Auction July 5 to share deceased artist’s legacy

Bret Holmes displays watercolor paintings created by his late stepmother Jan Holmes. The pieces are part of a large collection that will be auctioned off noon-6 p.m. Saturday at the Coupeville Rec Hall. - Ron Newberry photo
Bret Holmes displays watercolor paintings created by his late stepmother Jan Holmes. The pieces are part of a large collection that will be auctioned off noon-6 p.m. Saturday at the Coupeville Rec Hall.
— image credit: Ron Newberry photo

As Bret Holmes stepped on to his back lawn, he headed directly toward the property’s edge and an unobstructed backdrop of blue sky and water that didn’t seem to end.

“It didn’t used to look like this,” he said, peering across Puget Sound at Port Townsend with barges and watercraft dotting the seascape.

When a cliffside gave way 15 months ago in Ledgewood, condemning the home his father and stepmother had enjoyed for 25 years, Holmes was still coming to grips with their passing.

Jan Holmes, a noted Coupeville artist with a passion for marine biology, died after a long fight with cancer in December of 2011. Her husband, Steve Holmes, passed away six months later.

“She passed away. He passed away. Ten months later, the house passed away,” Bret Holmes said.

In the time since he was forced to evacuate the family home following the March 2013 landslide, Holmes has lived in a rented home next door and worked to put the pieces together on his parents’ estate.

In the process, he has decided to sell a large collection of his stepmother’s watercolor paintings. He estimates about 100 of his stepmother’s paintings will be up for bid at the Jan Holmes Silent Art Auction noon-6 p.m., Saturday, July 5, at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

Bret Holmes, a loan officer at Central Banc, saved several of his favorites but figured it was time to part with the rest and wanted to give residents from the island who knew her a chance to keep her art close to home.

Jan Holmes and her husband also were once owners of Tobey’s Tavern. Her involvement with the Washington State University Island County Beach Watchers inspired her to go back to college and earn a master’s degree in marine biology. She then spent years doing research and inspiring others.

“She really left a legacy,” said Barbara Bennett, program coordinator of the WSU Island County Beach Watchers, who named a service award after Holmes.

Bennett owns some of Holmes’ paintings, which reflected her many travels. She and her husband both worked in the airline industry.

“She was a fun, exuberant character, and her art really conveys her love of color and her love of shape and just the celebration of the natural world,” Bennett said.

The art that will be up for bid at the auction may be viewed online at

Those who aren’t able to attend the auction will have a chance to make bids via email, text or phone up until the final 15 minutes before the item closes.

At the auction, wine, cheese and refreshments will be available with donations benefitting the WAIF animal shelter.

Bret Holmes recovered the art from his stepmother’s studio and chose some paintings for himself.

He relocated to Coupeville from Arizona to help his father care for his stepmother in her final months and has decided to remain on Whidbey Island and become a third-generation family member to live on Fircrest Avenue in Ledgewood. His plan is to rebuild a home much farther back from cliff face.

The property holds good memories and sad ones. And scary ones. He was in the house when the landslide struck shortly after 3 a.m. and vividly remembers the sounds and the shaking of the ground.

A family dog had awoken him about five minutes before the slide. He remembers looking out a window and seeing a wide open view where there once were trees.

“I watched 50 trees disappear in a second, and all of a sudden I was looking right at Port Townsend,” he said.

He rushed outside and realized that a huge portion of the backyard was gone. He stepped away from the hillside and called 9-1-1 only to find that the land he had been standing on a short time earlier had also collapsed.

Holmes is hoping for better times ahead.

“My grandmother always said, ‘Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,’ ” he said. “I’m a firm believer in that.”


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