Charlotte Brainerd, 1921 - 1995

In the process of painting, I eliminate those aspects of the subject which do not lend themselves to my purpose and emphasize those which do.
— - Charlotte Brainerd, Museum London

Charlotte Brainerd was a painter, printmaker and educator. Overlooked and under-appreciated in Canadian art, she was a modernist and an intellectual. Although she is represented in many permanent collections, details of her life remain hidden. 

Charlotte Brainerd (nee Charlotte Blanche Mattison) was born in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. At the age of 21 she began studying at the Walker Art Center School in Minneapolis(1942 – 1943 and 1946 – 1948) with instructors Mac Le Sueur and Evelyn Raymond. 

In the early 1950’s, she immigrated to Vancouver and eventually enrolled at the Vancouver School of Art. She spent a year studying under Peter Aspell. In 1958 she moved to London, Ontario and taught at the H.B. Beal Technical and Commercial High School during the school year, and studied at Queen’s University Summer School under Andre Bieler during her summers off. Finally, in 1959 she enrolled at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto.

Sometime in the early 1960’s,  Brainerd met and married her husband Dr. Barron Brainerd, a brilliant mathematician teaching at the University of Toronto. Barron Brainerd was also an American, (although both he and Charlotte eventually became Canadian Citizens), he was quiet, spoke 5 languages and was a practicing Buddhist.

In 1962 Charlotte Brainerd accompanied her husband on a two-year mathematics fellowship to Canberra, Australia with a short trip to Japan. She exhibited in Australia and she is represented in the National Gallery of Australia’s permanent collection. Charlotte’s abstract and symbolic work from this time was said to be widely influenced by her husband’s mathematical studies and Buddhist beliefs.

Charlotte worked in oils, acrylics, and collage, but she is best known for her etchings and aquatints. She played with allegory and symbolism in her work, as well as Oriental philosophy (e.g. she produced a portfolio of seven etchings based on quotations from the Zen Master Huang Po). She embraced Geometric Abstraction and Modernism.

In the early 1970’s Charlotte found work at the Madison Avenue School of Special Education teaching art therapy for disturbed children, and at was an art consultant at the Browndale youth program.

Curiously, she ceased to work and exhibit from 1973 onward. An artist who was very active suddenly became completely inactive, what happened? There is very little information on Brainerd from 1973 until her death, however it is rumoured that after loosing a child, her marriage with Barron Brainerd fell apart and Charlotte stopped creating art. 

She relocated to Victoria, BC around 1987 and died there on March 28, 1995, at 74 years old. 


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Canadian Society of Graphic Art (1962)
Society of Canadian Painters-Etchers and Engravers (1965)
Print and Drawing Council of Canada (1976)

G.A. Reid Awards for best print from the Society of Canadian Painters-Etchers and Engravers in 1964 and 1968.

Western Art League in London, Ontario (1958, 1959 and 1965)
Canberra [Australia] Art Club in their Fourteenth Annual Exhibition (1962)
Society of Canadian Painters-Etchers and Engravers (1964 and 1968)
Exhibition of Canadian Prints, sponsored by the Canadian Society of Graphic Art Canadian Embassy, Washington, D.C. (1971)
Victoria College, University of Toronto (1971)
“Mystic Circle” exhibition at the Burnaby Art Gallery, B.C. (1973)
“In the Guise of Geometry” Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, ON (Aug. 2015 - Mar. 2016)
Wells Gallery, Ottawa, ON
Shaw-Rimmington Gallery, Toronto, ON
Gallery House Sol, Georgetown, ON
Centennial Gallery, Oakville, ON
Michael Gibson Gallery, London, ON

Selected Collections
Burnaby Art Gallery, BC
The Feckless Collection, Vancouver, BC
National Gallery of Canada, ON
Art Gallery of Hamilton, ON
Art Gallery of Northumberland, ON
Art Gallery of Windsor, ON
Carleton University Art Gallery, ON
Museum London, ON
Robert McLaughlin Gallery, ON
University of Toronto Art Collection, ON
Owens Art Gallery, NB
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, AUS