An assignment led to a telephone call to Eric Bransby, the renowned mural painter whose work, and that of his late wife, Mary Ann, are in an exhibit that opened November 8 at the Sandzén Gallery.
Over the course of our chat, it became clear that Eric, at age 99, has the energy and alacrity of a man generations his junior, and that he is one of those people who makes friends easily, even over the phone. His remarkable career, spanning eight or nine decades, now as one of America’s most celebrated niche artists, began in an Omaha suburb; it started while in high school, attending a performance by the popular German American puppeteer, Tony Sarg. (Sarg’s larger-thanlife marionettes, helium-filled, would later become an iconic feature of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.) Bransby was fascinated, hooked; Sarg’s marionettes left him with a unique view to the human figure as a moving mechanism, a sculptural figure in space.
A story about Bransby’s work appeared last week in this journal. What we didn’t mention is that his exhibit at the Sandzén is another of those remarkable and comfortable fits – an artist, his work, its place. There are times when, in this particular gallery, the tone and mood of an exhibit seem
just slightly off, something counter-intuitive, not quite in sync with the texture and tone otherwise prevailing at the Sandzén. (As with, say, a heavy metal concert in Presser Hall.) Nonetheless the Gallery is open to art in its many species, conditions, forms and kinds. One size may not fit all, but the Sandzén will give it a try, like it and not. It’s visual democracy here, with some limits of course. Special rooms, even, are there for the odd and outer-limited.
Bransby’s work needs no coddling. It fits as though Sandzén himself had commissioned the showing. For this artist it is a home away from home.
Over our years in this town, the Sandzén Gallery has become one of those institutions that is firm, immutable, a
friend with room for a visit, a place to pull up a chair for something beautiful to share – a story, a painting, sculpture – a friend who gives us a sense of security. When the Gallery was closed in June 2011 for renovations, we were left with a slightly hollow feeling, the kind of concern we have when a friend is headed to the hospital for a lengthy procedure.
The work included construction and installation of geothermal heating and cooling, and new lighting, audio-visual,
and digital security and fire suppression systems, and among other things, a new roof. This project took nine months.
After that long wait, we were delighted to see our friend, the Gallery, well, renovated and better than ever.
Among the improvements was a simple but innovative and durable wall covering, a strong, woven fabric not attached but stretched over the heavy sheet board walls. The covering gives rooms a soft but firm presence; close up, nails, even
heavy ones, can be driven into the walls and between the tiny square intersections in the fabric weave. This allows some quite heavy works to be hung on the walls. Poke a nail in, it fits in between the fabric squares and when removed, even if the fabric is pulled or nicked, it can be poked or push-knitted back in place and – presto! – it never happened. The weave is smoothed over, covering any blemishes in the wall.
There will be 37 pieces in the Bransby exhibit, most if not all to be displayed on the walls, then taken down in late January, when the exhibit closes. That’s a lot of holes not to spackle.