HRV Arts

Jim “Buffalo” Bratrud: A diamond in the rough

Listen to your substitute teachers, lest ye be entertaining angels in disguise. For students who have had the privilege of meeting the eclectic substitute Jim Bratrud, this couldn’t be any more true. Bratrud can be found subbing your math class, teaching the sacred geometry of the flower of life during work time. One may also see him subbing any number of art classes, multimedia, or really whatever he can, to be involved in the lives of students at HRVHS. Bratrud has an inspiring love for his students and a tenacity for teaching. He also has amazing stories for those who listen.

Bratrud can easily be recognized as an artist­. One can tell by just looking at him, and listening to him speak­: his words are as colorful as his hawaiian shirts. But some may have no idea how far his artistic soul has taken him. Involved in the anti­-Vietnam War movement of the 60s, Bratrud chose brushes and spray cans, rather than bullets, in his protests. “My first job when I returned from Indian country was with the San Francisco art commision doing spray-can graffiti,” Bratrud explains of his beginnings. He was very involved in big art movements and mural projects in otherwise worn-down areas. Such projects led Bratrud down a new path. Soon, Bratrud shared, “Carlos Santana in San Francisco liked some of the murals we were doing and wanted to know if we could paint some sets.” With this, Bratrud was launched into the world of rock and roll.

Bill Graham, manager for Santana and other rock legends, was one of the first producers to take bands on world tours, and Bratrud got to come along for the wild ride. Bands like The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones and many more would perform in “big outdoor stadiums” or to Bratrud, new canvases. He would bring psychedelic beauty to previously clunky sound equipment. “We started painting giant murals and backdrops­ skrims­ to mask all the PA systems, and the staging and the scaffolding that were kinda ugly,” Bratrud recalled. These works of art were no small feat. Some of Bratrud’s favorite musical backdrops were the ones he did for The Rolling Stones.­ “They were sixty feet high and the set was 120 feet wide, and we did three of them. so There’s always one going up in the next city, so it was a real back-to-back tour­. Big giant tours:­ “Day on the Green,”­ you know, thousands of people, awesome rock and roll.” Bratrud was involved in the rock and roll scene doing backdrops until the art was replaced by light technology in the early 90s. “Those were the heartful years,” Bratrud reminisced.

Although the art of backdropping faded away, Bratrud’s art career did not. “In the early 90s there was less and less of it (backdropping) in rock bands so I got involved in doing movie sets in San Francisco.”  Bratrud did work for Industrial Light & Magic with George Lucas, and shared that he “did work on 12 feature films” including “Basic Instinct, The Right Stuff, Interview with a Vampire, Mrs. Doubtfire.” He also did quite a few movies with Robin Williams, and his death came as “a real heartbreaker.”

Around the same time he began doing movie sets, Bratrud also discovered teaching: “I was a single dad with three kids, so I always volunteered in the classrooms and found out that I loved it,” Bratrud recollected. He ultimately earned his masters in teaching, on top of his already existing art degree, and his career “began in earnest in the mid 90s.” This career is completely rooted in love and appreciation of his students. Bratrud stated his philosophy of education in a simple question: “If you don’t love the kids, why are you here?” He is constantly inspired by the increasing world of art in the schools, stating of HRV’s that it is “the best art program I’ve ever seen.” The Arts Assembly in early spring of this year especially struck him. “I wish I could’ve brought my son out of the hospital and into the assembly today,” Bratrud stated, with moving sincerity. “Imagine an arts assembly! We didn’t have those in high school.” His main reason for teaching is the students he encounters. “You guys represent innocence and freshness and naivety to a point. Not bitterness and disappointment and despair, like you see in people my age.” Students inspire the youngness of Bratrud’s spirit, and he feels that he hasn’t “fallen into” the mundane mentality that people his age are prone spiral toward.

Bratrud keeps his young spirit even though his life has not been spared from reality.He shares: “I’ve seen the negative parts of life. My eldest son has cancer right now and we’re fighting it. And sometimes it feels like a losing battle­. It’s really been difficult.” He finds that teaching is a relief;:“coming to school has helped a lot.” He also takes life’s difficulties as opportunities to learn. The losses of Glenn Frey, Robin Williams and David Bowie came as heartbreaking realizations; “Friends and artists I admired a lot and musicians and actors,­ they’re all artists­, seem to be dropping like flies. That’s why you really gotta make every day count.” He also values his survival of the rock and roll years. Although they were “awesome,” he did recognize the dangers the lifestyle sometimes offered.  “I survived because I saw what happened to people that got into the drugs. Great, great artists like Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, and so many. And it was pretty obvious to some of us at that age to not fool around, especially with synthetic drugs.”

Lately, Bratrud has been taking more time for himself and his family, and will be refining the spectrum of classes that he substitutes for. He, of course, will still be around for the sake of teaching itself: “If I didn’t get paid here I’d probably still come and volunteer­ just to keep kids working in art.”

His advice to young people is to “follow your heart”, stating that “You can live in two neighborhoods and sometimes we have to live in both. One neighborhood is the neighborhood of the head, and that’s kinda the one that gets us into trouble. So this neighborhood in the heart­ is a really good neighborhood. And when you have to make really important decisions­ probably trust that neighborhood. But in life you probably have to walk with one foot in each neighborhood. When you make the really big jumps­, they’re from the heart.”

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