The Men behind the Paintings…The People behind the Museum
Twenty-eight folks braved stormy weather Thursday evening to listen as Pooch Blackson related the story of the brothers Clark—Benton and Matt—at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum. Pooch introduced the evening’s chronicle as he laid claim to Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum as our museum, recounting the origins of the collection bequeathed to the city of Coshocton by the Johnson brothers with instructions that a museum be created. He reminded the group that our museum was originally housed in the old elementary school on Sycamore Street. He then launched into the lives of the Clark brothers making the connection that Benton and Matt Clark both attended this very school during their boyhood in Coshocton.
Coshocton was home to the Clarks from their births through their high school years. From here they went on to study art in New York and Chicago, becoming internationally known for their paintings and illustrations. In the 1930s and 40s many of their works donned the pages of celebrated magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Cosmopolitan and McCall’s. The brothers’ work also appears in books, on calendars and cards, as well as commissioned oils. After high-profile careers, Matt remained in New York, but Benton returned to Coshocton to spend the remainder of his days. Pooch used a 1983 account written by Mrs. Tidbaugh Wisenbach for The New Century Club as a framework for the evening’s dialogue, interspersing his own recollections of Benton and those of community members who had dealings with him during his Coshocton tenure. Many of those present shared their own stories or added details to the stories Pooch conveyed. Fred Workman told of Benton having a very large dog, for a period of time, sharing his quarters “above Workman’s restaurant.” Some of Benton’s cronies proceeded to build a huge doghouse, complete with double front doors. The elaborate structure was then delivered to Benton’s small apartment for the dog’s use inside the apartment. Another tale was passed on about the time Benton called a taxi from Workman’s Restaurant, where he spent a good deal of time. He asked to be driven to the fire station which was directly across the street. The perplexed driver, after making sure he understood the request, deposited Benton across the street. It was speculated that Benton must have sold a painting that day and had loose change in his pocket, the loose change being an uncommon occurrence. These and other tales had the “remember when” flavor savored by the group.
During his talk Pooch referred, with anecdotes, to many individual paintings on the walls of the gallery, identifying the Coshocton resident who donated the particular piece implying community ownership of the exhibit as well as the Museum. He also relayed that Matt Clark’s son flew in from New York to be present at the opening reception for the show on May 19. Matt Jr. gave a short account of his father and his uncle, Benton, mentioning how their Coshocton upbringing had influenced their works. There was a tangible pride sparkling in the eyes of those present at this event as the talk became a discussion. Participants lingered, talking and viewing the paintings and illustrations that had been given new life by this experience. All left our museum with the smile of community pride on their faces.
It takes group involvement to keep a museum going. The Benton and Matt Clark exhibit is a case in point. Pooch Blackson spent a year gathering contacts and then arranged for folks to bring their artwork to the Museum—a major undertaking. Ohio Heritage Bank assisted by being the financial backer for the exhibit. Twenty-seven people loaned us their paintings and nine volunteers helped the staff install the exhibit. More volunteers helped with the opening reception. The faces behind the Museum are the same ones we see at church or at the supermarket. It truly is their museum. Artwork by Benton and Matt Clark is on display at the Museum through July 30.