Briza Publications author Brenda Clarke (1917-2012) studied Botany at the University of Pretoria and worked as a microbiologist, doing flower painting as a hobby. After retirement she traveled extensively in northern South Africa combining two of her interests – bird watching and collecting material for this book. She has illustrated several books written by Eve Palmer: The South African herbal (1985), Under the Olive (1989), Return to Camdeboo (1992) and A Gardener’s Year (1995).
Books by Brende Clarke
- Illustrated Guide to the Wildflowers of Northern South Africa
Obituary for Brenda Clarke
24 November 1917 – 3 March 2012
My mother, Brenda Clarke, who has died peacefully at her home in Brooklyn, Pretoria, aged 94, was a gifted and accomplished scientist and artist.
She felt herself to be lucky in many ways, through her upbringing, home, garden, and her family on both sides: she was especially close to her father, and often reminisced about her beloved aunts on her mother’s side, who were influential as she grew up. Throughout her life she cultivated a circle of friends through her work, her horticultural and other interests, and kept in close touch with family members in South Africa and abroad: visits and letter writing were a routine part of her daily life.
She had a fascination with, and comprehensive knowledge of her family history, researching and drawing up family trees which traced her Dutch, Huguenot and English origins, some as far back as the 17th century. These have been passed down to us in her compact, beautiful handwriting ? as have all the records of her life, work and family which she kept assiduously. Books and reading were another passion; she learned to read at the age of three and read voraciously all her life. She also read very fast, and her cherished book collection reflected the depth and breadth of her knowledge and interests.
She was born in Johannesburg, the daughter of Edna Olive (nee Taylor) and Frederik Casper Stiemens; her brother Bernard was born in 1922. She attended Arcadia Primary School in Pretoria, and Pretoria High School for Girls. Her university education started at the age of 16 at the University of Pretoria, where she graduated in 1939 with a MSc in applied botany with a strong emphasis on agriculture.
Between 1939 and 1944 she worked at the Low Temperature Research Laboratory in Cape Town, mainly on food spoilage. The Western Cape mountains provided her with the opportunity to enjoy climbing and hiking, and botanizing.
At university she had met a fellow student, Percy Clarke, who was studying agronomy, and they married in 1944. His work took them first to Marandellas in what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Marondera in Zimbabwe), then to Cedara, Barberton and finally Pretoria.
She returned to work, once her four children were of school age, employed part-time between 1958-1977 at what in 1959 became the Margaretha Mes Institute for Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, University of Pretoria, working mainly on legumes and nitrogen fixation. During this time she co-authored and published a number of papers, and presented a paper at the S2A3 conference in June 1960.
She always had an interest in indigenous flora, and once their family were grown, she and Percy travelled widely in their camper, visiting areas of natural beauty where she collected, painted and drew plants, Percy painted and sketched landscapes, and they could share their interest in bird watching. Some of these trips were made with members of the then Northern Transvaal Ornithological Society, now Birdlife Northern Gauteng, of which they were founder members. They were always accompanied by their much-loved dogs.
Part of her legacy is the considerable body of work she produced as a botanical artist. She drew and painted prolifically, not only for specific projects or works, but to give to family and friends, which she did generously. The last 15 years of Brenda’s life, and the last 5 years of Percy’s, were enriched by the happy times they spent with Berenice and Theo at Hartelus in the Waterberg, where the bushveld, especially the trees, inspired her both artistically and botanically. The watercolours she continued to paint into her nineties were typically elegant compositions of flowers, leaves and grasses, or of individual flowering plants.
This work formed the basis of a second career; her pen and ink illustrations for Mavis Skene’s Making pot-pourri in South Africa(1985) were followed by her illustrations in watercolour, and pen and ink, for books by Eve Palmer, with whom she had a close friendship founded in their shared plant and horticultural interests. Four books resulted from this collaboration: The South African herbal (1985), Under the olive (1989), Return to Camdeboo (1992) and A gardener’s year (1995). In 2003, a collection of more than 600 watercolours, of wild flowers which had been collected and painted between 1984-1990, was published with Gerrit Germishuizen’s text, as the Illustrated guide to the wild flowers of northern South Africa. Her work as a botanical illustrator received recognition from the Botanical Society of South Africa in 2005.
She was a keen and very knowledgeable gardener, raising many plants from seed and sharing both her knowledge and plants with characteristic generosity. In later life she pursued her passion for patchwork, creating beautifully designed pieces which will become family heirlooms.
Percy died in 2001. She is survived by her children John, Berenice, Vivienne and Anne, her grandchildren and great grandchildren.