Claire Turley Newberry worshiped cats as a small child; when she began to draw at the age of two, kittens were her favorite subject. As she grew older, she planned to be a writer and illustrator of children’s books. She spent a year at the University of Oregon followed by two years in art schools in Portland and San Francisco and later another two years in Paris.
It was in Paris that Newberry published her first book, Herbert the Lion. Herbert was the expression of her childhood desire to have a lion for a pet. Upon her return to San Francisco, she discovered that she could draw real lions; she did so at the Fleishhacker Zoo and continued to do so when she moved to New York. Newberry’s second book, Mittens, established her reputation as a painter of cats. Babette, published just a year later, contains some of Newberry’s best work, showing an economy of line and color rarely seen in Western art. For example, her watercolors are typically monochrome with just a slight touch of color. Interestingly, despite the spareness of her work, before attempting a picture she makes hundreds of action sketches in pencil, pen-and-ink, charcoal, Conte crayon, and pastel. Newberry’s first solo show was held at the Arden Gallery in New York in 1940. She would go on to write and illustrate a total of 17 books.
Newberry’s archives are held by the University of Oregon Libraries.