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. (When I wrote this post in 2010, the website description did not include this part of the provenance but it now does in December 2017: http://www.clarkart.edu/Collection/559.)

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.


Anonymous said...

Love the way you spring from one thing to the next, and it all works. Does the Clark mansion on Riverside still exist, do you know? There are one or two great houses still left. I could reach up and pull down the AIA Guide and check myself, I suppose.

I know Nicholas Fox Weber's wife, novelist Katharine Weber, who is presently at work on a family history of her own, which ought to be amazing (she's a scion of the Warburgs and her grandmother was George Gershwin's mistress).

Sherman Clarke said...

Weber says that the Clark mansion on Riverside and 89th was demolished. Mrs Clark was also involved with building improved housing for workers and their families, via Neighborhood Houses and the City and Suburban Homes Company. Her spending on good works increased after her second marriage to Henry Codman Potter, Episcopal Bishop of New York. Now, if you look at Potter's Wikipedia entry, it says that "The Henry Codman Potter house at 89th Street is one of the few remaining mansions on Riverside Drive; built by his second wife, Elizabeth, and her first husband, Alfred Corning Clark, it now houses Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim." Guess we'll have to check the AIA guide after all ... but I don't see it in the 4th edition. If you click on the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim link in the Potter article, you're off to Queens.

Sherman Clarke said...

Well, gosh, there it is on Google Maps. I don't have the "streetview" loaded so I'm just looking at the roof. And it does say Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim on the screen.

Sherman Clarke said...

And I'm shocked (shocked!) that it's not in the 4th edition of the AIA guide. An Ernest Flagg design and one of the few remaining mansions on Riverside.

Anonymous said...

That's a different building, the Rice mansion by Herts & Tallant of 1903, dark red brick with white stone trim, and it's in the 4th ed of AIA. It was Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim from 1954 to 1988, and then was sold to another yeshiva, Ketana (according to Christopher Gray of the Times in a 1997 profile). GoogleMaps must not be up to date on its yeshivas.

Gray says, "Herts & Tallant produced a typically individualistic design, mixing Beaux-Arts, Georgian and Renaissance elements. Particularly distinctive are the deep overhanging eaves and the repetition of curves -- the porte cochere on the north side, the bay above it and the large marble arch above the main entrance." He mentions the Clark house as having been on the north corner of 89th & RSD, where there's now an apartment building.

Mrs. Rice led a campaign against the hoots and whistles of the boats on the river and founded the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noises. (Care to join?)

Sherman Clarke said...

Thanks for getting me straight on the big houses at West 89th and Riverside Drive. I'm not sure about joining the Society for the Suppression of Unnecessary Noises, and don't tell Mayor Bloomberg or that will be next: no noises of an unnecessary sort and, thanks, but I'll determine what is unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

Sherman, I grew up at RSD and 84th, so I feel personally responsible (though I've been in Bklyn for c 25 years).

Your posts on the architecture of northern and western NY remind me how little I know about that area and how much I'd like to tour around one of these days.