Claude H. Venon was born February 14, 1924 at the French Hospital on 330 West 30th Street in Manhattan, New York. He lived with his parents in a beautiful Queen Anne style, three-story, single-family brownstone at 41 West 94th Street near Central Park. Claude’s parents were Jules Henri Venon of Rouen, France and Gabrielle Clemence Venon of Paris, France.
Claude was raised by his nanny named Elizabeth Maher. Miss Maher, fondly known as Nan, was the only girl of seven children and was brought up in a convent in Dublin, Ireland. Claude attended Columbia Grammar School near his home on the upper west side at 5 West 93rd Street which continues to operate as the oldest and one of the most prestigious private schools in New York City. Claude states that he was always known as the kid who could draw.
During the summers, Claude and his family travelled to and from their home in Mantes-de-Ville, France on transatlantic ocean liners including the SS Normandie, the SS Champlain, and the SS De Grasse. Claude recalls eating in the first-class dining rooms and collecting hat ribbons from the sailors. He undoubtedly experienced a world that no longer exists today with the exception of a few souvenirs and memorabilia. His recollections of their French home include large, beautiful vegetable and flower gardens where his closest companions were the gardeners and his beloved Nanny.
Claude experienced a significant loss at the age of thirteen. On March 19th, 1937 his father, Jules Henri Venon, passed away suddenly at the age of sixty-four. Claude continued to live with his mother and Nan until he finished school. Claude’s mother, Gabrielle Clemence Venon, traumatized from losing her home in France, her husband, and her husband’s business, eventually was admitted to a state hospital in New York where she lived until her death in 1966. Miss Maher lived in an apartment on Prospect Avenue in Brooklyn, NY until she died in 1979 at the age of 94.
After graduating from Columbia Grammar School in 1941, Claude attended Dartmouth College in the Class of 1946. Soon after his enrollment, he was drafted into the Army on April 17th, 1943 and served as a Cryptographer in WWII China offensive and China defensive campaigns. During his service, Claude travelled beside the Brahmaputra River in India and along the Ledo Road to Kunming, China. The Ledo Road was built during WWII as an alternative to the Burma Road so the Western allies could bring supplies to the Chinese. Claude has many photographs taken during his military travels including, the Burma Road, the Ledo Road, Kunming, the Salween River, and Pakhoi. In addition, Claude studied the Finish language at the University of Indiana as part of his military training. As he retells his experience, he notes with a bit of humor, “There were not many Finish speaking people in China”. Claude was honorably discharged on January 18th, 1946 with the following decorations and citations: Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Ribbon, Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, World War II Victory Ribbon, and the George Alexander Kohut Medal for scholarly and gentlemanly qualities.
During WWII, the Venon’s family residence at 22 Route De Houdan, Mantes-de Ville, France was used as a German officer’s quarters. Most everything of value was taken during that period and Claude never returned again. The home was eventually sold to the town.
After the war and graduating from Dartmouth with a degree in economics, Claude’s first job was teaching at Columbia Grammar School where he quickly learned that he wasn’t born to be a teacher. Next he worked as a credit reporter at Dunham Bradstreet in downtown Manhattan and then at Banker`s Trust doing the same job. Later, he took a position with Owens Corning Fiberglass in cost control. During this time he met Barbara Ann Snell whom he married and began a family. While vacationing along the seashore, Claude found the hull of an abandoned fiberglass Beetle cat sailboat. He convinced Owens Corning to assist with the repair of the sailboat’s hull as part of an advertising campaign. For years after, Claude sailed this small catboat around the Norwalk Island in Connecticut. It was the vantage point and subject of several of his paintings.
Eventually, Claude took another position with NBC in the set design department. He was in charge of props for live shows. Claude very much enjoyed this position as it appealed to his artistic and creative character. Claude and Barbara gave birth to their first child, Claudia Ann Venon while living in Queens, NY. Afterwards, the couple moved to McKinley Street in Rowayton, Connecticut. Shortly thereafter they had two more children, Natalie Ann and Matthew Earl Venon. Claude and Barbara’s memories of their time in Rowayton are filled with joy. They recall many social events with friends and neighbors including hat parties (Bal de tete) on Belle Island where Claude won a prize for his totem pole hat and Barbara sported a giant pin cushion on top of her head.
The family moored their small boat, the beetle cat, at Hickory Bluff Marina. The children enjoyed swimming at the beach and eating ice cream cones from the Hickory Bluff store. The Marina is now known as the Rowayton Yacht Club at Hickory Bluff.
Claude began painting in the early-1960s while living in Rowayton. One of his earliest paintings is of a ship, The Newsboy. He had also constructed a wooden model of the same ship. His fascination of ships from his boyhood served both as an inspiration and aided in his practical knowledge of construction and proportion. The subject of most of his paintings was of the land and seascapes of the Long Island Sound and New England Coast where he lived most of his adult life. Claude especially enjoyed painting the Norwalk Islands including Ram Island, Wood Island, and Sheffield Island. He also painted the harbor views of the Five Mile River and area Marina scenes. Claude, along with Bill Schaeffer and others, were among the co-founders of the Rowayton Arts Center which established in 1960 and continues to function as a cultural hub of the arts featuring art exhibitions, classes, and workshops for people of all ages.
Claude and Barbara divorced in the 1970’s and shortly after Claude met and married Gloria Mittleman. Claude and Gloria initially resided in Westwood, NJ and later relocated to South Norwalk, CT where they lived until 2011. Over the next several decades, Claude continued to paint and explored his hand in figure drawing with live models, abstract paintings and portraits. He worked as a Graphic Designer for his own package design company.
Currently, Claude and Gloria live near Claude’s daughter Natalie in upstate New York . At at age 89, Claude enjoys walking in a Zen garden in the backyard of Natalie’s home. He rests often, enjoys fine foods, and lives with the dignity and distinction of his upbringing.