Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard
There are galleries for art. Then there are galleries for art from the heart.
Curt and Cathy Bradner are opening one of the latter in their unassuming 900-square-foot house in southwest Eugene.
In the front room and part of another hang the paintings of artists who are refugees whose art benefits refugees.
The collaboration raises awareness of refugee issues and cash for refugees to build low-cost, low-tech water filters for families, and other projects in refugee camps.
"The world is full of beautiful art," says Curt Bradner, 50. "Our art comes with a story, and it comes with the knowledge that you are going to help a community when you buy it."
Art-Exiled, as the Bradners call their effort, had its beginnings six years ago when the couple's tandem bicycle journey rolled them into Thailand and turned into a deep affection for the Mae Tao Clinic, a medical program and orphanage for Burmese refugees run by Dr. Cynthia Maung.
"We had no experience in this whatsoever. I had never heard of Burma when we got to Asia," Curt Bradner says.
"We fell in love with the population. We stayed three months," Cathy Bradner says.
They soon met Maung Maung Tinn, a refugee working in the Mae Tao orphanage who also painted in his spare time. Cathy Bradner began buying his paintings and promoting them among her friends.
Tinn, whose popularity continues to grow around the world, turned his profits into supplies for the clinic and food for the orphanage.
In the meantime, Curt Bradner, who designed and built tools for bicycle manufacturers before selling his Colorado-based company, began teaching refugees how to repair bicycles. It was a good first effort at a cottage industry, but overhead costs for parts hampered its success, he says.
After they returned to the United States, the couple continued buying art from refugees from Burma (now Myanmar) living in the Thai camps. They made several return visits to Thailand and linked up with the nonprofit Potters for Peace project to teach pottery to young artists among the 25,000 refugees in one camp.
"Nobody did pottery. They were weavers and traded for pottery. This was a whole new concept for them," Curt Bradner says.
The breakthrough came after a teacher from Potters for Peace began teaching refugees how to make low-cost water filters. The porous ceramic basin fits atop a plastic bucket. When river water is poured into the filter basin, what comes out in the bucket is 99.88 percent free of water-born disease agents, according to the group's Web site.
Potters for Peace designed the filter for use in Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch and teaches its manufacture to local people in underdeveloped areas around the world.
Having witnessed firsthand the lack of safe drinking water in the refugee camps in Thailand, the Bradners recognized the filters as a viable cottage industry for refugees. …