Preserving A Legacy Of Artwork: The Clarke Gallery
Montana Senior News August/September 2015
by Gail Jokerst
Blackfeet artist John Clarke may have lost the ability to speak and hear at a young age, yet that never kept him from clearly communicating. Through sign language, both American and Indian, as well as the written word, John effectively shared his thoughts. But it was through the silent medium of art that he excelled at expressing his love for the Plains Indian culture, Glacier National Park, and the wildlife that roamed its forests, meadows, and mountains.
A skilled woodcarver, sculptor, and painter, John produced a body of work that has become synonymous with Glacier Park’s early days. Just looking at his mountain goats or whimsical bears brings to mind dudes on horseback and Glacier’s old-time backcountry chalets.
To commemorate the influence and talent of this dynamic artist, John’s daughter, Joyce Turvey, established the John L. Clarke Western Art Gallery in East Glacier in 1977. Its door has remained open every summer since then welcoming visitors from around the globe. Nowadays, John’s granddaughter Dana runs the gallery. Like her mother, Dana celebrates her grandfather’s creativity along with that of other regional artists.
JOHN L. CLARKE – CUTAPIUS, MAN WHO TALKS NOT
By Loren P. Pinski
I was introduced to John L. Clarke several years ago while on vacation in Glacier National Park. In East Glacier, I visited the John L. Clarke Museum and Western Art gallery and, as a wood carver, I was amazed by what I saw. I spent a couple of hours in the museum, spent time with John’s daughter (Joyce Turvey-Clarke) and even bought a bronze casting of one of John’s carving. I decided I wanted to learn more about John L. Clarke and gathered information from The Montana Historical Society, The Plains Indians Museum, The Charles Russell Museum, The Montana School for the Deaf, countless news papers and magazine articles,and several interviews with Joyce Turvey-Clarke. My interest turned into a desire to share what I have found with others in the carving world and has an article published in ‘Chip Chats’ (a national carving magazine).
There are lots of information on decoy carvers of the early 20th century but nothing about John L. Clarke. Considering that he was recognized as one of the greatest wood carvers of the 20th century, I hope that this web site provides him with some of the recognition he deserves.
The Story Behind John L. Clarke
By Montana Historical Society
Helena, MT – The Montana Historical Society is opening an exhibit Thursday on the world renowned artist John l. Clarke. Not only was Clarke an artist, he was also a part of the well-known Montana Blackfeet family. Clarke was married to Mary Peters Simon and they adopted Joyce Clarke Turvey. He is also the grandson of Malcolm Clarke and Cothcocona who died in the baker massacre.
Margaret Ordon the Montana Historical Society Curator of History said “That was one of the worst Indian massacres in Montana’s history. So his death and his families story is intimately connected to Montana’s political and racial history.”
Amazing Montanans—John L Clarke
Land of Many Stories – Curriculum Guide
If you could neither hear nor speak, how would you live your life? In 1883, when John L. Clarke was two years old, scarlet fever swept through Highwood, near Great Falls, Montana. The disease killed five of John’s brothers and left John deaf and mute.
But that did not stop him. Inspired by his teachers and the wildlife around Glacier National Park, John used art to communicate the marvels of nature to people around the country and the world.
John’s father, Horace, had Scottish and Blackfeet Indian ancestors. His mother, Margaret First Kills, was the daughter of a Blackfeet chief. John went to school at the Fort Shaw Indian Industrial School near Great Falls. He also attended the Montana School for the Deaf, in Boulder, northeast of Butte. John later recalled his start as an artist: “When I was a boy I first used mud that was solid or sticky enough from anyplace I could find it. While I attended Boulder School for the Deaf, there was a carving class. This was my first experience in carving.” John finished his education at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There he further developed his carving skills.
JOHN L. CLARKE WESTERN ART GALLERY & MEMORIAL MUSEUM
East Glacier Park Website
John Louis Clarke was born in Highwood, Montana in 1881, and at the age of two was stricken with scarlet fever which left him permanently deaf and mute. In his early teens, John’s family moved to East Glacier Park, then called simply “Midvale” after the nearby creek. Along that river, the Clarkes built one of the town’s original homes, and John spent most of his long life here, creating art in his quiet world.
In 1970, when he died at age 89, Clarke could look back at honors of exhibiting his wood carvings in many prestigious galleries both across the nation and across the pond. Among the many collectors and notables who owned Clarke carvings were President Warren G. Harding, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Louis Hill (owner of Great Northern Railway). He issued a prodigious number of carvings and paintings during his lifetime and is “generally considered the best portrayer of western wildlife in the world.”
Sen. Roush praises Blackfoot artist for bringing honor to area
Cut Bank Pioneer Press
“Few people have left their mark on the east slopes of Glacier National Park with more beauty and dignity than Blackfeet artist John L. Clarke who was recently inducted into the Gallery of Outstanding Montanans in the Capitol Building in Helena,” Sen. Glenn Roush, D-Cut Bank said.
” It was an honor to represent our part of the state at the induction ceremony in the Rotunda. We can all be proud that the story of this talented man will be on display in the Capitol for the people of Montana and others who visit there from across the nation and world each year,” Roush said.
At his death in 1970 at age 89, Clarke was considered one of the finest western wildlife artists in the world, and his carvings were purchased by patrons such as President Warren G. Harding, John D. Rockefeller and Charlie Russell himself.