Community to celebrate life of ceramics teacher Gray Duncan

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Ojai Valley News photo by Austin Widger

Nordhoff High School teacher Gray Duncan, right, talks with former ceramics student Wyatt Amend in April for a Hall of Character and Achievement program.


Grant Phillips, Ojai Valley News reporter 

Gray Duncan, beloved and longtime Nordhoff High School ceramics teacher, passed away Aug. 29. A memorial service will be held on the Nordhoff High School campus on Sunday, Sept. 26, from 4 to 6 p.m., to celebrate his life, his works, and his contributions to the community.


Duncan was a loved son, brother, husband, father, friend, respected teacher, and integral member of the Ojai community.

He attended Dos Pueblos High School and graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His teaching impacted several generations of students through his love of art, pottery, students and the ocean. Duncan retired from Nordhoff in June after nearly three decades of teaching since his start in 1992.

“He taught me the base of all ceramic knowledge I know,” said former student Wyatt Amend, who cited Duncan as a mentor both inside and out of the studio. “He pushed me to pursue art. A lot of art students these days don’t realize there’s ways to pursue art to actually make it a career and he pushed that and made me realize you could do that.”

Duncan encouraged all students to participate in art outside of the classroom as well.

“He had a booth at Art in the Park and would give his students a taste of what it was like to be a professional artist,” said Nordhoff Principal David Monson. “He was just in love with what he did, but loved just as much sharing it with other people.”

As part of the Nordhoff High School Hall of Character and Achievement program, Duncan’s visit with his former student, Amend, was videotaped. The teacher and student discussed their careers, art, and mutual respect for one another.

“It was fantastic,” said Amend. “I could just see how proud he was and it made me feel more accomplished. He was just happy seeing his student succeeding.”

Mike Donohue helped facilitate the experience.

“Mr. Duncan was just the most enthusiastic supporter of the program of all the people we’ve had,” said Donohue. “I can guarantee it was one of the most proud moments of Wyatt’s life and one of the most proud moments of Mr. Duncan’s life. It was so neat for him to see his student grow the way he grew, have the character that he had, and demonstrate that back to the students.”

His loss has been felt throughout the Nordhoff community.

“He was definitely a force for good,” said former Nordhoff art teacher Linda Taylor, who served as department head when Duncan was first hired. “I knew right away he had so much energy and enthusiasm.”

Duncan expanded the ceramics studio from one electric kiln into the full complement of kilns currently on campus.

“You could just see the genuine nature of that individual, that soul, that was amazing and refreshing,” said Donohue. “You can’t stay enough great things about him.”

Duncan is survived by his wife, Janis, a former teacher at Meiners Oaks Elementary, son Preston and daughter Breanna.

“He had such an enthusiasm for ceramics, and a love for students, and it was contagious. When kids came to his class they loved it and they loved him,” said Taylor. “All of us loved him.”

“He was a very dear friend,” said Amend. “It was a pretty big loss and I definitely miss him a lot.”

Duncan himself was able to comment on their mutual impact on one another.

“There are a handful of artists that have come through our program that have continued to work with clay and Wyatt is one of those,” said Duncan during their interview. “One that I am extremely proud of. It makes me proud to see that you carried on and you’re doing what you learned in high school.”

Former students, staff, and members of the public are encouraged to attend Duncan’s memorial service, set to take place Sept. 26 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Nordhoff High School.


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