Belvedere artist Diana Bradley was known for annual calendars of her works
Longtime Belvedere resident Diana Bradley, a well-known artist who exhibited her work in local shows, taught classes for residents and created popular annual calendars of her paintings, died Jan. 14 in Santa Rosa of complications from a broken hip. She was 85.
Bradley was a prolific painter specializing in watercolors who showed her work in local exhibits at Tiburon Town Hall and the Belvedere-Tiburon Library, as well as in England and France. Her work was also commissioned for Swiss municipalities and Santa Barbara County government agencies, according to a 1982 article in The Ark.
Her watercolor calendars were well received by many in the community during the nearly four decades she produced them, with friends noting their joy in seeing what was painted for a particular year’s edition. She also taught painting through Belvedere-Tiburon Recreation, with many of her classes held at her Peninsula Road home in Belvedere.
She was also among the residents who painted signs for the city’s iconic and historic walking lanes that wind through the city’s steep hillsides, an effort begun by resident Hazel Stitt sometime before 1960, Belvedere resident Roger Felton told The Ark in 2015. In 1985, she helped spearhead an effort to repaint some 40 signs along 16 lanes.
More recently, she played a key role in the city’s efforts to win the AARP’s age-friendly city designation, solidifying its commitment to promoting healthy and active aging and a good quality of life for older residents.
“Her artwork will live on because it is the beauty of the way we live our daily lives,” said former neighbor and longtime friend Judith Patterson. “The gardens we sit in. The children’s dens we sit in. Those are important aspects of our life, and I think it’s something that she captured very well.”
Bradley was born Diana Jean Richardson on Jan. 7, 1939, in San Francisco to hops-selling father Leonard Richardson and homemaker mother Beulah Degan, both New Yorkers. She had one younger brother, also named Leonard.
She grew up on Vallejo Street in the city’s Pacific Heights neighborhood and attended the private, all-girls Hamlin School but later graduated from Lowell High School, daughter Adrian Bradley said.
Bradley’s Hamlin attendance was a playful point of contention for Belvedere resident, longtime friend and fellow artist Virginia Doyle. While they met as adults in a women’s art collective, Bradley learned Doyle attended the all-girls Katherine Delmar Burke School, Hamlin’s rival, Doyle said. That led to a connection over their youth in the city.
“She was one of the people I could say, ‘Oh, God, do you remember going to dinner at this place?’ Doyle said. “And she’d say, ‘Oh, yes, I remember.’”
Bradley went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1960s.
She married her first husband, Clay Bradley, in 1960. They lived in San Francisco before moving to Peninsula Road in 1968. They had two daughters, Adrian and Dana, before divorcing in 1984.
Bradley spent her early career as an architect and sold advertising for the Christian Science Monitor, Adrian said. Although both daughters said their mother was always interested in art and art history, it wasn’t until she became a stay-at-home mom that she began to focus on creating her own work, said Dana, who lives in Corte Madera and works as a paralegal. Though she worked mostly in watercolor, Dana said, Bradley also dabbled in stained glass and jewelry making.
Doyle said Bradley’s paintings of landscapes, cityscapes and rooms of houses were representative and detailed. Bradley’s love of gardening was also evident in many of her paintings, with flowers being a popular subject in her later work.
Being an artist was “just part of her,” Dana said. “Everything was colorful and flowers,” she said, adding that her mother liked “everything about arts.”
“I think she was just born that way.”
Adrian said her mother liked how watercolors could capture “that super realistic depiction” of whatever her subject was. Patterson and Doyle both described Bradley’s artwork as whimsical, with Doyle noting diners in Marin restaurants could look at the wall and see a Diana Bradley painting there.
“They reminded me of, if you go to a bed-and-breakfast, and your favorite memory of that might be one of the rooms in the bed-and-breakfast,” Doyle said. “And those were the kind of happy paintings she did.”
Patterson said her friend always painted “through a lens of creativity.” Art wasn’t work for Bradley, she said: “It was joy to her.”
Some of that creativity shines through in a Bradley watercolor of Noah’s Ark that hangs in Patterson’s Novato home. Bradley gave the painting to Patterson after she adopted her youngest child. When Patterson adopted another baby nearly two years earlier, her older biological children told her that she could not raise the child without another sibling.
Bradley knew of this and painted Noah’s Ark to include pairs of animals as a nod to the new addition, including ostriches, swans, pigs, pandas, bears, rabbits, giraffes and even a pair of kangaroos.
Bradley was passionate about projects large and small; she painted a neighbor’s mailbox when they asked, and she traveled to Paris to have her paintings displayed at the Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées in the French capital, where Claude Monet had his paintings displayed, Doyle said.
Bradley also loved teaching watercolors.
“A lot of people are interested in art and they want to take an art class, but they don’t know how to make their paintings look better,” said Adrian, an administrative director for an educational nonprofit in Colorado. “So she took a tremendous amount of satisfaction in helping people make their pictures look better.”
Outside of her art, Bradley always strived to keep busy, Dana said. In addition to her love of gardening, she was a globetrotter, always looking for a new place to visit. Her travels also inspired her artwork, as she painted Madrid’s cityscapes when Dana lived in the country and her mother visited.
Bradley was a competitive tennis player at both the Belvedere Tennis Club and The Club at Harbor Point, and Dana noted her mother won local tournaments as a Belvedere Tennis Club member. Both daughters recalled her clockwork routine: biking to the tennis club, playing sets of tennis and then biking home. Sometimes she would follow those sessions with gardening, or sometimes she would swim, Adrian and Dana said.
“Just thinking about that makes me tired,” Dana said.
Adrian also said it was common to see Bradley walking around town with her second husband, Ted Liston; the two wed on Bradley’s birthday in 1989 and were together until his death in 2017. They would walk to the grocery store or visit the bank, with Adrian adding she was sure “a lot of people remember she and my stepdad walking because they always held hands.”
Later in life, Bradley became involved in promoting the health and safety of older adults, including serving as Belvedere’s representative on the Marin Commission on Aging from 2017 to 2022.
After helping the city earn its AARP age-friendly designation, part of a larger program organized by the World Health Organization, she was part of a volunteer committee, led by Councilmember Nancy Kemnitzer, that worked to create a five-year action plan to make the community more livable for seniors.
“When I was mayor in 2020, faced with lockdown during COVID, I sought Diana’s advice on the needs of seniors living alone,” Kemnitzer said. “We made sure that as many solo residents as possible were contacted by phone regularly to avoid isolation. I am deeply grateful for all her efforts to allow our residents to age in place with the highest possible quality of life. She will be missed by many.”
Bradley’s civic involvement also extended to serving on the Belvedere Historic Preservation Commission.
She enjoyed giving back to the community and cherished the relationships she built, Adrian said. Bradley was an advocate for others; if someone talked to her at the grocery store and casually mentioned they were looking for a job, she would call back later and tell them about three people who were hiring and interviewing, Adrian said.
She was also an advocate for herself, with both daughters mentioning challenges she tackled in the days when women couldn’t open bank accounts after a divorce or get loans to start a business, such as for her calendars in the mid 1980s.
“It came so naturally to her that I don’t think she viewed it as extra, or an extra effort,” Adrian said.
Bradley’s influence resonated with the community, those who knew her said.
“I think very highly of her,” Patterson said, noting she was speaking in the present tense “because I truly believe she is present in all of her art.”
In addition to her two daughters, Bradley is survived by grandchildren Mathew, Emma, Samantha, Harper and Chloe, as well as two great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, her ex-husband Clay Bradley and her husband Ted Liston.
A memorial service is tentatively planned for late May or early June.