John Louis Clarke | Part Two

By Joyce Clarke Turvey

John Louis Clarke was born in Highwood, Montana on May 10, 1881 of a Blackfeet Indian mother, Margaret (1849-1940) whose Indian name was First Kill. Her mother was Curlew, and maternal grandfather was Double Coming Up Hill. Margaret’s father was Mink and his father, Chief Stands Alone; paternal grandmother, The Light Haired.

John’s father was Horace John Clarke 91848-1930) who was half Blackfeet and half Scottish. Horace’s father was Major Egbert Malcolm (1817-1869) and his mother, Coth-co-co-na (about 1827-1895). John had six brothers also born at Highwood; five who died assumingly of scarlet fever. His brother, Malcolm (1877-1922) later married Ella Hamilton in 1901 and had four children who lived. John’s sister, Agnes (1883-1973) later married Louis (Lomie) Goss and they adopted a daughter, Leona (1911-1982).

At the age of two, John was stricken with scarlet fever, which left him permanently deaf and mute. He often signed his woodcarvings with the Indian name Cutapuis, which means The Man Who Talks Not.

Although he had no formal art education, John’s education began in 1894 at the North Dakota School for the Deaf at Devil’s Lake. He continued on to the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind in Boulder, Montana, the St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee and Ft. Shaw Indian School. In 1913, he returned to Midvale (now East Glacier Park) where he helped build his home and studio.

John ClarkeHe issued a prodigious number of carvings, drawings and paintings during his lifetime, including four life-sized carvings of goats carved from one piece of wood, a bighorn sheep and a standing grizzly bear about 3 to 4 feet high. His woodcarvings of bear, mountain goat and other wildlife drew attention and recognition and were acquired by many collectors and notables such as the late President Warren G. Harding, John d. Rockefeller Jr., Johns-Manville, Louis Hill, Sr., and famed western artist and friend, Charles M. Russell. The largest single collection of Clarke carvings was by the late Dr. Gordon A. Dutt of Great Falls whose collection numbered 25 pieces.

John met Mary “Mamie” (Peters) Simon when she was cooking for Tom Dawson (and later for the –X6) and he was packing for him, and they were married at Whitefish in 1918. Mamie proved to be an invaluable business partner by handling the sales and exhibits of his artwork. Later, they adopted a daughter, Joyce Marie. John lived and worked in his studio in East Glacier until his death on November 20, 1970. He is buried at the Clarke-Dawson cemetery beside Mamie, who passed away on December 27, 1947, at the age of 69.

Mamie’s parents came from Covington, Indiana and settled in Midvale about 1905 where her father mined at Cracker Lake and, among other things, was a caretaker for the Lodge at East Glacier. Her mother was Eleanor Hannah (1861-1922) and father was Irving Bruce Peters (1847-1924) and both are buried at the Clarke cemetery. She had two brothers, Charley and Johnny.

Although still carving at the age of 89, John could look back at honors and exhibiting his sculptures and carvings in many galleries including London, Paris, the Ferargil Galleries in New York, and Vose Gallery in Boston with annual displays at the Chicago Art Institute. In 1918, the American Art Galleries of Philadelphia awarded him a gold medal and he was given a silver medal from the Spokane Art Association in 1928. He was listed in Who’s Who: American Art Annual, volumes XVI, XX, and XXII.

Clarke StudioIn 1940, he executed large-scale panels for the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning, the Browning Hospital, and later, the University of Missoula. For the Veterans and Pioneers Historical Building in Helena in 1956, he carved a panel measuring 13 feet by 4 feet, which involved one ton of carving. In 1964, John was honored by members of the Montana Association of the Deaf with a bronze plaque, giving a capsule summary of Clarke’s life in recognition of his artistry in carving, which was presented to the Montana Historical Society, and he was a chosen delegate from Montana for the Washington State Association of the Deaf convention in Seattle in 1951.

More recently, the swimming pool in the gymnasium of the School for the Deaf in Great Falls was named after Clarke. His prominence as an artist is listed in such books as Bronzes of the American West by Patricia Janis Broder, Samuels’ Artists of the American Wes”, and New Interpretation” by Montana author Dale Burk. Clarke is generally considered the best portrayer of western wildlife in the world. In 1977, his daughter, Joyce Clarke Turvey, established the John L. Clarke Western Art Gallery & Memorial Museum in his honor at the site of his home and studio.