Matt Clark: Artist of the American Frontier


The massive assortment of historic illustration art we recently acquired from the estate of sculptor Carl Pugliese has inspired yet another article from me. While the collection is full of prolific artists, it boasts a substantial assemblage of paintings and illustrations by Matt Clark (we even have his artist’s palette), who specialized in recreating realistic scenes of life on the American frontier.

Born in 1903, Matt was the brother of Benton Clark, (another respected artist), and together they grew up in Coshocton, Ohio. Both boys were inspired by their surroundings: From a young age they sketched the horses at their father’s livery stable, and they were interested in the Native American origins and history of their small town, which was once a Lenape village. After graduating high school, Clark studied at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design in New York under Walter Hasell Hinton and later at the Art Institute of Chicago. His first professional venture was with the Stevens, Sundblom & Henry commercial art studio, working on advertisements for clients such as H.J. Heinz, Packard automobiles, and Swifts Premium Meats. He then went on to take up freelance work for College Humor and Judge. In the 1930’s, Clark went full-time with his freelance work, moving to New York where he shared a studio with his brother.

Unlike Benton who is best known for his oil paintings, Matt is best known for utilizing dry brush techniques that produce imagery perfect for color prints or in black and white. He also produced illustrations for historical and adventure fiction, becoming well known for his depictions of the West. His works are dynamic and vibrant, lifelike in how he was able to capture both intense and tender actions, bringing you right into the moment depicted.

One piece from the collection we have of Clark’s work is an excellent example of intensity: two fishermen in a canoe on a fast-moving river, one man smoking a pipe while steering and the other at the front with his fishing pole. The painting looks like it belongs on the cover of an adventure novel. In another piece, the mood grows somber: two hunters on a snow-covered mountain are cleaning a big horn sheep. It’s story of survival and sacrifice is decidedly less upbeat than the canoe painting, but nevertheless offers a realistic portrayal of life in the American West during that time. In both, the brushwork and composition are identifiably his and show his talent for capturing the moment.

What I’ve talked about here is only a small sampling of what we’ll be offering from the personal collection of Carl Pugliese this October. I’ll probably talk about a few more artists as we prepare for the auction, so keep following for more!


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