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Distinguished Canberra artist dies at 99


Romola Templeman’s portrait of Jan Brown in her home studio.

MEREDITH HINCHLIFFE writes of an artist with an unquestionable talent, a unique sense of humour and a refreshing frankness and forthrightness, who leaves a wonderful legacy.

Jan (Beatrice) Brown AM, born Sydney, April 29, 1922 died Canberra, January 9, 2022.

JAN Brown, a distinguished Canberra artist, an inspirational teacher and mentor to many students and artists, has died. She was 99.

She had unquestionable talent, a unique sense of humour, and a refreshing frankness and forthrightness. She leaves a wonderful legacy.

Brown began her art training as a part-time evening student at East Sydney Technical College in 1941, when she was 18, and studied there for six years until she followed her fiancée Des Brown, to England in 1947.

In England she studied at the Chelsea Polytechnic School of Art with Henry Moore, who became a major influence on her art, and gained the National Diploma in Design (Sculpture) in 1949. She was active post-graduation in England with her first public sculpture commission and participation in several group exhibitions in London and Glasgow.

Brown, with her husband and family, moved to Canberra in 1957 and almost immediately she began teaching at the then Canberra Technical College in Kingston, which eventually became the ANU School of Art and Design. This was the beginning of a relationship that would last 41 years. Initially, she was appointed to teach ceramics part-time, and most of such courses were only offered as a so-called “hobby” courses. Female teachers were also rare at that time in technical colleges.

Jan Brown’s Kangaroos in Commonwealth Park

By 1963, the sculpture course at the Canberra Technical College, available in its own right, provided the full range of sculpting techniques, although equipment and materials were in short supply. Three years later the part-time courses in ceramics and sculpture were converted to full-time classes. The same year, the head teacher of the Art School, Donald Brook, resigned in protest at the lack of adequate teaching resources. Major exhibitions of student work began, and Brown became, for a time, the sole teacher of sculpture.

In 1985, Brown, who was also head of Foundation Studies, was appointed senior lecturer in Foundation Studies and Open Art. In developing courses, she was keen to incorporate aspects that she had missed out on during her own training.

The Visual Arts Access/Open Art Program was established in 1980, offering non-award courses, access to art experiences and a link between the School and the community. A wide range of non-award courses was offered for part-time students. Brown retired in 1987, although she returned to teach part-time until 2001.

Brown was actively involved in many arts activities both inside and outside the ANU School of Art and Design.

She was a member of the Arts Development Board of the ACT and later the ACT Cultural Council, and helped organise the Canberra National Sculpture Forum in 1995 and 1998. As she strongly believed that artists needed income stability, and affordable studio spaces to keep them in Canberra, she worked towards the establishment of, and was later an inaugural board member of Australian National Capital Artists Inc.

Continuing her passion for the success of artists, Brown worked hard to ensure that the Canberra Museum and Gallery was established, and this may have been the achievement in the arts of which she was most proud.

Jan Brown’s “Icarus” sculptures in Petrie Plaza

Brown believed that the foundation of all art practice was drawing, and she established the Jan Brown Drawing Prize, to be offered by the ANU School of Art.

Brown was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) and an emeritus fellow of the Australia Council. In 1994 she was awarded the Advance Australia Foundation Award.

Brown’s art was always inspired by living creatures, especially birds. Her sculptures conveyed a singular affection for her subjects – very often being magpies, currawongs, and ravens. She imbued them with their own personality and their mood of the moment. She was constantly drawing, and one year drew a self-portrait every day. Each year she printed Christmas cards, each year a different image. These ceased when she could no longer work in the studio, as she needed one hand to steady herself and could not print with one hand only. She found this very frustrating.

Brown has two important bronze public art installations in Canberra: the kangaroos sitting by Nerang Pool in Commonwealth Park (1981) and the “Icarus” group of sculptures in Petrie Plaza, Civic (2008).

In 2008 the Canberra Museum and Gallery held a spectacular retrospective exhibition of her work: “Jan Brown: Sculptures, Prints and Drawings, 1948-2007”. Through that exhibition viewers could gain a rare insight into her way of seeing and thinking.

She exhibited regularly in Australia, and while in the UK, and her work is well represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, Parliament House, Canberra, Australian National University, Canberra Museum and Gallery and the National Library of Australia.

Brown’s husband Desmond, eldest son Michael and daughter Julia unfortunately predeceased her. She is survived by her son Paul and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Her funeral service will be held at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Boronia Drive, O’Connor, tomorrow (January 20) at 10.30am. Burial will follow at the Hall Cemetery, Wallaroo Road.





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