“Don Gregorio Antón and His Gentle Eye - Art Professor to Retire from HSU after 25 Years”
by Nicole Willared

Professor Don Gregorio Antón sat in his office surrounded by imagery created by his students.  He stood up and pointed to a black and white photograph depicting what looked like a double profile mirrored reflection of a woman’s face divided against itself.

“Students were quite brilliant before they stepped onto this campus,” Antón said. “Wonderful, unique and mysterious stories — what they have now is an I-can-do-it attitude which makes the difference.”

Antón said the knowledge of his students will eventually become the world’s wisdom.

After almost 25 years of teaching at Humboldt State, Antón announced his retirement. He will be returning to his grandfather’s homeland in Mexico to help feed elderly poor people along with an organization called So Others May Eat (http://www.soothersmayeatmexico.org/) located in San Miguel de Allende (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0qpBVsW7w4).

Antón said it was the founder of the photography department, Tom Knight, who initially recruited him to this campus as a temporary replacement teacher.

“Tom gave me a chance to see what I believed in was something to work on,” Antón said. “That’s what I try to do with my students. I try to reflect the best part of the student back to them. It’s more important to know who you teach than what you teach.”

Twenty-one-year-old Caroline Zapata is a senior majoring in studio art photography and Antón has been her advisor since freshman year. Zapata said being in Antón’s class was hard sometimes, but the personal growth she experienced made it worthwhile.

“Sharing my art in class was scary because I was sharing something personal,” Zapata said. “I used to be a very closed-off person and I grew a lot more by speaking about my art in front of class. Now I’ve learned to listen to myself, my instinct and to know more about what I want to see in my art.”

Thaddeus Zoellner, a 24-year-old senior majoring in studio art photography, is Antón’s current teaching assistant and said his art and attitude has changed since he studied with Antón.

“I’ve absolutely changed. I started out as a sculpture and metalsmith. That was a world of sharp angles and hard edges. The presence of my work was very loud. If you walked into a room, my goal back then was to have my piece completely dominate your sense of that space,” Zoellner said. “Now I’m not thinking ‘how do I want to force the viewer to feel?’ My work is now about how I feel, what I’ve gone through, what I’ve experienced.”

Antón has taught at many universities, but has been at HSU the longest. Antón’s works have been featured all over the world like the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the MOMA in San Francisco and some pieces remain housed at the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris and the Smithsonian Institute in D.C.

Antón applies a blend of photographic images and paint to a mineral copper and sometimes writes original text below the images. This method is reminiscent of “retablos” which were Latin American paintings and sculptures hung behind churches in the 18th century as symbols of religious devotion, gratitude, prayer and healing testimonies.

Antón said his father did not understand his desire of wanting to express himself artistically and for years did not want his son to have anything to do with art lessons.

After 10 years of rejection, a deal was struck when Antón begged his dad for the last time to take a summer photography class. The odds were stacked against 17-year-old Antón when his father said, “I’ll make a bet with you. You show me a book by a Chicano photographer and I’ll let you take the class.”

Antón said he went to the bookstores, the libraries, anywhere there were books and he could not find one. Disappointed, Antón went to his photo instructor and shared the terms to which his father agreed. Antón’s teacher did not have a photography book by a Chicano, rather a book by a famous Mexican photographer, Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

Antón went back to his father and gave him Bravo’s book instead of the one he requested. Antón waited while his father took the book and privately examined the modern artist’s work for hours.

His father came out of the room, handed Antón back his book and said, “Okay, maybe you can do with your eyes what I’ve been trying to do with these hands all my life.”

Antón took the summer art class and said he was never the same because he soon realized he wanted to be a teacher.
“Photography saved my life, it gave me the chance to be something completely different,” Antón said. “It gave me a chance to own my world and I realized that point at 17, that if I could feel this good about what I am, then I want to teach it.”

Antón said it is not important that much of his artwork has gone out into the world. He stretched his arm towards the door to 31-year-old studio art photography major, Micha Royce, who is seated on a wooden bench in the hallway.

“There’s my work! There’s my work! Not in the photograph, that’s for me to understand who I am,” Antón said. “But there’s my work, somebody who indeed believes in themselves and is now going to teach others to believe in themselves. There’s nothing better than that.”


The Lumberjack is a weekly student newspaper for Humboldt State University. HSU is the northernmost campus of the 23-school California State University (CSU) system, located hillside in Arcata  within Humboldt County, California  USA. The main campus, nestled at the edge of a coast redwood forest, has commanding views overlooking Arcata, much of Humboldt Bay, and thePacific Ocean. Its small college town location 8 miles (13 km) north of Eureka and 279 miles (449 km) north ofSan Francisco on theNorth Coast of California is notable for its natural beauty and relative remoteness.


“Don Anton’s legacy in addition to his art, is in the innumerable lives he touched through his teaching, mine included and the “now” professional photographers who’s interest in photography he nurtured. No one is quite like Don, or even comes close. I truly appreciate his service, and am glad to have been one of his many pupils.”
Alison Manning Tassio

K  H  S  U     I  N  T  E  R  V  I  E  W   with   Isabella Vanderhelden
Diverse Public Radio for the Northcoast


“As the darkroom tech for the HSU Art Department, I had the honor and pleasure of working with Don for 22 years . A more caring and passionate teacher one will not find. His ability to draw students out of their shells and to inspire them to look deeper into themselves and the work they create is truly amazing. There will be a large unfilled hole in the Art Department with Don’s retirement.”
Vaughn Hutchins