From the bronze flock of geese forever taking flight at Tualatin’s main gateway to the library’s art bedecked walls, Buck Braden’s legacy is woven indelibly into Tualatin’s public spaces.
And, Tualatin is more beautiful for it.
“Your fingerprints are all over this city, in every beautiful place,” Tualatin City Councilor Bridgette Brooks told Braden during a recent meeting in which the artist was recognized for his longtime service and lasting impact.
Braden finished his final term as head of the Tualatin Arts Advisory Committee earlier this spring, wrapping up a nearly 30-year run with the volunteer board. His vision, passion, and insistence on artistic excellence were the guiding force behind countless projects and arts events.
“Buck was instrumental in so many things,” said Paul Hennon, who teamed with Braden on numerous projects during his time as the city’s community services director. “He was an important voice for conveying that the library should have a substantial amount of public art, and it’s a much nicer place because of that art.”
The men met not long after Braden and his wife, retired Tualatin city attorney Brenda Braden, arrived in 1994. Buck quickly began organizing an event that would become the city’s long-running annual art show and sale, ArtSplash.
It was the start of a decades-long friendship and countless collaborations, with Braden leading the arts advisory committee and Hennon acting as city liaison.
“Buck, first and outright, is just a genuinely nice person,” he said. “He’s very approachable, he listens, he absorbs and he’s not bashful about sharing his opinion, but he does it all in a manner that’s kind.”
While Braden was busy helping to organize events and grow the city’s collection – which now includes more than 300 works – he was simultaneously setting a high standard for the quality of pieces it accepted.
That level of excellence is now ingrained in Tualatin’s approach to public art,” Hennon said.
Formidable as his contributions are, Braden’s service tothe city is only one piece of the lifelong artist’s work. He paints regularly, exhibiting his work and volunteering with other arts organizations.
The split-level home he shares with his wife Brenda is a gallery. Braden’s portraits, seascapes, and scenes hang side-by-side with paintings he’s picked up over the years from friends and mentors. Every inch of wall space and most of the surfaces are covered in art.
Though his favorite genres, maritime and figurative, appear to have little in common, his love of history and stories is threaded with a reverence for detail and composition through every piece.
In a sea painting that hangs on his downstairs studio wall, a Kamikaze plane dives toward a U.S. Navy ship off the shore of Okinawa. It’s a World War II scene that Braden lifted straight out of his family’s past. Braden’s father was aboard the ship. He survived the hit, but a dozen of his fellow seamen died in the attack.
Up in the living room, one of Braden’s favorite portraits reaches even farther back into his ancestry.
This is my great grandmother back, back, back, back, back,” he said, pointing to the young Native American woman staring out from his painting. She’s Braden’s grandmother seven generations removed: Myeerah Tarhe Zane, daughter of Chief Tarhe, leader of Wyandot Nation.
Every painting has a story, most of them steeped in history.
“It’s been who I am all my life,” Braden said. “I haven’t made a lot of money at it, and most of my friends haven’t either, but I do what I do because I like to do it. There’s a certain consistency to what I do.”
Braden started drawing and painting on his own in a Kansas prairie town so small his school didn’t offer art classes. But he had a natural touch and the motivation to match.
He found an art class at Kansas State, then went on to earn undergraduate and graduate art degrees from nearby Ft. Hayes State. He did post-graduate work at his beloved University of Kansas, taught, worked as an illustrator in the Army, and spent 10 years studying with a master figure painter.
His maritime paintings – seascapes with ships on the water – have been included in regional and national shows. Braden is active in the genre. He’s the president of the Pacific Rim Institute of Marine Artists and currently working on new paintings for an upcoming show.
“It’s really fun to do (maritime scenes) because there’s so much history,” he said.
That love of history, combined with his attention to detail and his enduring belief in the value of public art, is what made Braden’s contributions to Tualatin so special.
“We’ve got this accomplished artist who understands Tualatin well,” Hennon said. “We need some of his work. Now that he’s not on the advisory committee, it’s an opportunity for the city to add a Buck Braden to the collection”