Portrait of Master Printmaker Claire Van Vliet by Jim Brewton Donated to the Brewton Foundation
Claire Van Vliet, who founded Janus Press in 1955, is a key figure in Jim Brewton’s artistic explorations. Emily Brewton Schilling searched for Jim’s portrait of Claire (above) for 12 years, and it came to light at last in February 2021, owned by Tom McGovern in Los Angeles. On Jan. 23, 2023, he generously donated the painting to the Brewton Foundation. We are thrilled and grateful.
From Emily’s research:
Claire connected Jim with CoBrA artists through friendship with Danish ceramicist and painter Erik Nyholm; and she furthered his printmaking experimentation by introducing him to avant-garde designer and printer Jim McWilliams. She described lending her apartment to Jim when she was out of town during the “summer of ’59 or ’60 or maybe both.” In return, he painted her portrait. “It was a great painting,” she said when I first interviewed her in February 2009, of her “wearing black, sitting in a wing chair.”
When she left Philadelphia in 1966, Claire gave the portrait to a friend whose name she couldn’t recall exactly. She gave me an approximation, and I tried to various spellings with no results until 2021. Claire’s friend was Catherine M. Havrilesky (d. 2010); Tom McGovern is one of Catherine Havrilesky’s brothers.
CoBrA Art Connection
Claire moved to Philadelphia in 1957 to work for the director of typographic development at Lanston Monotype Machine Company. She taught at Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts, “UArts”) in 1965 and 1966. She met Jim Brewton in 1958. “He looked after The Print Club [now The Print Center] on Saturdays.” In Philadelphia at the time, both the Makler Gallery and The Print Club were showing works by the CoBrA artists, whose exuberant approach to artmaking exhilarated Jim. Claire introduced Jim to Erik Nyholm, a Danish ceramicist, painter, and friend of several CoBrA artists, particularly Asger Jorn.
When we talked in early 2009, Claire said, “The Print Club is where Jim saw Asger Jorn’s work,” Claire said. “Berthe [von Moschzisker] had been to Denmark and brought back some early Jorn drawings and prints. Erik would have known Berthe. The Nyholms moved to a condemned house in Eastwick,” while Erik was preparing for an exhibit at Makler Gallery in January 1962. “Berthe connected Erik with a kiln at Ann Kaplan’s studio,” and Claire connected Jim to Erik and his wife, Janet.
In 1962 Claire spent eight months in Copenhagen, printing lithograph illustrations of Kafka’s works. “About two days before I was to leave in June,” said Claire, “Jim went and bought tickets for himself and Barbara. I’d been invited to visit the Nyholms before I started work, and instead of showing up alone, I showed up with Jim and Barbara. I went on to Copenhagen, and they stayed in Funder.”
After we talked, Claire very generously sent me some Brewton prints from her collection: an artist’s proof of Sunrise (1964); two copies of The Chinese Lincoln (1966) as well as a copy of the Jim McWilliams-designed poster for the exhibition Society for the Commemoration of Festivals and Fetishes, 15 May-7 June, 1967, Socrates Perakis Gallery, Philadelphia. “I remember a Brewton piece that was in the Socrates Perakis show—the sleeve of an ironing board—that was very clever,” Claire told me. “I think I bought Ubu’s Picnic after Jim’s 1965 trip to Denmark. Kristoffer Nyholm has it. I thought they appreciated Jim more in Denmark than in the U.S.”
Claire Van Vliet
Van Vliet, a master printmaker, founded Janus Press in 1955; the company’s archives are in the Rare Book & Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Her work has been recognized with many awards and honors, including a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1989. Van Vliet earned her B.A. from San Diego State College and her MFA from the Claremont Graduate University.
In 1995 she was elected to the National Academy of Design, and she has received two Honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts: from UArts in 1993, and from San Diego State University in 2002. In 2017, the Rochester Institute of Technology presented her with its prestigious Frederic W. Goudy Award. Van Vliet has been operating Janus Press from Newark, Vermont, since 1966.
James E. Brewton Foundation
The James E. Brewton Foundation, Inc., locates and preserves artworks by Brewton (1930-1967). A Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization founded in 2008, we collaborate with cultural institutions and serve as a resource for the advanced study of mid-century avant-garde art. While we continue to locate and stabilize the artwork, we also focus on:
When our search began, we knew of fourteen artworks. Today, we have located more than 175 works, primarily in the U.S., Denmark, U.K., and Canada. If you’d like more information about the Brewton Foundation, or you own a Brewton artwork we may add to the catalogue raisonné, please contact us.
We're delighted to announce that Sarah Rosenthal has joined the Brewton Foundation's Board of Directors.
Sarah expects to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business in June 2023. She received a Summit Academic Scholarship for all of her undergraduate academic years and plans to earn a Master of Science of Financial Analysis before building her career in financial management.
While in high school, Sarah maintained a 4.0 GPA and was editor-in-chief of the school newspaper as a senior, freshman representative in Student Government, and president of the Drama Club for three years. As technical manager of the theatre department, she created and ran sound, lighting, and venue support for 25 events and three theater productions per academic year.
Combining business sense and passion for the arts, Sarah researched a way to save her high school’s theater department when she was a sophomore. The school board announced that it would close the department and remove the position of drama teacher on April 30; by May 3 Sarah had gathered budget information and county property tax records in time to present a defense at the Board of Education’s public meeting. The theater program and teacher’s position were reinstated.
In addition to her academic achievements, Sarah made ongoing sacrifices to help others during the first two years of the pandemic. She is an enthusiastic reader and enjoys cooking, hiking, and camping. Sarah’s character, work ethic, and sense of humor make her an ideal member of our board of directors, and we thank her for joining us.
Essay about Jim Brewton in 'PATAPHYSICS UNROLLED, edited by Katie L. Price and Michael R. Taylor, coming April 2022
We're thrilled that 'Pataphysics Unrolled will be released in April 2022, thanks to editors Katie L. Price and Michael R. Taylor. The book's cover art is a detail from Jim Brewton's The Pataphysics Times (1964).
Among the illustrious and pataphysically-minded authors whose work is in the collection are two Brewton Foundation board members: Taylor and John Heon.
Taylor's enthusiasm means the world to us; he first inspired our quest for Jim's artwork in 2008. A guiding light for the James E. Brewton Foundation, Taylor offers a lively essay, "Pataphysics in Philadelphia: The Strange Case of James E. Brewton," in 'Pataphysics Unrolled. (Color plates! Thanks to photographers Elena M. Bouvier and Vera Carbo.)
Heon's guidance is always spot-on; his advice is essential to the Brewton Foundation. He mentions Jim in one of the footnotes to his essay, "Twisted Witz: Experiments in Psychopathology and Humor by Dr. Faustroll and His Pataphysical Progeny." It is the funniest footnote ever written.
Katie L. Price, a major force among those organizing the three-day conference, "Philadelphia à la Pataphysique" in 2014, worked tirelessly to bring 'Pataphysics Unrolled to fruition. We're grateful to her and Taylor for championing the manuscript over the course of several years.
A number of the Brewton Foundation's projects have been interrupted by the pandemic, but we continue the work of researching, looking for artwork, and cataloguing. The April release of 'Pataphysics Unrolled is a wonderful chance to celebrate, and today is an opportunity to express our constant gratitude to our board members, collectors, relatives and supporters of the Brewton Foundation. And we're grateful to the founders, directors, and steering committee members of the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium (PASC), whose support of the James E. Brewton Foundation has helped us in many ways.
So that's us: thrilled, thankful, honored, and looking forward to the April release of 'Pataphysics Unrolled!
'Pataphysics Unrolled is published in Penn State University Press's "Refiguring Modernism" series, edited by Jonathan P. Eburne.
Last week we located this portrait of Jim's friend, Claire Van Vliet. Van Vliet, a master printmaker, founded the renowned Janus Press in 1955. Her work has been recognized with many awards and honors, including her election to the National Academy, two Honorary Doctorates of Fine Arts, and a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1989.
Van Vliet was an important figure in Brewton's artistic development, introducing him to Erik Nyholm and Jim McWilliams. When Van Vliet sailed to Denmark in 1962 for an illustration project, Jim and his partner at the time, writer Barbara Holland, decided at the last minute to go along. She had planned a social visit with Erik and Janet Nyholm before beginning her work, and showed up on their doorstep with Jim and Barbara. Jim and Barbara rented a barn in nearby Funder and, during that stay in Denmark, Brewton's work took on the spontaneity and vibrant colors of the CoBrA movement. Many of the CoBrA artists were friends of Erik Nyholm, and the Nyholms' farmhouse was once completely covered with paintings by Asger Jorn, Constant and Corneille--the walls, ceilings, even inside the kitchen cupboards. Jim returned to Denmark in 1965 to visit Nyholm and help with Jorn's Comparative Vandalism project.
In the early 1960s Van Vliet lived in Philadelphia taught at the Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts); she met Jim McWilliams there. McWilliams ran the Print Department, and let Brewton and other artist friends use the equipment after hours. The two Jims, McWilliams and Brewton, lifted many a beer at Dirty Frank's Bar, and were co-organizers of the exhibition that opened a few days after Brewton's death: Society for the Commemoration of Festivals and Fetishes, 15 May-7 June, 1967, Socrates Perakis Gallery, Philadelphia.
At some point while living and teaching in Philadelphia, Van Vliet was out of town for a while and lent Jim the use of her apartment. As a thank-you, Jim painted her portrait, which came to light in a private collection on Feb. 25, 2021. We are delighted to see it and share this image, with the owner's permission.
We are delighted to share these images of Brewton works, professionally photographed by Vera Carbo. Many thanks to the owner of these works, and to Vera, for making them available.
Top row, from left:
Portrait of Asger Jorn. 1964, oils on canvas, 51.5" x 37.25" (including frame).
Solitary Penitent. n.d., oils on canvas.
Untitled self-portrait. n.d., oils on canvas.
The Key to Birmingham. 1964, metal construction with souvenir key, 12" x 12" (not including key).
Middle row, from left:
Untitled. n.d., oils on canvas.
Portrait of Barry. 1966, oils.
Untitled. n.d., oils on canvas.
Untitled. n.d., oils on canvas.
Bottom row, from left:
Untitled. n.d., oils on canvas.
Portrait of Marianne. 1965, oils.
Conie. n.d., oils on canvas.
I’m thrilled to announce that Jason Broede, Carol Broede, and Eric Olson have donated six exquisite artworks to the James E. Brewton Foundation. We are deeply grateful for this generous gift: The Pataphysics Times and The Chinese Lincoln prints, a portrait, and three outstanding abstract mixed-media works.
Ubu’s Military Mind is a fantastic portrait, in metal and miscellany, of Alfred Jarry’s monstrous Père Ubu character. The earliest piece in this collection, it showcases important elements of Jim’s creative development, when he began using Jarry’s concept of ’Pataphysics as the engine for his artistic practice, which he called “Graffiti Pataphysic.”
The piece was most recently shown at Jim’s first solo show since 1971, “Graffiti Pataphysic, for all mankind,” 21 March-1 May 2014, at Slought, 4017 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
Jim’s flair for elevating mundane materials is especially apparent in X and An Egg Carton for the Wall.
X, a square mixed-media work on canvas, is a magical piece: with discarded silverware packaging, Jim conjured an ancient frieze depicting some sort of supplication to the sun. “X” refers to the small white “x” Jim stenciled onto the canvas, marking the spot where he’d stuck a perfume ad from a magazine and then peeled it off. “X is truly a show-stopper,” says Carol, “and it was such fun to take a look once in a while at The Pataphysics Times and read something.”
The Brewton Foundation’s board of directors and I are extremely grateful to Jason Broede, Carol Broede, and Eric Olson, for their generosity.
These beautiful works are important examples of Jim’s Graffiti Pataphysic practice, and we're thrilled to have them in the Brewton Foundation collection.
We're pleased that a work by Jim Brewton is included in 'Invisible City: Philadelphia and the Vernacular Avant-garde,' curated by Sid Sachs, Director of Exhibitions, Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, and assistant curator Jennie Hirsh. This sweeping survey will take place in three venues at the University of the Arts and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. We're pretty sure Brewton's piece will be displayed at The Philadelphia Art Alliance, 251 S. 18th Street, on Rittenhouse Square.
Opening reception: Thursday, Jan. 30, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at the Art Alliance.
'Invisible City' is the culmination of a massive research project led by Sid Sachs, which includes an extensive, searchable database of Philadelphia's avant-garde connections. The 'Invisible City' team filmed fascinating interviews with key members of Philadelphia's avant-garde community, including Brewton's friend Jim McWilliams, as well as Harry Anderson, John Ollman, Richard Saul Wurman, Mark Campbell, Joseph Rishel, G.H. Hovagimyan, Cynthia Carlson, Joan Kron, Denise Scott Brown, Ruth Fine, David Slovic, Judy Lieb and Diane Burko.
The project is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.
Thanks to Emily's aunt Rebecca, another Brewton painting has been found! Here it is, "Cabin, Stream, and Willow Tree" (1963), 9" x 13":
Jim and Emily's mother, Barbara Holland, spent much of 1962 in Denmark, where Jim worked with Erik Nyholm and Asger Jorn. Barbara wrote a short story called "Cabin, Stream, and Willow Tree," published in Seventeen magazine's November 1962 issue. Although she kept most of her published stories, we can't find this one in her files. The New York Public Library doesn't have it, and Seventeen didn't answer a query.
We were just looking for the story a few months ago, and never expected the painting to pop up! A thousand thanks to Rebecca Holland Snyder for finding it in Virginia, and shipping it to us in New York! Maybe someday we'll find a copy of the story.
In the last months of his life, Jim showed his masterpiece, "Kobenhaven," part of his ongoing dialogue with Asger Jorn. "Kobenhaven," with references to Picasso's "Guernica" and Jasper Johns (the lightbulb), was a direct response to Jorn's masterwork, "Stalingrad." (Showing only a detail from "Kobenhavn" here.) Its full name as listed in the show catalog is "The Bombardment of Kobenhaven in 1801 by Vice Admiral Lord Nelson or The Mad Laughter of Courage II (Til: Asger S. Trine)" "Til" means "to" in Danish, and I think the "S." is a typo and should have been "&." Trine is Katrine Nyholm; this is the seventh known picture Jim dedicated to her. This show ran from March 17 through April 16, 1967. Jim committed suicide on May 11 and, four days later, his work was shown at Perakis Gallery with that of Jim McWilliams, Thomas Chimes and Paul Anthony Greenwood. McWilliams remembers Jim's widow as trying to prevent them from including Jim's work, and "finally we just barged into his studio and took it." The show went on....
In 2008, when I first began looking for Jim's artwork, I heard a great story from Dan Miller, his classmate at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Dan went on to teach at the Academy for (I think) more than 50 years, and is the subject of a documentary by John Thornton. Dan said "Jim's death diminished us all," and told me a story: One day Jim came in to school and said he'd heard he'd get more money under the G.I. Bill if he were married. "So he walked down the hall, asking every girl he saw to marry him. One of them said yes. So they were married." And, said Dan, "I assume he got more money." When I told the story to other friends of Jim's, one of the women said, "Jim asked me to marry him, too."--Emily