Professor Kay Metz was the kind of teacher students kept in touch with for years after graduation. When she died in 2018, she left numerous devoted friends and an influential body of work.

Art Professor Emerita Kay Metz in her home studio in 2018
Art Professor Emerita Kay Metz in her home studio in 2018. Photo courtesy of Betsy Andersen.

In UC Santa Cruz’s Printmaking Department, which she established in 1971, she
supported and encouraged her students, said her friend Betsy Andersen, who is acting as Metz’s cultural executor, coordinating exhibitions of Metz’s work.

“She championed her students,” said Andersen (Porter ’78, art). “She was always behind the efforts and adventure of all their different approaches.”

Metz emphasized the element of camaraderie the medium demands. Some prints require an extra set of hands as the process can be demanding and intricate, noted Andersen.

“In a print studio you’re a group that supports each other,” she said.

“On the forefront”

Despite growing up in the Midwest at a time when women weren’t expected to become leaders, Metz made a successful career on her own in a competitive field, Andersen continued. After completing her formal education, she worked with artists pushing the boundaries of printmaking and expressionism, including Robert Blackburn and Philip Guston.

“She was on the forefront of the societal shifts of her generation,” she said. “Like many people who are the first of the family or nationality or gender to be part of larger institutional change, it’s a big mantle to carry and it took fortitude.”

Patient guide to students

High tide Elkhorn Solough
High tide Elkhorn Slough, by Kay Metz

Former student and longtime print media lecturer Paul Rangell said studying with Metz changed his life.

“I can truly say that without Kathryn Metz I would never have followed a life path as an artist or a teacher,” Rangell said. “I had the privilege of knowing her first as a student and then as a wise colleague. She genuinely gave of herself to legions of students, offering a patient, guiding example.”

She retired in 1992 but continued making art. She helped found Watsonville Wetlands Watch, and was especially concerned with protecting and restoring Elkhorn Slough.

“If it was raining we’d paint in the car”

Multiple times each week she led trips on which she and her friends would make plein aire paintings of the slough. She sold the works in shows at the Pajaro Valley Arts Center, donating a portion of the proceeds to Watsonville Wetlands Watch, said Marta Gaines, a longtime friend who participated in the plein aire expeditions

“She didn’t like to waste time,” Gaines said. “In our younger days we painted all day. If it was raining we’d paint in the car.”

While serious about her art and her environmental work, Metz could be funny too, Gaines said.

“She had a great sense of humor.”

Diverse body of work

High tide Elkhorn Solough
“From San Miniato al Monte” by Professor Kay Metz.

Before joining the faculty of UC Santa Cruz, Metz earned her MFA at UCLA, studied in Paris at the print studio Atelier 17, and taught at NYU.

Her work was influenced by the abstract expressionism of the mid-20th Century. She worked in a variety of genres and media. Some of her oil landscapes appear nearly realistic from a distance. Viewed closeup they are composed of thousands of energetic brushstrokes of nearly the same size.

Woodcut prints she showed in 2005 at Notre Dame de Namur University’s Wiegand Gallery display forms that might or might not be landscape, sea, or sky. Through crowds and rows of horizontal marks, she creates form with light and shadow. Reviewers described her work as representing her subjects from a great distance or though a veil.

Organizing exhibits, Andersen says pieces from the 1950s to 2018 show Metz building on her many creative strengths.

“You could feel the early thread of how she constructed space continue as the work evolved,” Andersen said.

As result of a posthumous exhibition of Metz’s work curated by Esther Fernandez, at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara all of Kay’s major large abstract landscape paintings in oil were placed in public and private collections in California and Utah: the Monterey Museum of Art, Nora Eccles Harrison Museum in Utah, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, and Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance. Several will be displayed by health organizations, including Dominican Hospital.

“I think she’d feel right about bringing together arts and healing,” Andersen said.

Planned gifts

Through a bequest, Metz left UC Santa Cruz’s Elisabeth Remak-Honnef Center for Archival Research and Training (CART) funds for a graduate student intern to catalogue and digitize her papers, including numerous art works. CART interns gain experience with primary source research and archiving while making materials available for researchers.

Metz’s art and papers will be exhibited spring quarter in a show curated by the CART intern supported by her bequest. Her gift will also fund improvements to the facility housing the library’s special collections.

A separate gift to the Arts Division Dean’s Fund for Excellence will be distributed at the dean’s discretion to special projects by students and faculty. The fund focuses especially on disseminating UC Santa Cruz work through presentations at conferences, performances, and exhibitions.

Metz had hoped to reconnect with her former students before ill health intervened. Instead two open studios will be held November 2nd and December 7th from 11-3. Learn more by emailing Andersen at