Happy Birthday Virginia Keep Clark!

Written by on February 17, 2010 in Historic Miscellania - No comments
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aunt-gin-1912-small-copyVirginia Keep Clark, artist and  illustrator, 17 February 1878- 13 September 1962.
Dearest Virginia Keep Clark, object of my obsession since 2004, lived in the house next door to mine in Herron-Morton Place. She’s taken me all over the country in search of her stories and many connections.
Born in New Orleans, but raised from age four in Indianapolis, she married a Chicago native and lived in Evanston, Chicago proper, and then onto Oyster Bay, Long Island, midtown Manhattan, Mackall, Maryland, New Hampshire, Winter Park, Florida and summers in Nassau–the lady got around.live-dolls-house-party-ASIAN-VERSION
Virginia illustrated a series of children’s books– referred to as the “Live Dolls” books– written by Josephine Scribner Gates and published by Indianapolis’ Bobbs-Merrill Company between 1901-1911. The books were published again circa 1950, featuring a different illustrator who reflected the “current” times. She illustrated and contributed to a few other books, including “decorations” for  An Old Sweetheart of Mine by James Whitcomb Riley and illustrated by Howard Chandler Christy.

LIVE-DOLLS-HOUSE-PARTYVirginia studied at the Art Students League in New York City and with Howard Pyle in Philadelphia at the Drexel Institute, as well as with William Merritt Chase, and short stints with Cecilia Beaux on the east coast and Joaquin Sorolla for a summer in Spain.

She also taught classes early and late in her artistic career. She was one of the first five teachers at the John Herron Art Institute, teaching children’s classes and in her later life, she instructed convalescing WWII soldiers in beginning painting in Winter Park, Florida.

One of her cousins had an even bigger art connection–one of three founders of Museum of Modern Art, Lillie Plummer Bliss.  Another relative, Thomas Godman, was a wealthy early settler of Madison, Indiana–by way of Louisiana and Maryland. Her Aunt Stella married Alexander Lanier II (of Lanier Mansion fame) and what a romantic story that is (to be told another day).

Virginia’s friends included Arthur B. Davies, Charles Prendergast and Maurice Prendergast, Walt Kuhn, Edna Woolman Chase (former editor-in-chief of VOGUE Magazine), Franklin Remington (one time mayor of Centre Island, Oyster Bay, Long Island) and life-long friend, Lucy Taggart, another local artist, and daughter of former Indianapolis mayor, Thomas Taggart.


Elizabeth Harrison, youngest daughter of President Benjamin Harrison – currently displayed in the President Benjamin Harrison Home

“Gin” as friends and family called her, as a noted portraitist of the time, painted many of the eras well-to-do families. She was especially gifted in rendering children.

In Indianapolis, a portrait by Virginia of Elizabeth Harrison hangs at the President Benjamin Harrison Home. In Chicago, a portrait of Mrs. James Ward Thorne hangs at the end of the Miniatures Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. She also created portraits (yet to be located) of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (yes, as in Mrs. Wallis Simpson and the former King Edward VIII who abdicated the crown for love) during a summer in Nassau. Famed murdered multimillionaire Sir Harry Oakes and his wife Lady Oakes also had portraits composed by Virginia, presumably also whilst in Nassau. The list goes on…

Researching the life of this little known artist has changed the way I look at the world. When I wander around the Indianapolis Museum of Art, or the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I am just as interested in who bequeathed the art or how the artist is connected to Virginia–because there is inevitably a connection.

Happy Birthday to Gin.

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Tiffany Benedict Browne is the founder and driving force behind HistoricIndianapolis.com. She loves learning, sharing and inspiring Indy's stories.

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