News, Views, Happiness Pursued

Jonathan Brett Newburn, 51

Remembering the great artist, adventurer and free-thinker

by | Jun 17, 2021

Brett Newburn. photos/courtesy Rob Evans and Nancy Pugh

Editor’s Note: Brett Newburn contributed numerous comics and illustrations to Mainer’s predecessor publication, The Bollard, and was a friend and supporter till the end. We’re blessed to live in a state where Brett’s work as an artist and contractor is still around us, from restaurants in Portland to a school in Kennebunk. Photos of Brett and the project in Kennebunk on the opposite page are courtesy of Rob Evans and Nancy Pugh, of Duckfat, which Brett helped build. The comic on page 30 was published in The Bollard’s November 2010 issue. Links to all of Brett’s comics for The Bollard are in the online post of this obit at  

“The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”
— Lao Tzu

Almost one year after being diagnosed with a Stage IV glioblastoma brain tumor, J. Brett Newburn died peacefully at home in Haleiwa, HI, early Sunday morning on April 25, 2021. He was cared for to the end by the love of his life, Sarah Speed, and supported by his many friends and family who came to Hawaii to be with him in his closing days. Brett is survived by his brother, John Christopher Newburn, of Quincy, MA; his father, John Newburn, and step-mother, Harrah Lord, of Rockport, ME. Brett’s mother, Marjorie L. Newburn, died in 2013.

Brett was born and raised in Whitman, MA, and went through the public school system, including Whitman-Hanson RHS. A good student, he played varsity soccer, and won a Boston Globe Gold Key Award for art, a talent he nurtured and applied throughout his life. He attended Saint Michaels College, in Vermont, earning a BA in English and Art. While in Vermont he also honed his taste for skiing, an appetite he sought to satisfy more fully in Aspen, where he moved after college. There he undertook a range of coming-of-age jobs: he mixed music for clubs, illustrated fliers and menus, managed a pool hall and grog shop, and learned how to lay tile for a high-end tile company. This craft he assiduously refined and made his core livelihood for over twenty years.

After several years in Aspen, he settled in Maine. In his tile work Brett was able to blend superb craftsmanship with artistic sensibility, at one point winning a Maine Municipal Project Art Grant for a new middle school in Kennebunk, where he installed a multi-panel mural. Always working independently, Brett spread his exceptional work among residential, commercial and architectural projects.

The allure of the unknown and the urge to explore exerted an irresistible pull on Brett throughout his life. Not long out of college he got his first motorcycle and realized how liberating it could be to travel light and discover new and beautiful places. He soon spent as much time as he could afford camping and traveling the country with likeminded friends. He loved his big off-road KTMs and BMWs. Few things gave him more satisfaction than riding into the wilderness, setting up camp, and enjoying the simple pleasure of friends’ company under an open sky. He particularly enjoyed discovering out-of-the-way hot springs. His biking destinations included Mexico, Alaska, Newfoundland, and frequent trips throughout the West and Southwest.

By his own measure, his 51 years had been good and fully lived. Unconventional by common standards, Brett never married, had children, owned a home, or followed a typical career path. But by other valued measures he lead an exceptionally rich and enviable life. He was fortunate to enjoy the affection, respect and loyalty of superb friends with whom he could travel, share books and ideas, savor fine cuisine, and enjoy life and laughter to the fullest. He had a wonderfully edgy sense of humor and the absurd, a trait cherished and widely appreciated. Through his art and tile work projects, he left an enduring imprint of his creativity and unique aesthetic.

He was a voracious reader, with his Kindle nearby and a stack of books on deck ready to share with his reading friends. A skeptic by nature, he rarely accepted received knowledge without close examination, and had little patience for posers and self-promoters. His love of nature, his contemplative temperament, and his irrepressibly positive outlook helped him achieve an equanimity that served him well.

Rob Evans (left) with Brett Newburn.

Although Brett spent much of his adult life in and around Portland, he also lived and worked at times in Jost Van Dyke (BVI), California, and Florida, applying his skills to furniture-making, molding, boat-building and repair, plane restoration and pen-and-ink drawing. His last year, spent in Hawaii, was his effort to surround himself in natural beauty, believing, as he always did, that nature was among the best balms for ailments of all sorts, including his own. His death was planned and made possible by Hawaii’s Our Care, Our Choice Act, through which qualified terminally ill patients can achieve a planned and dignified death. He died on his own terms a contented man with Sarah at his side.

— John Newburn

“Text Me Your Dreams”

June 2015

*This one got The Bollard kicked out of Shaw’s for awhile


“Mmmmmm Drugs!!”

March 2015








“Bath Salts in Bangor”

September 2013








“Peace. Freedom. Leadership. Embarrassment.”

February 2011








“The Awkward Adventures of Wikiman”

January 2011




“Landing Party”

December 2010







“Face It: Some Looks Are Very, Very Hard to Pull Off”

November 2010





“Excuse Me While I Rant”

October 2010

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