Goodbye to Carl Bray

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Smoketree artist Carl Bray died in Banning on July 23, 2011, at age 94, after a brief illness. Carl had been working on new paintings up until two months ago. He took an annual vacation to Missouri with family members and declined quickly upon his return.

Carl Bray in his Indian Wells gallery in the late 1990s. Photo courtesy of Carol Shaw.

His death ends one of the great David and Goliath battles in California art history. For decades the City of Indian Wells tried to tear down his hand-built home and gallery on Highway 111. Carl held off the rich and powerful city with sheer determination not to be run off. After he moved away to Banning, his gallery was demolished, despite an environmental review finding that it was of historic significance. When he heard the news, Carl was philosophical, saying he had his mind on higher things (seeing his late wife, Luella, in heaven). It was his many friends and fans who wept when they knocked down the 18-foot fireplace, made with stones Carl hauled from Berdoo canyon, with special touches from the kids’ rock collections.

For more on Carl and his gallery see:

Even after Carl became ill and had been admitted to an assisted living facility, we could still get a smile out of him by bringing up news reports of Indian Wells City Council antics and squabbling.

Carl was a fervent believer of the sort they don’t make anymore. He and Luella sang in the choir at The Fellowship of the Pass in Beaumont. During a memorial service at the church, Carl’s son Michael played the banjo and guitar to accompany a slideshow of his dad’s life. Guests—including six of Carl’s siblings and his four kids—talked of his love for fishing, inventions (he built a VW bug run by steam engine) and trains (he worked for the Southern Pacific as a brakeman and bridge builder for 40 years).

A very early Carl Bray painting of a futuristic car he invented.

We learned that his parents did not support his choice to study art when he was a young man. Luckily for us, Carl always had an unshakable confidence in his own path and his own vision. While some dismissed his work as “rustic”, Carl kept right on painting his magical mountains and Maynard Dixon-like clouds. In recent years he had taken to noting the age of the artist on the back of his paintings: 91, 92, 92 ½. He increasingly threw in mystical touches: an angel or glowing light in the stylized landscape.

My own acquaintance with Carl was the inspiration for this website and my ongoing interest in desert art. Some of my most cherished moments as a Smoketree School chronicler have been visits to Carl’s studio to see what he was working on next. I’ll miss the paint-blotched easel, boxes of old photos and slides, railroad books and magazines scattered everywhere. Most of all I’ll miss Carl’s solid warmth and friendliness. He was a true folk hero of the Coachella Valley and California art, the kind they’ll write ballads about one day.

Carl’s friends thrilled to receive his envelope sketches.



4 comments for “Goodbye to Carl Bray

  1. Hello Ann,
    Very nice tribute to Carl. Here is an idea for you. Your personal stationary should be the image and address on the Carl Bray envelope.
    Drop me a note!
    Aloha, Allan

  2. I was pleased to read your article and sad at the passing of Carl Bray. I chanced upon your site through google. Luella Bray was my second cousin one generation apart. Her grandfather and my Gr.Grandfather were brothers. They were born in Ayrshire Scotland as I was. I’ve been in upstate New York for 50 years and a keen family genealogist. I always wanted to try to get in touch to see if anyone in the family was interested in the family tree…. but best laid plans… I would like to have visited the gallery to learn more about him and Luella. Vina

  3. I must have been living under a rock, like one of the beautiful rocks he painted … just learned yesterday that I.W. demolished his iconic gallery. Am so sad to know they were able to. It had been there much longer than I have been alive. I wish I could have raised cane about it before hand. I rarely get out that way … I simply did not now. I took it for granted it would always remain.
    What a treasure he was, as an artist, a pioneer and more. I love his work and always will.
    I am looking for a pic of his place from Hwy. 111. Though I still can visualize it well, I want it to hang on my wall.
    Shame on the City of Indian Wells, CA.

    Lisa Marie Cross

  4. On Monday Dec 7th I rode by my old hometown of Indian Wells where I lived as Carl Brays neighbor in the 50’s.I was so surprised and excited to see His old sign ( or a replica of it) was up again after many years of it being gone. I was so excited and pulled over. My step dad ran Dans market and gas station in the 50’s and after that the other gas station and market at the other end of Hwy 111.I lived there as a young girl and loved Carls paintings. I bought three of them years later.
    Behind his sign are some pictures and facts about Indian wells and carl. I am so Happy that Indian wells decided to do this in his memory.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *