A not so brief history of the James L. Clark Studio

Submitted by John Janelli on 02/22/2004 at 23:55. ( sinclairsjj@aol.com )

In 1902,James L.Clark(1883-1969)was personally introduced to Carl Akeley by Dr.Herman Bumpus, then director of the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Mr. Clark was an acomplished sculptor already but knew little of Mr.Akeley's methods. Privately taught by Mr. Akeley in Chicago's Feild Museum on a lifesize white tail doe, Mr. Clark was sent back to Dr.Bumpus as an aspiring sculptor taxidermist. Early in his museum career during 1908, Mr.Clark took leave from his work to serve as taxidermist and back up man on safari for world famous wildlife photographer A. Radclyffe Dugmore. Fourteen months later, in 1910, Mr. Clark opened his first commercial studio on Whitlock Ave., in Bronx, NY. There he was commissioned by Theodore Roosevelt to mount many of his personal African trophies as well as the lifesize animals which would be on display in the National Museum in Washington DC. It was in 1912 when Mr.Clark sculpted a black rhino in only 2 days that he had cast in bronze. This rhino was to serve as the studio logo on all reciepts, letterheads and even the embroidered label that was recently found on the bear skin rug acquired by a reader of this forum. Years later, not only did Mr. Clark mount hundreds of museum pieces for several institutions as well as for a healthy clientele of average sportsmen, he had the Old Man himself, Carl Akeley, share a portion of the studios to mount his contractual museum mounts. Oh to be there in those rooms with a video camera or casette recorder!
The Clark Studios is where Mr. Akeley invented the ever popular in its day Akeley Camera in which Mr. Clark was an active participant in its manufacture and distribution. In 1922, Professor Henry F. Osborne, president of the American Museum of Natural History, asked Mr. Clark to spearhead all taxidermy projects in the department of preparations and exhibits. Mr. Calrk accepted but only after he returned from another lenghty safari into Africa with his new bride Sally. It was agreed. Expeditions took an enormous amount of time and toll of Mr.Clark's health. Considering that he was held captive by Mongols and tortured in their camps during the 1927 Asian Expedition, it was little wonder why Mr. Clark often thought of his own demise in the saddle so to speak as was his predessor's fate, Carl Akeley on Mount Mikeno in 1926. Between museum and commercial work, the studios grew to larger quarters on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. It was here where other luminaries of our industry began their careers. There was John Hansen, John Schneider, Dominick Villa, Toshio Asaida, Sinclair Clark(no relation), just to name a few. Finally in 1941, Mr.Clark reluctantly closed the studios due to the facts that first he lost so many young men to the armed forces and travel to Africa was no longer permitted by the State Department. After a very prosperous career at the museum, Dr. Clark, as he was now respectfully known, retired in 1965. His Studios was handed down to New Jersey taxidermist John Hansen until his untimely death in 1955. The Clark molds were sold from the Hansen estate to another NJ taxidermist John Schneider until he moved to work for the Rock Hill Museum in South Carolina. He died in the mid 1980's. All of the plaster molds from the Clark Studios were taken to Long Island NY by Tony Romano where they were briefly used in commercial work for only a few years. They were then purchased outright by Rodney Ness in York New Salem PA. Most of these molds were converted into fiberglass and I still ocasionally call Mr. Ness for a wide range of very usable and accurate Clark Studio style forms. Bob's Taxidermy Supply in NY has a various selection of The Clark Molds for deer and bear head forms. Willis Houston of Dixie Land Supply Co., carries an outstanding bison head form modeled in The Clark Studios which was given to Clearfield Taxidermy by John Schneider in the 1950's. All the Clearfeild molds were purchased by Dixieland as well. Anyone wanting more information on James L. Clark should obtain his books; Trails of the Hunted, The Great Arc of the Wild Sheep and 50 Years of Hunting. It is also interesting to know that here in NJ, a notable full time taxidermist named Ed Moran, still to this day employs the exact same methods as the Clark Studios was so famous for. Eddy models all his own forms in clay, casts the models in plaster and makes from them plaster and burlap forms just as sound as any other medium. He still uses lead earliners and literally buys nothing except jaw sets and eyes. Eddy was a personal assisitant to John Schneider. It's nice to know that although the Clark Studios are gone, the standards for excellence still thrive in all of us.

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Ah Yes, Taxidermy for a change

This response submitted by Cecil on 02/23/2004 at 00:22. ( )

Didn't this post just knock you socks off! LOL

Thanks for your effort.

This response submitted by The Taxidermologist on 02/23/2004 at 11:52. ( )

You should visit the site more often and contribute pieces of history. I never seem to have sufficient time to do a complete story on most of these data requests - and so few people care about in-depth history to make it worthwhile. I hear of your book pursuits/purchases from the holotype taxidermologist on occassion, but you and I have yet to meet.

Should "babyfork" who originally started the inquiry be looking for the 1965 book it is "Good Hunting. 50 Years of Collecting..." or you can simply put James L. Clark into any search engine for books.

John, what was your take on the influence of Frederick Blanche on the sculpting/taxidermy history of the AMNH? I feel he has never got the credit he deserves.

My effort is my passion...

This response submitted by John Janelli on 02/23/2004 at 19:12. ( sinclairsjj@aol.com )

Thankyou so much for appreciating my small attempt in passing on the rich history of the Clark Studios. Sometimes I ache for people who will listen to the marvelous stories of the men and women who turned our industry into the art form it is today. The AMNH was never big on giving anyone in the department of preparations credit for their work. Federick Blanche may have been one of them. I have never heard of this man but you can bet I will soon be at the museums' archives department and learn more about him. Please tell me more about this individual and his work. I truly love writing about the history of taxidermy and its masters but I just don't think anyone really cares anymore. We must meet one day for sure. Your friend's father is the taxidermist who first walked me through the AMNH's halls more than 30 years ago. I'm still begging him to put his experiences into print.


This response submitted by The Taxidermologist on 02/23/2004 at 19:58. ( )

I only know of Blansche (I spelled it wrong previously) from a couple articles in my collection of journal/magazine citations. The most telling one was Scientific American Volume 153, July 2, 1910. It shows details and sculpting far superior to any Akeley put out about that time. Blansche was an emmigrant Hungarian who trained in the leading art schools in Europe and was chief sculptor at the AMNH. Americans seem to routinely take credit for inventing processes or objects and I am semi-convinced that people in Europe were ahead of Akeley and Clark in both the technique of sculpting and casting bodies, and also in the quality of the sculpted manikan. (The same could possibly be said of Henry Ford making the cars versus Benz and the quality German cars). Hungarians like Blansche and the Jonas Family, H. H. ter Meer, Jr. in Liepsig, heck even the Santens from Belgium were in many ways just as good of taxidermists as Clark or Akeley. The methods that are uniformly given to brainstorm by Akeley may only have been improved by him. It is impossible to work in a total vacuum without influence by the rest of the world.

Other references you may want to check on Clark and others...

Plastic Taxidermy: a new method of mounting animals... Craftsman 16:580-584 august 1909 with pictures of a very young Clark.

Taxidermy as Art, by R. W. Schufeldt. The Art World. December 1917, 210-214. lots of mention of Clark.

Where art and science meet. by Warren H. Miller. 1908. Technical World 9:669-675 - shows the sculpture under Clarks' Hannible - at the time referred to as the Carnegie lion.

John Janelli / Taxidermologist

This response submitted by Wayne R on 02/23/2004 at 20:19. ( therodds@msn.com )

Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I for one enjoyed reading this and will have to read it again with all that you put into it.

Great Posts

This response submitted by Paul I on 02/23/2004 at 20:35. ( paulblastoatyahoo.com )

Thanks for the interesting posts.You have to wonder what these guys would think about the methods today.They must have been fantastic artists.

Mr Janelli

This response submitted by Mr Yox on 02/23/2004 at 21:50. ( )

You didnt forget my Christmas present, now did you? John? Books, forms, etc? Hey, nice post, I wish I had the contacts you have had, great info. See ya John, Bill.

Thank you!

This response submitted by babyfork on 02/23/2004 at 22:44. ( )

Thank you very much for the detailed answer to my post! I very much appreciate all the information.

So sorry Bill !

This response submitted by John Janelli on 02/24/2004 at 15:58. ( )

I've been so busy enjoying my own Christmas gift,I forgot about yours!Mine was the best anyone could ever have gotten.What I have for you could not be put in more deserving hands.The box will arrive to you by the end of next week or sooner.Try and make time for the museum when you come down to Jersey.You wont regret it!


This response submitted by Bill Yox on 02/24/2004 at 19:48. ( )

I might be out there in March, but as yet Im not sure of how much time Ill have there. Hey what did you get for Christmas, a puppy or something? Named Carl?

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