Fam­ily Mat­ters

Sis­ters re­unite on Sani­bel, art the com­mon thread, an over­due visit

Times of the Islands - - Departments - BY BRIAN WIERIMA

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.




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 .

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