By Loren P. Pinski

Cutapius 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.

John (Who's Blackfeet name is Cutapius, The Man Who Talks Not) was born in 1881 in the remote town of Highwood, Montana Territory to a Scottish/Blackfoot father,Horace Clarke, and Margaret First Kill, the daughter of a Blackfoot Chief. At the age of two, scarlet fever took five of John's brothers, and he was left deaf and mute. Over the next 29 years, John attended The Fort Shaw Indian School, The North Dakota School for the Deaf, The Montana School for the Deaf and The St. Joseph School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, WI. It was at the Montana School for the Deaf in Boulder, MT that John was introduced to the art of wood carving and at St. Joseph's, he perfected his skills by working in a local factory producing elaborate church altars.

In 1913, John returned to Midvale, (which would later be named East Glacier Park) Montana and opened a carving studio on the eastern edge of Glacier National Park. John carved what he knew best, animals of the Northern Rockies and the Blackfeet People. His first formal show was in Helena, Mt in 1916. An animal group was purchased by a former teacher and was sent to W. Frank Prudy of the American School of Sculpture in New York City. Mr. Purdy was so impressed that he arranged for John's work to be exhibited at The Palace of Fine Arts and The New York Academy of Design. Over the years his work would be exhibited in countless galleries through out Europe and America, The 1943 Chicago Worlds Fair and, yearly exhibits at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine arts,and The Chicago Art Institute. Along with these exhibits, he was awarded a Gold Medal by the American Art Galleries of Philadelphia, a Silver Medal by the Spokane Art Association, and was listed in Who's Who of American Art.

President Warren G Harding purchased a carved eagle holding an American Flag which stood in the Oval Room of the White House. John D. Rockefeller purchased eight carvings and other collectors included: Charles M. Russell (noted western artist), Louis W. Hill(CEO of The Great Northern Railroad and John Manville. In 1941, Frank McCaffery stated in Who's Who in Northwestern Art,"John L, Clarke is generally considered to be the best portrayer of western wildlife in the world." In 1926, The Art Digest wrote,"He carves bears and deer which seem to live and have personality." In 1932, carvers from the famed Oberannergau region of Braveria spent several months in East Glacier to learn and share techniques with John Clarke. The Mountain Goat emblem of the Great Northern Rail Road was modeled after one of John's carvings. His 4' X 13' relief carving of a Blackfoot encampment was said to capture the essence of the tribe, and is on permanent display at the Montana Historical Society His standing Mountain Goat would be declared anatomically perfect by a local zoologist and his Grizzly bears were said to be so realistic you could smell them.

Like many great artists, John was an expert at his craft but sorely lacking in business skills; and like Charles M. Russell, he was wise enough to marry a woman who was smart and business savvy. In 1916, John met Mary (Mamie) Peters Simon (John was a part-time guide and Mary was a trail cook); in the spring of 1918, they were married. She had a mind for business and quickly became his interpreter, correspondent, press secretary, manager and promoter. She was the inspiration that helped John through the ups and downs of being an artist and the times when he would rather build a fishing boat then finish a commission. At the time of her death in 1947, she was working on securing a grant from the Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship to carve all the major animals of Northern Rockies. After her death, John continued to carve to support their adopted daughter, Joyce.

In November of 1970, John traveled from East Glacier to Cut Bank Montana to receive medical care. It was in the Cut Bank Hospital, at the age of 89, with his carving tools in the room, that he died.

Looking for some information

I am always looking for some pictures of John's carvings, pictures of him and his art, and stories about his artwork and life. If you have any pictures, tales about how you acquired John's art, or stories about your friendship with him; please email me them to me. I want to continue to compile information about his life and art. Also, please let me know if I have permission to use your pictures on my website, any future magazine article, or possibly even a book.

I have been lucky enough to have two articles published on John L. Clarke. The first was published in CHIP CHATS, the magazine of the National Wood Carvers Association. The second was published in the online magazine, Western and Wildlife Art Magazine.
Click here to read the article from the online magazine. This is a PDF file so you have to have Adobe Reader to upload the file

Finally someone has written a book on the Clarke Family. It is titled THE RED AND THE WHITE, A Family Saga of the American West. Written by Andrew R. Graybill. Here is the link to purchase the book on Amazon. Go to Amazon to purchase the book.

To find out more about John L. Clarke, take a drive to East Glacier Park, Montana and visit the John L. Clarke Western Art Gallery. John's granddaughter operates the gallery and it is open between Mothers day and late September. This a link to a John L. Clarke Gallery web page.

Repaired Clarke carvings Pictures of John and his carvings page 1 Pictures of John and his carvings page 2 More of John’s art. page 3 Wild Goose Island Carving Studio

Loren P. Pinski