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.