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August 5, 2008

William McClure Brown


Canadian Art History

I read the article below (from the Toronto Star) and decided to go find out more information on William McClure Brown... but there isn't a lot out there. A Google search revealed a host of articles about his death, saying the same things this article does (exact copies in some cases), and a defunct website which links to a rather sad and underdeveloped www.william-brown.com

Conclusions? Mr Brown, sadly, wasn't famous at all, and not even mentioned on British websites despite that being his claim to fame.

There wasn't even a Wikipedia entry (although I am usually the first to point out the horrific flaws of Wikicrapia).

While I appreciate the Toronto Star trying to boost the dead artist's career, it just seems a bit pathetic that only now the Toronto Star is paying attention to him.

He wasn't noteworthy in life, so why is he noteworthy now?

Just because he is a dead artist? That is a sad way to be remembered.

"William McClure Brown, 54: Painter and printmaker

Known for childlike drawings, he became prominent member of Welsh arts community

By John C. P. King

William McClure Brown, a prolific Canadian painter and printmaker better known in Europe, has died in Britain of congestive heart failure. He was 54.

He described himself as a narrative artist and his imaginative childlike drawings – which he mixed with poetry in half a dozen small books – told tales from his frequent travels to northern Canada and North Africa, as well as supernatural animal myths from Quebec and his adopted home in south Wales, where he was a prominent member of the arts community.

But he was best known for the primitive and surreally humorous paintings and linocuts of the bears, moose, wolves, birds and fish he would see almost every year at a favourite childhood cottage on Loon Lake near Kearney, Ont., north of Huntsville.

There he was "close to three or four dumps," his sister, Kathleen Hommel of Toronto, recalled this week. He would visit the local garbage heaps regularly to watch and draw the bears that congregated there. "Not another trip to the bloody dump!" his father Alex Brown, who still lives in Toronto with his wife Cathy, would exclaim.

Will Brown started life on Dec. 11, 1953, at St. Joseph's Hospital in Toronto – "born on the shores of a large grey lake," as he would recount more poetically – and grew up in Brampton, always drawing.

After studying fine art and sculpture in Toronto and Pittsburgh, he moved to England in 1977 with Joady Brennan, a woman he met in Toronto. They married and settled in Somerset, where Brown became a part-time art teacher and explored his fascination with animal stories by mounting pieces of small plastic toy bears on boards he would paint in acrylics.

When his marriage to Brennan ended in 1983, Brown moved to London, to Avon and to Devon, where he became artist in residence at a junior school in 1987. There he fell in love with Carys Griffiths, the school's deputy headmistress, who took him in and encouraged him to focus on his art.

They married in 1988 and moved to Wales in 1990, where Carys Brown became principal of a primary school and Will Brown opened a studio in an abandoned stone church in the tiny village of Llangynwyd in the Llynfi Valley.

While he still returned to Canada almost annually for inspiration, Brown was an active member of Wales' cultural community, even becoming fluent in the complex Welsh language.

During the Cold War, Brown was part of the mail-art movement, which sought to confuse Communist censors by using the outside of envelopes as much as the inside for communication.

He persisted in that style, and the envelopes of his letters to friends in recent years were covered in rubber stamps of animals and maple leaves, pen drawings and witty phrases.

Alison Lloyd, an exhibition officer at the Glynn Vivian Gallery in Swansea, Wales, included several pieces of her mail from him in a touring exhibition of Brown's work, "What's Behind the Blanket?" in 1996.

That exhibition brought Brown to national attention in the United Kingdom, and for the next 10 years he put on regular shows of his bold acrylic paintings, black-and-white prints and watercolours in Britain and northern France, as well as in the Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

In London, his work was displayed at Canada House and the East West Gallery in Notting Hill. And some of his paintings were on show at John A. Libby Fine Art in Toronto.

In Wales and during his visits to Canada, Brown was in demand for school and gallery workshops because of his skill with children.

His sister Kathleen remembered a summer workshop he organized at the Niagara Centre for the Arts in the mid-1990s, when one boy told Brown he couldn't draw.

"Will said anybody could draw," she said, and he told the boy, "You just sit down there, and by the end you'll be having fun." The boy did.

Brown's health had been failing for about two years and he died in Bridgend, Wales, on July 17.

Along with his family in Toronto, he leaves his wife Carys in Bridgend and a daughter, Ila, in Vancouver."


Furthermore William Brown isn't even mentioned in art history books. His obituary is practically his only claim to fame.

Want to learn more about poetry in Toronto? Join the Toronto Poetry Club. (Link updated March 2014.)

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