Word and Image: The Art of Brenda Chamberlain

On 23rd October Bangor University hosted the annual T. Rowland Hughes lecture. This year’s lecture was given by Dr. Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Welsh, University of Cardiff and was entitled ‘Word and Image: The Art of Brenda Chamberlain’.

Brenda Chamberlain was a visual artist and writer born in Bangor in 1912. She wrote books such as The Green Heart, Tide Race, The Water-castle, A Rope of Vines and Poems with Drawings. With her husband, John Petts, also an artist, she set up Caseg Press. The couple, joined by Alun Lewis, produced Caseg Broadsheets, a series of hand-printed broadsheets of sketches and poems also featuring poetry by Dylan Thomas and Lynette Roberts.

Dr. Lloyd-Morgan mentioned that Brenda Chamberlain was an important role model for herself and her friends due to the fact that Chamberlain was a successful female artist who achieved a professional career at a time when few women managed to do so. Dr. Lloyd-Morgan’s lecture focused on two areas: she talked about, firstly, to what extent the places where Chamberlain lived proved formative and, secondly, in what ways word and image, two forms of artistic expression, influenced each other in Chamberlain’s work.

Dr. Lloyd-Morgan argued that Brenda Chamberlain would have rejected the label of a ‘local’ or ‘Welsh artist’, but, despite being an English speaker, not fluent in Welsh, Chamberlain had a strong grasp of Welsh language and culture and her poems are inspired by Welsh rhymes and songs. (Dr. Lloyd-Morgan even sang to us a traditional Welsh song ‘Modryb Elin Ennog’ that inspired one of Chamberlain’s poems.) Moreover, during the 15 years she lived on Bardsey Island, Chemberlain often painted the day-to-day island life. Her birthplace, Bangor, on the other hand, meant a lot to her, but she never wrote about it or painted it. Brenda Chamberlain lived outside Bangor (South Kensington, Greek island of Hydra, Germany, Bardsey Island) for most of her life and therefore not belonging (by virtue of birth and/or language) is an important theme in her poetry.

Secondly, Dr. Lloyd-Morgan argued, Brenda Chamberlain was a visual artist as well as writer and worked in both media because she found just one medium of expression inadequate. However, she would at times feel as if she had to choose between the two and one form of expression would dominate for a while. This resulted in a split-minded state, which mirrored her sense of living in spaces in between and not belonging in the places where she lived.

Attending this lecture made me realise the importance of organising events such as this one. After the lecture a gentlemen from the audience asked a question about a painting by Brenda Chamberlain he owns, ‘A Red Cathedral’, which, it turned out, Dr. Lloyd-Morgan had not heard of it before and which has never been made available for the public to view.  It is great if events like this one bring like-minded people together and lead to sharing knowledge.

If you would like to learn more about Brenda Chamberlain, you may want to have a look at a new biography by Jill Piercy published earlier this year.