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Exhibit in the Making – Alson S. Clark

It was a cold and rainy day on June 1st – but the invitation to meet Mike Franklin, Patricia Tague and Rhea Jenkner and visit Comfort Island was a unique opportunity - not to be missed. 

Over a year-earlier, Tom Folino, curator of the Alexandria Township Historical Society in Alexandria Bay, met Tad Clark. They had known each other for many years, but this meeting was different.  Tom and Tad considered what had to be done to mount a successful exhibit of Alson Skinner Clark’s work at the Museum, for the summer of 2009.

Tad was going to put Comfort Island up for sale and the memorabilia and the artwork would be removed. Although Alson Skinner Clark was internationally recognized for helping to bring the French-impressionist style to the USA, there had never been a comprehensive exhibition of his Thousand Islands scenes. Clark had summered, beginning at age 6, through to the mid-1920's, at the family “cottage” on Comfort Island.

Planning was going well until Tom, this spring, had an accident, in New York City – “hit by a car but now on the mend" – and mounting the exhibition was in doubt. Fortunately, the Alexandria Township Historical Society has board members and volunteers with much energy and enthusiasm. Melinda Comstock and Martha Grimes (sisters, and both recognized in 2007 as Citizens of the Year in Alexandria Bay) sorted, cleaned, and organized the Museum's “Cornwall Brothers Store” for the exhibit.

Trish, the president of ATHS and Rhea, who volunteered to help mount the exhibition until Tom's return, had read the two biographies about Alson Clark. Both publications demonstrate Clark’s importance as American Impressionist painter. Noted for his “en plein-air” landscapes painted in southern California, Mexico, France, Italy, Quebec, the Panama Canal and other foreign venues.

Tad Clark and his wife Kira,  have spent their summers in the islands. Kira is a member of the Duke clan and always summered on Grenadier Island. Tad is the 4th generation on Comfort Island. Both are well-known islanders with a passion for the River.

The Clark family first arrived in 1882. Alson Clark, born in Chicago in 1876, had two brothers - Mancel , the eldest and Edwin, the youngest. Their parents, were Alson Ellis Clark and Sarah Skinner Clark. (The history of Comfort Island was published in the March issue of TI Life and the story of their “houseboat”, Balboa, is featured in June’s issue.)

Many of us first learned about Alson Clark, in 2004 - Comfort Island was featured in an exhibition at Queen’s University, and in 2005 at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton. A photograph of Clark's unique wall-paintings was featured in the exhibition's catalogue.

Alson trained at the School of Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League of New York City, and the Chase School of Art.  Later, he studied at the Academie Carmen in Paris.  In 1901 he settled in Watertown where he set up a studio and gave drawing-instruction classes. His classes were successful in one way as he married one of his models, Atta Medora McMullin!

Comfort Island revealed many discoveries. Trish found a photograph of Alson painting three ladies which she recognized as “Summer Afternoon” which was painted at Keewadin, a mainland property, a “stones-throw” from Comfort Island. “Summer Afternoon” was selected as the cover of Clark’s biography, written by Jean Stern in 1983.

Mike Franklin, a founder of TI Life with Paul Malo, and the Sotheby’s agent for the sale of Comfort , discovered two boxes of photographic-glass plates which included “large format” plates of WWI aerial views of Europe and larger plates of dozens of Alson’s paintings. Tad told of how Alson enlisted for WWI and was commissioned as a Navy Ensign. In the autumn of 1917 he was sent to France as an interpreter. However, because of his love of photography and his knowledge of the French countryside – gained during his art studies in France – his superiors immediately assigned him to a Naval-Aviation-Photography unit. There in the boxes, on the Comfort Island desk, were examples of his work.

Rhea catalogued several family photographs and letters. Everywhere she looked she found paintings, photographs and memorabilia neatly assembled by Kyra and Tad for the Museum to use. Several paintings were by family friend and frequent island visitor, Helen Balfour.

Trish discovered painted furniture and even a hand-painted vase. Many paintings and drawings were made by other well known artists who visited Comfort Island and enjoyed the social life of the region. As the afternoon wore on, Trish had her checklist completed, Rhea continued to find “one more”, and Tad provided as much background family history as he could. Suddenly, the day was over, and by following tradition, by signing the guest book, we headed back to shore. As TI Life goes online, there will be only three weeks until we can all visit the “Cornwall Bros. Store” to see the exhibition.

No doubt, as with my visit to Comfort Island, new and interesting facts will be revealed to highlight, once more, that “The Thousand Islands are more than a salad dressing”!

By Susan W. Smith

Throughout the winter, I provided a number of links indicating how our region should be known as "The Thousand Islands, more than a salad dressing"! In 2006, when in California , my husband and I went to the San Diego Museum of Art with our Admiralty Island’’ neighbors. The exhibit displayed paintings belonging to private collections and some were by Alson Skinner Clark. I was proud to show once more that our Islands are important.


To see more photographs on Comfort Island please see:

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