Brenda Chamberlain

Brenda Chamberlain

Last updated: 18 November 2008

Brenda Irene Chamberlain was an artist, poet and writer born in Bangor in March 1912.

Educated privately at Bangor County School for Girls, Chamberlain's artistic ability soon shone through and a result she was sent to the Royal Cambrian Academy in Conwy.

In 1931 Chamberlain attended the Royal Academy Schools to train as an artist. It was here that she met artist/craftsman John Petts, whom she married in 1935. The pair shared a flat in South Kensington, yet in 1936 Chamberlain moved back to Wales, making a home with her husband in a pair of cottages, Tŷ'r Mynydd, near Llanllechid in Caernarvonshire.

The pair set up the Caseg Press, producing greetings cards, postcards and bookplates and held a joint exhibition in 1937. As World War Two encroached upon their artistic life, conscientious objector Petts departed to join a field ambulance unit in Europe and the Middle East.

Chamberlain remained in Wales and temporarily stopped in her artistic endeavour for poetry. Following a suggestion by Alun Lewis they worked together in producing the Caseg Broadsheets, a series of six editions of 500 copies each featuring poems by themselves, Dylan Thomas and Lynette Roberts. This period in her life is documented in her book, Alun Lewis and the Making of the Caseg Broadsheets (1969).

Chamberlain's marriage ended in 1946 after a three year separation from Petts. She lived briefly in Germany before moving to Bardsey Island where she lived until 1961. Chamberlain used the Bardsey islanders as subjects for her art; her work was exhibited in London galleries and she was awarded the gold medal for fine art at both the 1951 and 1953 National Eisteddfod.

She produced her first collection of poetry, The Green Heart, in 1958 and dedicated the volume to her friend Karl von Laer, with whom she had stayed in Germany. In 1962 her prose work Tide-race, a journal of life on Bardsey including poetry and drawings, was published.

In 1963 Chamberlain moved to the Greek island of Ydra, where she stayed sporadically for a few years before returning to Bangor in 1967. During this time spent in Greece Chamberlain wrote her only novel The Water Castle (1964) and A Rope of Vines (1965), a journal of her time spent on the island.

Towards the end of her life Chamberlain suffered with bouts of loneliness and depression, which led to a mental breakdown after the publication of Poems with Drawings (1969). In July 1971 she took a number of sleeping tablets and although was rushed to hospital, died two days afterwards.

Chamberlain is buried in Glanadda cemetery, Ffordd Caernarfon in Bangor.

Selected bibliography:

  • The Green Heart (1958)
  • Tide-race (1962)
  • The Water Castle (1964)
  • A Rope of Vines (1965)
  • Alun Lewis and the Making of the Caseg Broadsheets (1969)

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