Sisters reunite on Sanibel, art the common thread, an overdue visit
Over the course of the last 40 years, Sissi Janku has experienced the world by living in all corners of the globe, then painting her experiences on canvas. And she’s been everywhere, moving at 23 from her native Germany to Hawaii, later living in Los Angeles, Mexico, Shanghai, finally settling in Florida 20 years ago. But though the artist has enjoyed extensive travel and has made a deep imprint on Southwest Florida, one adventure was long overdue―Sissi and her four sisters in November reunited on Sanibel. It was memorable and emotional, their first visit together outside Germany in 40 years. Through most of November, the sisters―Sissi, Gitti Pierce, Emmi Gognial, Inge Bock and Roswitha Shanahan―were sharing their experiences and family stories. And, boy, did they have fun doing it, logging plenty of beach time, painting and talking, catching up on family affairs. “Inge [the eldest sister] worked
THE ARTS for 49 years as a secretary for the German government and she was able to retire this year, so she could come and visit,” Sissi says. “She started working her job at the age of 14 years old, and also took care of our mom for four years, after she suffered a stroke.
“We would visit her separately and stay with her in Germany, because we were so grateful she was able to do that. But now, she can visit in Florida.”
Though distance and timing played a factor in keeping the sisters separated, there was one bond which kept them connected―art. “All five girls are artistic, but our two brothers, not so much," Sissi says, laughing. "We realized we all had talents, though.”
There was also another common thread connecting three of the sisters―Hawaii. Roswitha moved to the islands at age 23, went to school and eventually became a psychologist and yoga instructor. Gitti soon followed as a 25-year-old and became a preschool teacher. Sissi was the next sister to become a resident of Hawaii, while Emmi took a different route and moved to Switzerland to become a yoga instructor. However, she met her husband in San Francisco on a trip to Hawaii to visit Sissi.
Art transformed each sister and linked them, Sissi taking her skills to another level as a full-time artist. “I graduated from art college in Munich,” she recalls, “where I studied all medias. But when I moved to Hawaii, I saw all the vibrant colors and its beauty and I began to paint with a passion. I had a wonderful art teacher in John Young, who is a famous artist, and he gave me the idea that I was able to support myself as an artist.”
Sissi’s beginnings as a professional artist started with a piece of fence in Waikiki. “A lot of the starting artists in Hawaii would show their artworks at art shows that displayed the art along a fence in Waikiki every weekend,” she says. “You would just get a piece of the fence to display your work. A lady, who worked with hotels, discovered me.”
Sissi was commissioned as a painter to make works that would hang in hotels and restaurants in Japan. “These were just gorgeous hotels and I would work in watercolors, but the sizes became too big, so I eventually changed to oils,” Sissi says.
The sisters would exchange ideas through emails and Skype, as Roswitha and Gitti remained influenced by the arts. “I use art therapy as a psychologist; it helps open [people] up,” Roswitha says.
On her end, Gitti uses art to help develop preschoolers, which has been a wonderful benefit. “It opens up their creativity and gives them confidence and teaches them there’s more to education than just learning the alphabet,” she says.
So one can be sure when the five sisters were together, the others took one of Sissi’s famous painting classes on Captiva. “For me, it’s so great having all five of us together, I can’t describe it,” Sissi says. “I knew they were good artists, and I had a great time showing them what was in my heart and show them a few tricks.”
Even 40 years can’t put a damper on sisters’ love for one another, as proven on the sands of Sanibel this past November.
A LADY, WHO WORKED WITH HOTELS, DISCOVERED ME.”
The Janku sisters, brothers and parents in Europe (left), and the sisters on a first Sanibel visit in November (below). They logged painting and plenty of beach time.
Group painting sessions (below) are popular in Southwest Florida. Sissi Janku (below in the center , wearing blue) teaches on Captiva and at the Sanibel Community House, reopening in Januar y after a remake of the historic building that dates to the 1 920s.
“Gone Fishing” is another depiction of Sissi Janku's deep talents and passion for color .