Jan Karlton was an accomplished artist and devoted mother and friend. Born Janice Marie Berthiaume in 1939, she moved with her mother, father, and three sisters numerous times throughout the United States. Jan eventually received her degree at the Maryland Institute for Art, and worked as an artist, drawing fashion models for New York department store advertisements. She was a passionate believer in no-nonsene accountability and responsibility. She loved her family, her friends. She held a special place in her heart for meerkats and house cats. Jan took pride in nourishing those in her life.
Jan was killed in an automobile accident in Canneli, Italy in the summer of 1997, along with her husband of 28 years, Phil Karlton, and longtime friend Rose-Marie Bröcking of Switzerland.
She is survived by her only child, David Karlton.
Laugh and the world laughs with you.
Cry and you get your t-shirt wet.
perspectives from Jan’s son, David Karlton
I had a happy childhood. I spent the first formative years in Pittsburgh, in Squirrel Hill. When I was seven we moved to Cupertino, California, where I lived half a block from my elementary school. They tore that down after I finished fifth grade. I remember wanting very badly to throw rocks through the windows of the new houses they had built atop Miss Skinner’s old classroom, but my morality got the better of me.
My father was a computer programmer. For me he really blurred the line between a genius nerd and a powerful, strong, bear of a man. He overwhelmed me in wrestling on the family room floor, deftly using his size and weight advantages to their full potentials. His prowess at mathematics, physics, and computers was awe-inspiring, and I was quite proud to have him as a father. My dad really knew how to party, and to have fun. Hey, we only go around once, might as well enjoy it. He had studied graduate level programming at Carnegie Mellon, until the job offer from Xerox PARC in 1978, which brought us West.
My mother was an artist. She was a beautiful blonde woman, sharp and witty, with the keenest, most subtle sense of humor that went past most people. I certainly appreciated it. So did my father; that was for sure. She held to her convictions, and by golly, if someone was in her way, they would soon regret it. But the tenderness she showed me in my upbringing was simply a marvel, and I think I acquired a strong sense of compassion and intuition from her.
I never really understood my mom’s artwork when I was younger. I should say, I didn’t really understand art at all. The idea behind it, and the appreciation for it were there, but I didn’t have enough experience under my belt to grasp the deeper concepts of the human experience—the struggles, the pain, the joy. The baser elements of the psyche were not evident to me yet, and wouldn’t be until I got a bit older. Most of my mom’s artwork was grotesque. It was hard to look at. It depicted suffering, and torment and pain being inflicted upon others. I think sometimes certain pieces frightened me. But they always caught my eye, as if I was looking in a mirror. Eyes would stare out at me, mouths perched to the point of saying, “You know me, David, don’t you?”
When I got a handle on things, I started to understand the nuances of what many of my mom’s pieces contained. I also realized that my impressions from any given piece might be quite different from someone else’s, but that was ok. My eyes saw through a different veil, wholly my own, created through years of growth. But I really liked my mom’s art. She had so much obvious talent. I never looked at a piece and thought, “Well, I can see she’s trying to get something across, but she lacks in the technique to do so.” On the contrary, everything she did was so full of raw emotion, it was splashing off the paper or the canvas. She was not an amateur, nor a hobbyist. She was a magnificent painter, whose works, for me, rivaled those of many renowned artists.
Her style changed dramatically over the years. Looking back at many of her pieces, I do note that her talents were actually being refined and perfected. I recall quite vividly seeing the work she was doing since 1995, and thinking to myself that she had really hit upon a new level of art. Her work had culminated through so many phases into something so new and amazing, I am still struck with awe when I see her last unfinished canvases. They hang in the studio, staring down at me, begging to be completed, to have the life they were meant to have; the life that existed only in my mother’s mind’s eye.
In the early 80s, she painted in a small portion of the garage, which was a dubious studio at best. Still, she managed to do a lot of huge oil paintings, and later when she rented a studio space in Mountain View, she was really able to go wild. With the addition to our house in 1992, she had her own art room space, right there at home, which meant the cats could keep her company while she worked. Some of the paintings reflect the influence her kitties had on her, their feline eyes peering in through the doorway, wondering what Jan could possibly be doing in the only room that was off-limits for them.
That room has largely remained off-limits for me as well. It has been a particularly trying struggle to go through hundreds of paintings, drawings, sketches, and notes. I so desperately want to know what my mother was thinking about when she created them. Although she was fairly meticulous about keeping records of her pieces, and writing notes about them, there are still wide gaps where all I have is an unnamed undated canvas.
– David Karlton