Colorado Springs has lost one of its seminal artists.
Nationally known muralist Eric Bransby died Wednesday. He was 103 years old. He's survived by his daughter, Fredericka Bransby Fiechter. His wife, Mary Ann Bransby, also a well-known artist in the Pikes Peak region who co-founded the Pikes Peak Watercolor Society, died in 2011. They were married for almost 70 years.
The bespectacled artist, who loved his English caps and always seemed to have a big smile, studied under famed muralists Thomas Hart Benton at the Kansas City Art Institute and Boardman Robinson and Jean Charlot at the Broadmoor Art Academy, now the Bemis School of Art at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College. He later taught at Bemis. Bransby will be remembered for the dozens of influential murals he left across the country, in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Utah.
"He was truly one of the most kind, good-natured and sincere individuals I’ve ever known," says Blake Wilson, co-owner of The Art Bank. "And his famous interesting stories. He worked with some of the most iconic American artists of the 20th century, beginning with Benton, then Boardman, Charlot and Josef Albers. In Eric’s murals you can see a little bit of each one of those artists."
In the same breath people talk about Bransby's artwork, they're also quick to recount his generosity in mentoring and teaching other artists.
"Eric and Mary Anne Bransby mentored so many artists in their long careers at a variety of academic institutions in the U.S. and later in their lives here in Colorado Springs," says local painter Jill Spear. "Their influence in the art communities they participated in and the ones they created lives on through their mentorship. I am one, of what must be thousands, privileged to have learned at their feet. I am so grateful."
Bransby left his mark on much of the Springs. Some is still there, including wall art at the Air Force Academy, the domed ceiling of Cossitt Hall at CC, Pioneers Museum, Cheyenne Mountain Country Club and the FAC. Other pieces, including ones once displayed at Peak Theatre, St. Francis Hospital and Colorado Springs Medical Center, have been destroyed.
Bransby was a pioneer of murals in American art, completing his first professional mural in 1942 through the WPA (Work Projects Administration), and was closely involved in the moving force of Regionalism, the realist modern art movement in the ‘30s and ‘40s that championed the working people of rural and small-town America.
“Bransby, under the inspiration of Benton, was consumed by the human figure and human figures within these spaces,” says Wilson. “He took it a step beyond, and especially after he worked with Albers, he integrated the human figure into unique architectural spaces, with hints of Alber’s style. He was innovative in his own right, but got his start in that Regionalist movement.”
In 2009, the FAC commissioned Bransby to create a mural in time for the institution's 75th anniversary in 2012. Former CC student Trevor Thomas helped him create a painting filled with aspects of the visual arts, performing arts and arts education, not to mention an image of his late beloved wife. It decorates the Smith Family Gallery.
Bransby's life and work were featured this year in the PBS documentary "Art for the People."
"There are a lot of folks who have studied under him who are teaching. He propelled them into teaching," says Bemis School of Art Director Tara Sevanne Thomas. "There was a kindness about him. He was a unique person in this world. He was always willing to help and teach. Even after (age) 99 he was still teaching private lessons."