Art in the name of science

The vibrant colors of Christine Hager-Braun’s art work draws people to her Golden Belt studio. (Staff photo by Antony Nganga)


Like some other artists with studios in Golden Belt, Christine Hager-Braun, arrived at art through an unlikely path.

Christine Hager-Braun worked as a biochemist before leaving the lab to raise her son. Although she has created art for years to bring balance to her life, she now works in her studio in Golden Belt. (Staff photo by Antony Nganga)

She holds a doctorate degree and is a biochemist who has had her share of runs in the lab and in class. She has pored over microscopes searching for an HIV vaccine.  Some wonder why she left the lab for the studio.

“I always thought I was a step behind, and at some point, it got frustrating,” she explained. “When you try to develop enough information for a vaccine and rabbits keep dying, it’s frustrating.”

HIV constantly mutates, developing new strains, outsmarting white coats in the lab. There were some breakthroughs though.

“When you determine the molecular structure between an antibody and the protein of the HIV,” she shared, “when you really get it down on a molecular level that is a breakthrough.”

It was a demanding job, and to balance her work and life, she started doing art at home. Her grandmother had taught her sewing and embroidery and she started quilting when she came to the United States.

Originally from Germany, Hager-Braun studied bio chemistry at Regensburg University in Munich, Germany. She and her husband came to the Triangle as post docs to research for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

When her son started kindergarten, she quit her job in the lab to concentrate on raising him. As he grew up, she got more into arts and started a studio.

She is mostly self taught in the arts with conference infusions here and there.

“I experimented with quilting but did not like following patterns and decided to follow my own road where every piece is different,” she said.

She works in themes inspired by events in her life. She described one piece hanging in her studio.

“The focus of this body of work is healing, finding inner peace and balance. The background story is that, about four years ago, I lost a friend who was killed by a falling tree and creating my work helped me heal. I wanted to pass that feeling to other people,” she said.

Another abstract piece, “Crossing Borders” looks at the reunification of Germany. It’s part of her history.

“In the late 1980’s there was an exodus of people from East Germany going on vacation through the Czech Republic and crossing the border illegally to Austria and then to West Germany,” she said. “The place where people could cross from Hungary to Austria was called ‘the hole in the iron curtain’.”

Another striking work is “The Nebula.”

“Nebula” is based on a photograph from space. (Staff photo by Antony Nganga)

“That’s a Nebula, those are aggregations of dust and gases out in space. This is only one of a series of three,” explained Hager-Braun. “This piece is based on an actual photo of a nebula and I needed to get copyright permission to make an art piece out of it.”

Hager- Braun says that she sees her work before she begins working on them, the whole piece in color. She cuts strips of fabric and assembles them on the table. She uses cotton, batik and silk fabrics, and either bamboo or sheep wool as inner material. Her art is like making a sandwich.

She lays a piece fabric, a bedding, and another piece of fabric, and stiches them together, like applying butter to bread, this time to the outsides. Since her work hangs on the wall, she designs them upright. It takes about a month for her to produce a piece.

“In my work, I am not really literal in what I am doing. Things tend to fall into place,” she explained. “When working on a piece and I am not happy with it, I step back and look at it. I do not draw my piece prior. The work is in my head.”

Like the Golden Belt building where she works, Hagen-Braun is a changing agent. She is a long way from the lab where she began, and here she is bringing fabric to life in a building that spun yarn to cotton and today still stands housing artists like her, spinning ideas into life.