Arnold Blanch died at 72, in Woodstock, New York. Nationally known painter and leader of the artists’ community in Woodstock, Blanch had taught at The Art Students League summer school there for 20 years off and on through 1968 and was married to artist Doris Lee for many years. Blanch, like Gregory, had studied at The Art Students League in New York on scholarship and it was he who first introduced Gregory to Woodstock in the 1930s. Doris Lee had been Gregory’s sponsor when he returned from Paris to New York City in 1951.
1969 – 1970. Spent summers in Eastport, Maine.
1972. Summer in Ibiza, Spain and travel in France.
1972. Conducted fine arts evaluation of Florida’s WPA, New Deal era murals for the U.S. General Services Administration.
1973 – 1974. Spent summers in Eastport, Maine.
1976. Divorced after twenty-seven years of marriage.
1977. Visiting artist, Twinrocker – Indiana, worked in handmade paper.
1980s. Became a Jehovah's Witness. Religion became a greater part of Gregory’s life from this point forward.
1982. Visiting artist, Twinrocker – Indiana.
1982 –1983. Visiting artist, Art Institute of Chicago - Oxbow, Michigan, worked in handmade paper.
1984. Retired from Ringling School of Art & Design in Sarasota, Florida and devoted himself exclusively to his own work.
1987 – 1988. Fellow, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Amherst County, VA.
1988 – 1989. President, Sarasota Art Association, Sarasota, FL.
Willis Bruce Gregory died in Sarasota, Florida on August 23, 2002.