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Internationally Known Bay Area Artist Dies in Museum Accident in India

October 29, 1990

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) _ Joan Brown, an internationally known San Francisco Bay-area artist who used mysticism as inspiration for her work, has been killed with another American in a construction accident at the age of 52.

Ms. Brown was installing a mosaic obelisk at the new Heritage Museum in Proddatura, India, when a concrete turret from the floor above collapsed on her Friday, said her colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ms. Brown had been a member of the UC-Berkeley art faculty since 1974.

″I’m very sorrowful,″ said Elmer Bischoff, the 74-year-old dean of Bay area painters and one of Ms. Brown’s early mentors.

″What she felt particularly gratified by was turning people on in art ... A lot of students feel they don’t have any talent, and she kind of lifted them above that self-doubt.″

An Indian official, Anantapur District Magistrate B. Rama Rao, said Ms. Brown and Bonnie Lynn Mainric, 43, of San Francisco, were working as volunteers on a 100-foot tower to be dedicated to Satya Sai Baba, a holy man who claims mystical powers and has a substantial following in North America.

A third American, Michael Oliver, 25, also of San Francisco, was injured in the accident.

Ms. Brown ″was there as an individual artist,″ said Christopher Brown, a fellow professor who is not related to Ms. Brown. ″She wasn’t really a follower of this holy man, but knew him as a friend.″

In 1958, when she was a 20-year-old student at the former California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, Ms. Brown won recognition for her large paintings that combined figurative images with thick swatches of color.

″When she was 24 years old, she was already showing in New York,″ said Ruth Braunstein of the Braunstein-Quay Gallery in San Francisco. ″As one of the few women exhibiting at this time, she was an inspiration and mentor to young women artists, accessible to everyone.″

At age 25, she became stifled by pressure to continue her success, so she dropped out of the art world and began traveling the globe.

″She felt she was being trapped by her celebrity and wanted to break away from her early, thickly painted canvases to more direct expression,″ said Allan Frumkin, who owned a New York gallery and became her primary art dealer.

Her later work was influenced by the pyramids of Egypt, Incan folklore in Peru, the Aztecs of Central America and dancing Krishnas from India. She called the resulting pieces ″inward journeys,″ boldly colored paintings with sphinxes and half-human, half-animal figures and towering obelisks with mosaics of lions, lambs, doves and tigers.

Ms. Brown resurfaced in the Bay area in 1974 at an art show at UC-Berkeley.

She is survived by her husband, San Francisco police Capt. Mike Hebel, and a son from a previous marriage.


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