Courtesy / Ramin Samandari
In San Antonio artist Brad Braune’s “first ever blog post” from August 2017, he wrote: “We are not concerned about the end result or whether anyone will be impressed by what we do.”
Braune died Thursday at the age of 68, leaving behind an impressive body of work as an architect, artist, and teacher.
“He’s definitely one of the cornerstones of art here in the city,” said Tony Pro, former executive director of the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts, where Braune taught watercolor classes.
That Pro used the present tense speaks to the enduring legacy of Braune’s art and teaching. His work has been shown widely and reproduced as posters for Fiesta, A Night in Old San Antonio, the Texas Folklife Festival, the Institute of Texan Cultures, and on the cover of the Frost Bros. department store’s 1981 Christmas catalog.
Though his chief legacy is as a watercolorist of “whimsical Western imagery,” as Braune himself once described his work, the lessons of his teaching will endure.
Onetime student Carolyn Peterson, a principal of Ford, Powell and Carson Architects and Planners, said Braune expertly conveyed the finer points of the difficult process of watercolor painting, but that his teaching went deeper.
“What he was doing on a higher level was supporting the creativity in the people that he was teaching,” she said. “Because creativity gets kicked in the you-know-what all the time in our culture, it gave a lot of people a chance to express themselves in a way that they knew was true and would be understood.”
An Abilene native, Braune graduated from Texas Tech University in 1974 with a degree in architecture. He relocated to San Antonio and worked as an architect first with the San Antonio Development Agency; the firm Cerna, Garza, and Raba; and finally with Ford, Powell and Carson before becoming a full-time artist in 1978.
“We were always asking him so much to do paintings of buildings, I think he finally decided to just go off and be a painter rather than an architect,” Peterson said.
Today, two of his works hang on her office wall, one of his famous prickly pear paintings, she said, and the other a gift she received from the observant artist. Braune had visited the Peterson home to see how she had hung one of his works, which she said can look quite abstract up close but reveal great detail at a distance. She said her cat took a liking to Braune, who later gave her a painting of the cat that he’d made while teaching a class.
“I didn’t realize he took a picture,” she said, noting his generosity.
Braune painted cats, birds, chickens, and nudes but is most known for his images of cowboys and South Texas life.
“One of the things I love about him is he did very well and accurately deeply express Texas, something essential about Texas in what he painted,” Peterson said. She mentioned Braune’s paintings of cactus burns, an important facet of West Texas ranch life during periods of drought. Ranchers burn the spines off of cacti so that their cattle can find succulent food to eat.
Braune worked continually to learn more and expand his horizons, Pro said. The two first met when Braune, twenty years his senior and already a “master artist,” signed up for Pro’s oil painting class. Braune had recently taken another oil painting class in Los Angeles.
Pro last spoke with Braune before the elder artist led a February art-making trip to India and Nepal and was stunned to learn of Braune’s death soon after his return to San Antonio. “We’re all still reeling. We can’t even process it,” Pro said of Braune’s friends and colleagues.
Braune’s death was unexpected and came as a shock to those who knew him. He had reportedly been mowing the lawn of his home and studio near North St. Mary’s Street Thursday, when his body was found by a neighbor. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
Braune had posted a watercolor image from the trip on his Instagram page on Thursday, as “Evening Class Demo 02/26/19.” Students responded with brief encomiums to their teacher. “Never such a talent as Brad. Never such a better person as Brad,” wrote one, and “Brad you’re influence will live on forever,” from another.
“His students just absolutely loved him. He was a fantastic teacher, a great teacher. He worked really well with people,” Pro said. “His class was wildly popular.”
Braune taught classes out of his own studio and at the Southwest School of Art and the Majestic Ranch Arts Foundation in Boerne, in addition to his work with the Coppini Academy, where he was a “pillar,” Pro said. The academy is already planning a retrospective exhibition of Braune’s work as a celebration of his life, Pro said.
San Antonio artist and teacher Chris Sauter, chair of painting and drawing at the Southwest School, wrote in an e-mail that “Brad was a talented and respected teacher here at Southwest School of Art. He had a long history teaching for the school well before I took the reins of department chair a few years ago. Although I was inexperienced, he treated me with the utmost respect. In every interaction I had with him, I was left with an impression of a kind and thoughtful person. His death is a great loss to SSA and to the art community of San Antonio. He will be missed.”
Charlotte Cox, board chair of the Coppini Academy, wrote, “I really will miss him, he did so much for the community. He was an icon of San Antonio.”
He had been scheduled to teach a workshop at the Coppini Academy in July. Noting the cancellation on its website, a statement from the academy reads, “I’m sorry to report that our favorite artist and friend passed away today the 28th Of February.”
“I’m heartbroken,” Peterson said.