Portrait of a great Langley artist: Sale honors memory of John Braun
By JUSTIN BURNETT
South Whidbey Record Island County
June 29, 2012 · Updated 3:15 PM
Some remember the late John Braun as a teacher. Others say he was a spiritual leader, a shaman of sorts. For many more, he was the humble artist who for years owned Sipa’pu gallery on McLeod Alley in Langley.
Braun died in 2002 and on the 10th anniversary of his death, some of his work will be sold in a fundraiser that will kick-off the 37th annual Choochokam Festival of the Arts next weekend.
The event, which aims to honor Braun’s many contributions to Langley and the arts community, will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 6, at his old gallery (now Studio 106) in Langley.
However, people are invited to stop by the studio now to browse and purchase items they like or want to give to others.
Work from several generations of Braun’s family, including pieces by his mother, Mary McNeal, are also for sale.
“This is my family’s opportunity to share the art of John and four generations of his family with the community,” said Lauri McNeal, Braun’s niece. “We hope that each piece will find a good home.”
The family has donated all the work to the Island Arts Council and all net proceeds will go toward the Artist in Residence Program in the South Whidbey school District.
Dubbed the Choochokam Founders’ Exhibit and Sale, the event is aptly named, as Braun was one of the founding fathers of Langley’s annual arts festival, which celebrates the city’s rich art history with exhibitors and musicians.
Braun and several friends decided to have an art show and street dance in 1975 and named it Choochokam. Nearly four decades later, the annual two-day event attracts about 16,000 people every year.
Braun was himself an accomplished artist. He earned several degrees from the University of Oregon, including a Masters in Fine Arts, before going on to teach art and art history at universities in California, Oregon and Seattle.
He moved to Langley in 1971 with his mother and together opened Sipa’pu. He continued to teach through Skagit Valley College and his studio for many years.
Friends say Braun was a remarkable man, a person who made an impression on everyone he met. Talk with them for just a few minutes and you’ll find yourself wishing you’d had a chance to know the man.
Jim Riley, one of Braun’s close friends, said he met him for the first time while browsing his shop. Admiring a sculpture crafted in the style of the Hopi indians, a tribe Braun spent time studying art and living with, Riley asked if he could purchase it.
Braun told him he would not accept money for it, but handed it to Riley anyway. He told him that it was the first piece he made when living with the Hopi and that Riley should take it and bring it back when “it no longer has power for you.”
“I still have it,” wrote Riley, in a remembrance of Braun. “It reminds me of John’s twinkle and sincere conviction that the artist creates not to sell but to give beauty back to the world.”
Emily Day, an admirer of Braun’s work and a sometimes creative collaborator, called him a “magical and mystical man.” He developed a very distinctive style as his work incorporated first Hopi then later Northwest Coastal Indian styles.
“He was a renaissance man,” Day reminisced.
Friendly and kind, he was also the type of person who encouraged and nourished people’s inner creativity. For example, Lauri McNeal said she was primarily a “right-brained” thinker, and that it was her uncle who helped expand her horizons.
“I think of him as a teacher,” Lauri McNeal recalled. “He wanted to share art with everyone.”
While it is hard parting with some of his creations, she said she believes he would have wanted those things to be shared with others. And if proceeds would help nurture a next generation of artists, all the better.
“He thought everyone should share, learn about and appreciate art,” she said.
Contact South Whidbey Record Island County Justin Burnett at email@example.com.