Eagle River loses longtime arts advocate

Eleanor Braendel dies at 88


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Eleanor Braendel, who helped start the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra and co-founded the Alaska Fine Arts Academy, died Aug. 13 at her Eagle River home. She was 88.

Eleanor was preceded in death by her husband, Art. She is survived by three sons; Karl, Art Jr. and Eric; and daughter Ella Maria.

Eleanor moved to Anchorage in 1946 with, Art, who died two years ago. They homesteaded in Eagle River the following year.

Music was always a big part of the family’s life — literally.

Inside a 16-by-20-foot cabin, the Braendels housed a grand piano.

“It lived in our cabin,” Art Jr. said.

“Life kind of revolved around the piano,” Eric said. “Music was the basic thread of our life.”

The piano also served as a means of storage. Cellos, violins and violas were piled on top of and stashed underneath it, Art Jr. said.

Every Monday through Friday afternoon for more than 50 years, Eleanor taught music lessons from home.

“There was a steady stream of students in and out of the house,” Eric said.

Eric witnessed just how big of an impact his mom had on her students about 10 years ago. A man approached Eric and asked if he was related to Eleanor. The man explained that his daughter was a former student of Eleanor’s and was given a full music scholarship to college.

“That really hit me,” Eric said. “What my mom did for people.”

Art and Eleanor — who met in 1943 at Cornell University — were two of the original 17 members of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra the first year they arrived in Alaska. They played with the group for six decades.

In 1984, the Braendels founded the Alaska Fine Arts Academy (AFAA) in Eagle River.

“They worked tirelessly trying to get that going,” Eric said. “That was their passion.”

Today, AFAA teaches a variety of classes, including theater, art, music, voice, ceramics, pottery, dance … the list goes on and on.

Creating a school that promoted all arts — not just music — was always his mom’s dream, Eric said.

“Any kind of creative art, she was a firm supporter of,” he said.

Art and Eleanor’s vision for an arts academy in Eagle River isn’t finished. In 1985, they donated six acres of their homestead for a future site of a larger campus with multiple buildings, said Art Jr., who serves as AFAA’s vice president.

Though still in the planning phase, Art Jr. is hopeful his parents’ project will become a reality.

“They dreamed that their legacy would leave behind an academy of the arts,” he said.

Arts education offers countless benefits, Art Jr. said.

“By expanding horizons of young people, they learn so much more and become so much better at everything else,” he said. “Musicians are usually very good mathematicians. It develops the whole brain.”

The Braendels’ contribution to the community hasn’t gone unnoticed. They were presented with the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award in 2008, the Anchorage Mayor’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 and the Bear Paw Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.

An Eagle River subdivision — Brendlwood — even bears their name today.

Along with the thousands of lives she’s touched, Eleanor’s love of music is being carried on by her children.

Eric is a singer-songwriter and Art Jr. sings and plays guitar. Music has also been passed on to her grandchildren and great-grandson.

“It’s a big part of my life,” Eric said. “It’s something that we need to carry on.”

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com.

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