On October 30, at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, Legal Attaché Kevin Vorndran accepted an artwork donated by acclaimed artist Claire Van Vliet, and thanked her for her generous donation of over 100 artworks to the State Department’s collection.
This story began last February when Vorndran requested that the State Department's Office of Cultural Heritage locate a piece of artwork relevant to the the embassy in Ottawa for display there. Based on our long-standing and collaborative working relationship with Van Vilet, we immediately thought of her as an appropriate artist to feature. Not only do many of her colorful landscapes hang in U.S. Embassies around the world, but Van Vliet herself has a connection to Canada.
Van Vliet was born in Ottawa in 1933. Her father, Group Captain Wilbur Dennison Van Vliet, was a famous Canadian WWII pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force and led the 110th Squadron to England in December 1939. Group Captain Van Vliet rests at the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces in Ottawa, thus making Van Vliet’s connection to Ottawa a very personal one.
The artist spent her early years in England and various towns and cities in Canada. Orphaned at 14, she went to live with an aunt in California where she completed her education in San Diego and Claremont. Her early exposure to nature crisscrossing Canada heightened her interest in the vast continental landscape and inspired her celebrated images. In addition to her acclaim as an artist, Van Vliet founded Janus Press in San Diego, and is one of the earliest recipients of the MacArthur "Genius Award" for her innovations in bookbinding. She now lives in Vermont, and her vibrant lithographs and paperworks grace the offices and hallways of many U.S. Embassies today.
After discussion with Van Vliet about the request from U.S. Embassy Ottawa, the artist suggested “Flatlands,” a work inspired by her train crossings of both the Canadian and American plains, and featuring her innovative "pulp painting" technique in which she mixes pigment with pulp paper and applies it like paint to her artwork.
Following the October presentation, the piece officially became part of the State Department permanent collection. The State Department continues to build bridges by creating opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue through the visual arts. Artworks like Van Vliet's "Flatlands" reveal our shared history, and show us just how deeply connected we all are.
About the Author: Robert Hannum serves as an Art Conservation Specialist for the Office of Cultural Heritage of Overseas Buildings Operations at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.