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Artist Mattie E. Clark

Updated on March 1, 2015
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Louisiana has many unique sites and interesting places to visit. Yvonne enjoys sharing her knowledge of local history, customs and events.

It's Never Too Late to Follow Your Dreams

Mattie E. Clark was an artist, who had to set aside her art for a number of years to raise five children and, after my grandfather died at an early age, also manage the family farm. My mother always told us about our artistic grandmother and we had many of her paintings hanging on the walls of our house, but I never realized how accomplished she was until I found a scrapbook of clippings about Grandmother's exhibitions among my Mothers things.

Mattie's accomplishments, after the age of 60, just go to show that it is never too late to follow your dreams or to pursue your passion in life.

Mattie E. Clark, the Person

Grandmother was born, Martha Elizabeth Goolsby in Abermarle, County Virginia and was an alumunus of the Albermarle School. Both she and her sister, Helen Ferne (Goolsby) Slimp (who settled in San Antonio, Texas) were gifted artists from an early age. Mattie was a tiny woman, standing only 4' 11", but what she lacked in stature, she made up in spirit and determination.

Ernest Love and Martha Elizabeth Goolsby Clark
Ernest Love and Martha Elizabeth Goolsby Clark

After grandmother's first husband died, she married my grandfather, Ernest Love Clark and she and her two children moved from Virginia to the Clark's large farm on the Red River near Gahagan, Louisiana. When my mother, Ruth, was 12 years old, her father (Ernest) died of complications from malaria. Grandmother was left with five children to raise and a large farm to run. She did both successfully, but had to put her art on hold until the children were old enough to be on their own.

Although she kept her passion for art alive, by doing china painting, watercolors and oil painting through the years, she was not able to dedicate a great deal of time to her work until she was in her late fifties. Finally, in 1941, at the age of sixty, she had her first one-woman show. How's that for senior success?

She exhibited her work at the Delgado Museum (now the Museum of Modern Art) in New Orleans, Louisiana, in Shreveport at the State Art Gallery on Greenwood Road, in the Southern States Art League exhibits and also in a traveling exhibit to several military bases.

Martha Elizabeth had the heart and spirit of an artist. She was a bit of a non-conformist and, after her children were grown, lived her life as she pleased. Of course in rural north Louisiana this was shocking, while in the more artsy New Orleans such freedom of expression was more the norm.

She was as comfortable fishing for bass and brim on Black Lake as she was hob-nobbing with the wealthy patrons of the arts in New Orleans. My grandmother was quite a woman and even though I only knew her when I was a small child, I have tried to emulate her strength of character and determination throughout my whole life.

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Comments and Critiques of Mattie E.'s Work

Fishing on Bayou Pierre, a pastel by M. E. Clark, 1948

Reading over the old reviews of Grandmothers work (especially those from the New Orleans Times-Picayune) was a hoot. The T-P art critic, W. M. Darling, paints quite a picture of himself with his rather sharp tongued comments of various artists and their work. Here are a few quotes about Grandmother's exhibited work from some of the articles in various newspapers.

Art Critic of the Times-Picayune New Orleans States, W. M. Darling, writes: "Critic Notes Few Artists who Try Departures from Beaten Path - One such rebel (perhaps) is Mattie E. Clark of Coushatta, LA, whose oil, "Sugar Cane Grinding" is off the beaten track. The orange glow of the fire is repeated in reflections and in arbitrary patterning to create two effects: One, an unreal, ominous light, not especially appropriate to the subject matter but a bridge, at any rate, to the painter's peculiar way of looking at it; two, a flat composition blending foreground and background. The fact that this composition is balanced in other elements -- darks and lights, masses, color, line -- is of course its mainstay. It is a scene that should linger in the memory." Reference: Times-Picayune, Sunday, September 17, 1939

About her one-woman show: "Forty-two canvases are included in the show. With few exceptions, all were painted near Bayou Pierre and have captured the many moods of the country centered around this beautiful bayou." Reference: Shreveport Times - January 19, 1941

Times Picayune New Orleans States art critic, W. M. Darling writes, "On the more fantastic side ... Mattie E. Clark's "Cattle Auction," in which a sensitve cow shrinks, bewildered in the spotlight, under a positive glare of color and circling forms." Times Picayune New Orleans States - March 15, 1942

Farmyard in Rain, an oil painting by M. E. Clark

Grandmother Clark painted what she loved. Which included the lakes, bayous, flowers and farm scenes of North Louisiana as well as the courtyards and tropical scenes around St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District of New Orleans. She was comfortable in both of the two very different worlds of north and south Louisiana.

One of her favorite subjects, besides Bayou Pierre, was a secluded chapel in the woods called Rock Chapel in Carmel that was built in about 1891. Mom and Dad told stories of how she and a friend would drive out and get as close as they could to the chapel. Then they would carry all of their gear through the woods and barbed wire fences for about half a mile. It was quite an ordeal for a 60 something lady, but she was a trooper. The paintings of the Rock Chapel at Carmel in Desoto Parish were "lost" and were never recovered during a traveling exhibition.

The Rock Chapel is still standing today. After years of disrepair, the chapel was restored in 1961. One of these days, I hope to visit the chapel, which is located in DeSoto Parish near Mansfield, LA, and at least photograph it. Perhaps someday, I can even do a painting as my Grandmother had done.

Spiral Staircase Watercolor and artist, Mattie E. Clark on actual staircase in a house on St. Charles in the Garden District of New Orleans.

Grand Daughter Tries to Follow in Footsteps

Thistle, an oil painting by M. E. Clark

So fast forward seventy plus years and you find me, her grand daughter, Yvonne, in a very similar place in life - late fifties in age, art had to take a back burner during the mid part of my life, but in my later years I am able to pursue my passion for the arts. More similarities are the fact that she lived near water in north Louisiana and also spent time in New Orleans and I also live near water in south Louisiana across the lake from New Orleans. At this point in time, I am more of a photographer than a painter, because of family obligations that prevent me from being in my studio, but that will soon be rectified. Is it genetics or just fate that I, the one that Mom always said was most like her mother, am mirroring her actions in later life?

Whatever the reason, I hope that I can make Mattie and my Mother proud as they both look down from heaven and see what this Goolsby descendent has done with her life. Even before I became a Senior, I have tried to follow in my grandmother's footsteps. She has been my inspiration and I've always felt that she was one of those rare individuals that was "ahead of her time". From the age of 60 until her death at age 78, Grandmother lived her dream and I hope that I can do the same in my later years.

Mauve LA Iris by naturegirl7 on Zazzle

Louisiana iris are some of my favorite flowers. They are native plants that grow in the moist soil of the southern part of the state. I have all 6 of the native species and many cultivars of this outstanding perennial in my yard.

In South Louisiana, where I have lived for forty years, I enjoy photographing and painting the lovely water scenes which abound. This quiet pond, filled with moss draped cypress trees was a place I often visited in Baton Rouge.

Louisiana Cypress Lake

Louisiana Cypress Lake by lalagniappe aka Y.L. Bordelon

The farm where we grew up filled me with inspiration. The stocked pond which my Dad built to water the cattle and provide food for the family was a favorite place to observe the flora and fauna of North Louisiana.

Old Lelong Homestead


Old Louisiana Farm by lalagniappe on Zazzle

It is my hope that those who read this article will be inspired to follow their dreams. Remember, you are only as young as you feel. As seniors it is important for us to exercise our minds and try to learn something new each day, but most importantly, as the song says we need to keep on keeping on!

© 2015 Yvonne L B


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