19 July 2010

The Clark(e)s of Cooperstown


Hyde Hall has long been one of my favorite Palladian houses in the United States. Perhaps nothing compares to Monticello for Palladianism but Hyde Hall, designed by Philip Hooker and built between 1817 and 1833, is wonderful. It is set on the northern end of Otsego Lake, not too far from Cooperstown. It probably is relevant that the builder was George Clarke but, alas, there is no reason to think that he is even a distant relative of mine. His family came to the United States through New York City and my Clarkes were Rhode Islanders before moving to western New York State. Still, it's nice to have the nominal connection.

At the other end of Otsego Lake, one finds a good deal of influence from a different family of Clarks. Sterling and Francine Clark are perhaps best known these days as the founding patrons of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. I've visited the museum several times, most recently last October when the regional chapters of ARLIS/NA and VRA held a joint meeting there.

My family gathered (as you may know from the last entry here or from Facebook) at a KOA campground near Herkimer over the July 4th weekend. One of the field trips was to Hyde Hall with my sisters Cathy and Carol, and another field trip was to Cooperstown with a couple carloads. Everyone else went to the Baseball Hall of Fame and I went to see the Sargent show at the Fenimore Art Museum. One of my brother's pictures from Cooperstown was of a sign which read "Estates of Edward Clark and Alfred Corning Clark" (grandfather and father of Sterling Clark). The Clarks summered in Cooperstown and were great patrons of a variety of activities, including sports and art.

For years, I've been meaning to read The Clarks of Cooperstown by Nicholas Fox Weber and the visit to Cooperstown certainly raised it on the list even though the reviews on Amazon are not so positive. Sure, it probably could use some editorial tightening but I'm learning a lot and enjoying it.

Edward Clark was an associate of Isaac Merritt Singer of sewing machine fame. Clark and Singer together dreamed up the monthly payment scheme and everybody could then afford to have a sewing machine at home. Clark was the business side of things and owned or controlled significantly more than half of the company. He left an estate to Alfred Corning Clark that Weber says was relatively bigger than that left some years later by J.P. Morgan.

In addition to his life as a rich American businessman, Alfred was also a great patron of tenor Lorentz Severin Skougaard (known professionally as Skougaard-Severini), sculptor George Grey Barnard, and other artists. Alfred's relationship with Skougaard was intimate and he summered with Skougaard's family in Norway. One is generally reluctant to apply late 20th-century interpretations of homosexual relationships but Weber does include information about their activities that provide a rich history of Alfred's parallel lives with his family in the United States and his "artistic" life in Europe.

One of Alfred's paintings was "The Snake Charmer" by Jean-Léon Gérôme:


Weber talks about how we, the audience, see the naked backside of the charmer while the men in the painting are getting a front-on view. Alfred's widow sold the painting after his death but it was repurchased by Sterling and Francine and is now in the collection of the Clark Art Institute. The description on the institute's website does not mention this interesting bit of provenance.

Alfred's relationship with Barnard was perhaps more complicated since Barnard sublimated his sexual urges in exchange for creative energy. He did marry a woman later but, in Weber's telling, it was a sublimation of his attraction to men. While this may have been frustrating to Alfred, it did lead to some powerful homoerotic sculpture, e.g., Brotherly Love (a memorial to Skougaard), The Struggle of the Two Natures of Man (stood for years in the Great Court at the Metropolitan). When I was at the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester last weekend for Rochester Pride, I noticed a wonderful bust of Lincoln which was dramatically illuminated. It was a work by George Gray Barnard!

Alfred Clark also served as champion of Frederick Bourne whom he had met at the all-male Mendelssohn Glee Club, for which Alfred commissioned a concert hall and clubhouse (since demolished). Bourne became president of Singer & Company and was responsible for commissioning the Singer Building from architect Ernest Flagg. It was briefly the tallest building in America and demolished, sadly, in the 1960s.


Singer Building, New York
(Completed 1908, demolished 1968)
(from wirednewyork.com)


Flagg was also commissioned by Mrs. Alfred Clark, after Alfred's death, to build a mansion on Riverside Drive. Weber describes it as "Neo-Palladian" but it is a far cry from the severe Palladianism of Hyde Hall. The illustration in the book shows it to be something like the Carnegie Mansion that has become the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. Yes, it has classical detailing but it's more like Newport than Chiswick. I could not find a picture of the exterior on the web but this drawing from the American architect and building news (Dec. 1900) shows the progression of orders around the windows and other detailing which grew from the same roots as Palladio.


In an interesting twist, the caption for this illustration on the St. Croix Architecture site (where it's available as a poster) misspells "Clark" as "Clarke."

That's probably a sign that this Clarke should stop trying to summarize the book and go back to reading it. It has been quite an interesting ride so far, resonating beyond the history of the Clarks of Cooperstown.

06 July 2010

carpenter italianate

We drove through Mt. Vision, New York on the way home from the family gathering at the KOA campground in Herkimer. Mt. Vision is along Route 205 on the western side of Otsego Lake, near Cooperstown. I noticed three houses that looked like siblings as we passed through the village. Each was a tripartite Italianate house with six windows on the front. The center section sticks out a foot or so in front of the rest of the facade, making a simple but lovely and classic composition. Perhaps I'd had too rich a diet of Palladianism at Hyde Hall in Glimmerglass State Park, also on Otsego Lake.

The Italianate detailing was fairly light in these houses: flat roof, simple bracketing under roofline, balanced fenestration, no columned porch. I think of my house in Alfred as carpenter Italianate. It was built by my great-great-grandfather, Martin W. Babcock, and my great-grandfather, Alpheus Burdick Kenyon. They may have used a plan book but mostly it's a cube with sheds appended out back: big cube, little cube, littler cube. The front side is basically tripartite though the porch lightens the verticality and the door is on the side rather than central as in the Mt. Vision houses. Nonetheless, they seemed to be carpenter Italianate like my house, just the work of someone building houses in a small town in the years after the American Civil War.

An added treat was a fancier version on the southern edge of town. The scale was slightly bigger but it still didn't have the porch in the example at the top of this entry. All four of the houses had closed louvers on the upper middle window. And, then, as we drove out of town, there was another bigger one. Its roof had been augmented by a hip roof: practical in snow country but it rather ruins the Italianate feel. I saw quite a few Italianate buildings with such augmented roofs as we drove around central New York State.

Since I wasn't in the driver's seat and we were anxious to get home, I didn't request that we turn around and go back so I could take pictures. The house illustrated above, found by googling "italianate houses" for images, is the Coite-Hubbard House (1856) which I thought gave an idea of the houses in Mt. Vision. The picture comes from Historic Buildings of Connecticut where it is described as: The building which now serves as Wesleyan’s President's House was originally built in 1856 for Gabriel Coite, who became a state senator in 1860 and moved to Hartford in 1862, when he became the State Treasurer. In 1863, his Italianate house on High Street in Middletown was sold to Mrs. Jane Miles Hubbard, the widow of Samuel Hubbard, who had been a US Postmaster General. Wesleyan University acquired the Coite-Hubbard House from her heirs in 1904 to become the new President's House, replacing the first building used for that purpose. [It amuses me that this example is an official residence since that is one of my postcard categories. When Judith Holliday was collecting libraries, I decided I needed a building type to collect and picked official residences. I also did an LCSH subject proposal for "Official residences" which was accepted by LC. They improved it by adding a see-also reference: See also |i subdivision |a Dwellings |i under classes of government or other officials, e.g. |a Governors--Dwellings.]