Werner Braun – The Next Chapter
Werner Braun is a well-known, creative icon in Kamloops. His detailed watercolors that depict many of the City’s historic landmarks have been the subject of several exhibits and are reproduced in a beautiful full-colour catalogue which provides a pictorial history of our City.
Werner and his wife Christa, of 54 years, immigrated to Canada from Southern Germany in 1958 on the very day they were married. They had been planning and saving for some time. There was a small wedding in the morning and by afternoon they were headed to Canada where they settled in Calgary, Alberta.
Like many people, Werner put his personal desires and dreams on the back burner while he raised a family. But all-the-while he had a fulfilling career that encompassed building and design. The Braun’s have also been passionate about their work with Scouts both in Germany and Canada and have made life-long friends as a result. Then nineteen years ago, they retired to Kamloops.
Here, much to the delight of the community, Werner rediscovered his first love – painting! He began at a very early age by painting pictures for his mother on Mother’s Day because he didn’t have money to buy her a gift. There is no doubt his mother recognized the talent in her son. But Werner has more than just raw talent. He has a true love of the subject matter he paints and this is evident in each of his works.
Werner has always loved buildings. His passion for architecture and in particular, heritage buildings has inspired him to document Kamloops’ history by producing over 110 original watercolor paintings of the City’s oldest and dearest landmarks.
However in November of 2007 one of life’s “curve balls” hit Werner when he was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. His wife, Christa explains, “At first the symptoms weren’t very noticeable but by 2008 it had become evident. Then in 2010 Werner had to give up his driver’s license and now he forgets simple things every day. His speech has also become effected, making it hard for him to communicate”.
This became the determining factor in the Braun’s decision to move to the new RiverBend Senior’s Complex on the North Shore. They sold their big house in Aberdeen and downsized to a 1/4 of the space. This meant deciding what to keep and what would go. Then had an estate sale and put approximately 95 of Werner’s original watercolor and acrylic paintings in storage in order to accommodate their new lifestyle. Christa hired the ultimate moving company that took care of everything so that when they arrived at their new apartment, it looked exactly as it did the day I visited, with all the dishes in the cupboards, pictures on the walls and fresh sheets on the bed.
The first thing I noticed when I was greeted by Christa and Werner is how incredibly welcoming they both are. I was immediately offered coffee and given a tour of their new home. If they are at all homesick it is impossible to tell. They are constantly smiling and willing to talk about and share their new life. “There is this very positive way of thinking and support from management and staff alike here. We feel at home already!” exclaims Christa.
Werner was very eager to show me around his new studio and explain what is to be done with his paintings that are currently in storage. He is very animated, acting out his thoughts when the words will not come together. Christa has become Werner’s memory and voice. She lovingly and patiently listens as he tries to explain the plans for his paintings and fills in details when necessary. This inspires Werner who then carries on. As it turns out, Werner’s paintings will come out of storage in March of this year to be displayed in the Grand Room at RiverBend for residents and guests to enjoy. The pieces will be for sale but while on display will provide an amazing backdrop for the residents.
Living at RiverBend has made life easier for them both as there is a wonderful support system in place. Every Monday Werner spends the day at the Ponderosa Lodge Day Program which allows Christa time to herself and time to catch up on other tasks. At Ponderosa Werner has a full, active day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. He spreads good cheer and helps where he can. There is exercise, hot chocolate, lunch, socializing and many other activities and Werner has been given a corner where he paints each day after lunch.
When asked if she has noticed a difference in Werner’s work since his diagnosis Christa states, “It has become bolder and more colorful”.
My research on Werner inspired me to bring a photo of the amazing house I have the privilege to live in; a beautifully restored, heritage home on West Seymour. When I pulled the photo out of my pocket Werner’s eyes lit up. “This is where you live?” They both asked. Christa excitedly went to her computer and much to my surprise pulled up half a dozen photos of my house. As it turns out Werner has been planning to paint the house for some time now and took a series of photos in preparation.
“You must paint it,” I explained “because I am told it is the oldest house in Kamloops so it needs to be a part of your heritage collection.”
It is hard to say how much longer Werner will be able to paint as Alzheimer’s effect each person differently. There are drugs to slow the progress of the disease but no cure. For now Werner and Christa are taking life one day at a time and making that day as meaningful as possible. Werner says “it’s all about keeping busy and positive,” which he most certainly does! Within their apartment he has a studio and at age 78, paints every day. He is currently working on 2 commissioned pieces for heritage homes in Kamloops which I was fortunate enough to have a sneak-peak at.
“We have had a very rich and exciting life,” says Christa. “We have 2 good, capable children and 4 wonderful grandkids. Life still has a lot to offer. Yes, Alzheimer’s is a devastating decease. But we should not let it take over our lives here and now. The future is not in our hands. “
When I left Werner and Christa’s I thought about how the house I live in, the house Werner wants to paint; this beautiful, old building had become the common denominator between us. But what really struck me was the inspiring strength and bond between two people facing what is perhaps the most difficult chapter in their lives.