Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice

The John Clark Family Collection

Lots 50084 , 50085 , 50088 , 50090 , 50094 , 50095 , 50109 , 50112 , 50118 ,
50125 , 50152 - 50172 , 50174 - 50176 , 50336 , 50382

Significant intrinsic value enhances a collection of North American Indian material culture that is brought together by individuals over a period of time and in given locations --- given that this information is a matter of record. So it is with the John Clark Family Collection. John Clark enjoyed a unique and fortuitous childhood with his younger brother, David. In May 1889 their father, an Episcopal priest, the reverend Aaron Baker Clark, moved his family to the Sioux Indian Rosebud Reservation in present day South Dakota. The brothers grew up among the Sicangu , "Burned Thighs" Band of Lakota / Western Sioux. In time, their father became renowned for his mastery of the Lakota language, as did both sons. During their boyhood days and into their adult years the Clarks associated closely with the Lakota families not only on the Rosebud Reservation, but throughout other reservations in South Dakota. In fact, throughout their professional lives both John and David continued in service to the Episcopal Church in Dakota Territory. Their enduring interest in the Native culture and language per se, as well as preserving Lakota oral history, went hand in hand with collecting examples of beadwork, porcupine quillwork and other art forms of the local people. Family records reveal that the beaded and quilled articles in this collection were obtained at Fort Thompson on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, in east central South Dakota, 1889 - 1919. Years later, while David served as Superintendent of the Good Shepherd Mission in Ft. Defiance, AZ, John's daughter, Elizabeth Ann Clark, joined her uncle in the southwest, working as a pre-school teacher from 1949 to 1962 at the same Mission. In the early 1950s she met her husband, Davis Given, and they subsequently added the Southwest material to this collection. Included are three finely woven Southwest basketry items (Lots 50109 , 50112 , and 50118 ) and a number of handsome Navajo rugs composed of muted shades of vegetal dyes ( Lot 50094 ). Three cows comprise the primary striking motifs on one of the weavings ( Lot 50088 ).

Certain pieces of Lakota arts in particular stand out in this collection. The figural pipe stem ( Lot 50152 ) is hilighted with a buffalo and turtle carved in high relief. Both of these animals figure significantly in the beliefs of the Lakota and other North American Indian groups. The buffalo not only a primary supplier of food and resource materials, but also a symbol of physical strength and courage, was viewed as a living representation of the Sun's life-giving forces on earth. Likewise for many, the turtle continues even today to represent physical endurance and longevity. Both icons are therefore understandably appropriate to ornament a pipestem. The grid of rectangles outlined with white beads against the medium green background overlying the vamps of the fully-beaded moccasins ( Lot 50161 ) is called the "taniga" pattern in Lakota (pron. Tah-NEE-gah), meaning "tripe" in English. Tripe --- the first and second divisions of the stomachs of ruminants, is still a much favored foodstuff by many Indian people. Moreover, the use of such an emblematic motif on an article of best dress clothing can be considered to be an ever present supplication or prayer for abundant food for the people in general --- much in the manner of the buffalo and turtle on the pipestem serve as a constant, tangible entreaty for the qualities embodied by these two beings. As an example of accomplished skill on the part of Plains American Indian artisans, the tobacco bag ("pipe bag") decorated with porcupine quillwork in the "multi-quill plaiting" technique on the bag proper, and wrapped quillwork on the fringes ( Lot 50156 ) is an outstanding example of this ancient, uniquely North American decorative medium.

As John Clark matured into adulthood, he witnessed countless instances in which Indian people utilized the many objects of their arts and material culture. Objects of clothing such as shirts, dresses, moccasins, in addition to persoanl accessories such as tobacco bags, storage bags, and ceremonial paraphernalia --- all decorated with designs, and color combinations traditionally used by the people, made a statement of tribal identity when displayed in public. As a general practice, respected individuals and visitors of standing were often the fortunate recipients of articles handsomely elaborated with beadwork, quillwork, carving, weaving and other decorative techniques. Likewise, such objects often served as payment for services rendered, such as performing baptisms, officiating at naming and graduation ceremonies, conducting funerals, and generally assisting individuals and families. In general, it has long been Indian custom that during various celebratory occasions families gave away such items to mark the significant events. Undoubtedly the Clark family in general, and later the brothers John and David, frequently received gifts of the people's handiwork. Furthermore, especially during the trying early times of reservation life, Indian women and men alike created innumerable articles to exchange for food, craft materials, and all sorts of other commodities at local trading posts, as well as for outright sale for hard cash. Collectors of all sorts eagerly sought the things they produced, the Clarks among them. Valuing the Lakota and their ways as they did, these objects became treasured heirlooms of the Clark family. Family records indicate that on occasions the brothers added to their collections by outright purchase. Family records also state that the collections of other missionaries were joined to the Clark family collection, and that in the Clark family homes one could always see numbers of beautiful Indian objects on display.

Benson L. Lanford
Ashland, OR
March 2012