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Allan Clark

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Allan Clark
(Missoula, Montana, 1896 - 1950, Delta, Colorado)

Allan Clark was born in Missoula, Montana on June 8, 1896 to Harry Percival Clark and Bess Harrison Clark. (1) Clark grew up in Tacoma, Washington attending classes at the Bryant School and then Stadium High School. Clark showed an early talent for art and began taking lessons from a local artist, George Heuston, at the age of eleven. After graduating from high school in 1916, he left Tacoma to study at the Art Institute of Chicago under Albin Polasek and it was under Polasek's tutelage that he turned from painting to sculpture. (2) During the winter of 1916, Clark's work attracted the attention of the dancer Ted Shawn. Shawn and Clark became friends and in May of 1917, Clark was invited to Shawn's home in Los Angeles to model five sculptures of Shawn's wife, the dancer Ruth St. Denis. The resulting sculptures, and the Shawn's patronage, served to launch Clark's artistic career.
Clark continued to study at the Art Institute until August of 1917 when he joined the war effort by enlisting in the Navy. During his military service he created war posters as well as illustrating covers for a Navy magazine. When the war ended in 1918, Clark had his first solo exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, followed by shows in Seattle and Tacoma. He also was commissioned to create a bronze statue of Major General H. H. Greene for the new Washington State Historical Society building; the statue is still in the collection of the museum. These successes, and positive public praise for his work, resulted in Clark's election to the National Sculpture Society in 1919, one of the youngest members ever to be enrolled.
Clark moved to New York in 1920 where he began studying under Robert Aitken. (3) In 1922, the opera singer Madame Galli-Curci, commissioned three works from Clark: a marble portrait bust and two dancing figures, Nymph and Satyr, for her country estate. The following year he received a second commission, this time from the University of Washington, to create eighteen terra-cotta and three stone figures for the new library on the Seattle campus. (4) In addition to his work on these large sculptures, Clark began teaching at the Beaux Arts Institute of Design and he continued to exhibit regularly at such places as the National Sculpture Society and the National Academy of Design. He also met and married Marjorie Hall Primus, though the date of the marriage is uncertain.
In the summer of 1924, after completing his project for the University of Washington, Clark and his wife began a three year period of travel in the Far East. They traveled first to Japan, where Clark spent four months studying the techniques of Japanese woodcarving and experimenting with polychromy. The Clarks then proceeded to Korea, where Allan studied early Buddhist art, and finally to Peking. In 1925, Clark joined Langdon Warner's Fogg Museum Expedition to the cave chapels of Dunhuang (Tung Huan) and Wanfoxia (Wan Fo Hsia), China serving as the expedition's artist. (5)
After the Fogg expedition ended, Clark continued to travel and study in the Far East visiting Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma among other countries. When Clark returned to the United States in 1927, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University held a show of the works he had produced during his travels. This show, the first solo exhibition by a living artist to be held at the Fogg Museum, later traveled across the United States. A second show of works inspired by Clark's travels was held the following year at Wildenstein Galleries in New York and at the Art Institute in Chicago. The works in both shows were very well received and permanently established Clark's popular reputation.
In 1929, Clark moved to New Mexico and settled on Jacona Ranch near Santa Fe. There, he established a studio where he began to create monumental wood and stone carvings of the Pueblo Indians. Ten of these new Southwestern pieces were shown at Wildenstein Galleries in New York in 1930. In 1936, Clark divorced his wife, Marjorie, and a few months later married Joy Cassidy Blanton, a niece of the Santa Fe artist, Gerald Cassidy. Clark spent the remainder of his career in Santa Fe though he traveled frequently to New York, Chicago and the Northwest for exhibitions and also made trips to Europe. His new Southwestern works continued to be popular and he quickly became a prominent member of the Santa Fe art community. A small retrospective of his work titled "Sculpture by Allan Clark" was exhibited in May, 1940 at the Art Gallery of the Museum of New Mexico. His career ended suddenly when he was killed in an automobile accident near Delta, Colorado in April, 1950. (6)
Clark was an active participant in the American art scene. He exhibited frequently having solo exhibitions at a number of galleries including Wildenstein Galleries and Grand Central Gallery in New York and Dalzell Hatfield Gallery in Los Angeles. Retrospective exhibitions of his work were held at the Art Gallery of the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe in 1940 and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 1946, and a memorial exhibition of his work was held at the Washington State Historical Society in March of 1962. He also participated in exhibitions at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Fogg Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Clark was a member of the National Sculpture Society, the Society of Independent Artists, and the American Institute of Arts and Letters. His works can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fogg Museum at Harvard, the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Washington State Historical Society Museum in Tacoma, and the Seattle Art Museum, among others. (7)
Clark worked in wood, stone, marble, and terra-cotta, and produced a number of bronze pieces as well. The statues he created for the University of Washington library are the largest works he is known to have executed. Many of Clark's sculptures are gilded or polychromed, though he appears to have used less of this type of decoration after his move to Santa Fe in 1929. His primary subjects were people, particularly portraits and idealized figures, though animals were also common after 1929.
Clark was profoundly interested in line, silhouette, and realistic detail. (8) His early works use curving lines and rounded contours to give the surfaces of his sculptures an active rhythm. In later works, surface details tend to be more stylized and emphasis shifts to the solidity and overall form of the work. (9) Many of Clark's sculptures reveal his interest in the exotic or foreign, though these elements, such as Asiatic features, Far Eastern clothing, or romantic titles, are usually superficial additions to figures that are directly related to the idealized and decorative Art Deco figures being created by Clark's contemporaries such as Paul Manship. Though Clark was praised during his lifetime for how well he had assimilated Asian elements into his work, (10) more recent critiques have noted his often superficial use of Asiatic and Native American ethnic traits and his regular equation of the fantastic and erotic with non-Western cultures. (11) Though Clark's work does clearly reflect early twentieth century stereotypes, there are elements in his work that indicate that he assimilated more than the surface details of the sculptures he studied during his travels in the Far East. Similarities can be drawn, for example, between the full, rounded body contours of Clark's figures and the sculptures of India, or his creation of realistically detailed, painted wood sculptures and the lacquered sculptures of the Nara and Kamakura periods in Japan. His use of gilding and polychromy also reflects Asian influences and techniques. (12)

(1) Allan Clark's name is sometimes misspelled as "Alan" or "Allen" and "Clarke". Biographical information has been compiled from the following sources: Information on file, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama; Erwin O. Christensen, "An Exhibition of Sculpture by Allan Clark at the Fogg Museum, Harvard University", Art and Archaeology, December 1927, pp. 229-233; John Steele, "The Decorative Sculpture of Allan Clark", International Studio, February 1928, pp. 61-64; Contemporary American Sculpture, National Sculpture Society, New York, 1929; Who's Who in American Art, Vol. III, R. R. Bowker, New Providence, New Jersey, 1940, p. 132; Sculpture by Allan Clark, Art Gallery of the Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe, New Mexico, May 15 to May 30, 1940; Sculpture of the Western Hemisphere, International Business Machines Corporation, 1942; Beatrice Gilman Proske, Brookgreen Gardens Sculpture, Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina, 1968; Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West, Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, 1976; Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, edited by Glenn B. Opitz, 2nd edition, Apollo Books, Poughkeepsie, New York, 1986, p. 155; Alastair Duncan, American Art Deco, Thames and Hudson, London, 1986; Ilene Susan Fort, The Figure in American Sculpture: A Question of Modernity, Los Angeles County Museum of Art in association with University of Washington Press, 1995.
(2) One article reports that Clark first attended Puget Sound College in Tacoma before entering the Art Institute, but the school has no record of his ever being a student, and no other sources have made this assertion. Also, as of June, 1997, neither Althea Huber, Archivist for the Ryerson Library at the Art Institute of Chicago, or Bart Ryckbosch, Museum Archivist for the Art Institute of Chicago have found any record of Clark's being a student at the Institute. Archived student lists for the School of the Art Institute do not extend beyond 1916. The registrar for the School of the Art Institute is currently searching more recent records for Allan Clark's dates of attendance.

(3) It is unclear whether Clark studied under Robert Aitken at the Art Students League or at the National Academy of Design. Most recent biographies tend to assume that he attended the Art Students League.
(4)The 18 terra-cotta figures in niches on the library's facade include Homer, Dante, Goethe, Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, Beethoven, Moses, Pilate, Herodotus, Justinian, Grotius, Adam Smith, Darwin, Galileo, Newton, Pasteur, Gutenberg, and Benjamin Franklin. The three stone figures flanking the main doors represent Knowledge, Inspiration, and Mastery.
(5) There is some debate whether Clark was asked to join the expedition or whether he asked to go. According to Langdon Warner, "He begged to be taken along to complete his education." (Warner as quoted in Fort, 1995, p. 15). However, all other accounts state that Clark was asked to join the expedition and to make drawings of caves and frescos when a camera couldn't be used (see Fort, 1995, p. 21, fn. 12). Thirteen drawings from this expedition are now in the collection of the Agnes Mongan Center for Prints, Drawings and Photographs at Harvard University (#1927.174-1927.182 and 1928.50-1928.53).

(6) To date, Allan Clark's personal papers have not been located. A small group of approximately 50 letters to his parents are on file at the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma, Washington (these were donated by his brother, Harrison Clark). The Tacoma Public Library (Northwest Room) has an extensive file of articles on Clark's career and the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe has a file of articles on Clark's later career in New Mexico. Clark also is mentioned frequently in Grand Central Galleries catalogs on microfilm at the Archives of American Art.
(7) Many of Clark's works were private commissions and their locations are now unknown. Also, inaccurate information has been published on the locations of some works in public collections. According to Sanna Saks Deutsch, Registrar of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the museum has no record of ever having owned the Clark sculpture Nakimura Ganjiro or any other Clark work though a number of articles mention that a Clark piece was owned by the museum. Also, the Metropolitan Museum of Art no longer owns a copy of The King's Temptress. It's current whereabouts are unknown.
(8) "No sculptor can ever produce durable work if he has not found the elements of it in Nature. I observe, and then try to express with the greatest linear simplicity, combined with refinement of surface and economy of form, my idea of beauty. Whether the subject is actual or imaginative I endeavor to make it live." (Clark as quoted in John Steele, "The Decorative Sculpture of Allan Clark", International Studio, February 1928, p. 64).
(9) Fort, 1995, p. 186.

(10) "Mr. Clark has done with Parvati what he did with all his sculpture of this period: he not only caught the form and psychology of the Oriental, but he transformed and translated them into something definitely his own." (Veronica Helfensteller, "Allan Clark Exhibits 4 Pieces from 4 Periods", Santa Fe New Mexican, November 20, 1949).
(11) Roberta K. Tarbell in Fort, 1995, p. 128.
(12) For an overview of such characteristics in Asian art see Sherman E. Lee, A History of Far Eastern Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., NY, 1982.

Margaret Bullock.6.23.97

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