Sitting alongside the great dry echinoderm collection on the 3rd floor west wing is something that is also great in its own right: a bronze bust of Austin Hobart Clark (1880-1954), Curator of Echinoderms in our Museum from 1909 until his retirement in 1950. During his very successful career, Clark added enormous numbers of echinoderms to our collections, establishing them as a world-wide resource. Next time you’re on the 3rd floor, have a close look at the bust; it’s a beautiful work of art, and a superb likeness of Clark!
The bust was the work of Louise Kidder Sparrow (1884-1979) a renowned sculptress at a time when few women were successful artists. Various authors compared her work with that of Michelangelo! Mrs. Sparrow’s sculptures are on display in 31 public buildings and galleries, including the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, the National Gallery of Art, The U.S. Naval Observatory, and the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Clark bust was commissioned by Austin Clark’s wife Mary Wendell Upham Clark (1881-1931), and it was completed in 1930. A plaster version of the bust was presented to the Smithsonian Institution soon thereafter. The bronze version was inherited by Austin Clark’s grandson, John A. Clark, a resident of Oklahoma. In 2006, John Clark carefully laid the bust in the trunk of his car, drove it from Oklahoma to Washington, and very kindly donated it to this Museum.
Mary Clark and Louise Sparrow became close friends and, in her diaries, Mrs. Sparrow noted how devastated she was when Mrs. Clark became ill, and soon thereafter died of breast cancer in 1931 (Sparrow papers, Schlesinger Library, Harvard University).
In 1934, Louise Sparrow was involved in a serious automobile crash, and her injuries tragically put an end to her career as a sculptress. She had other talents; in later years she published over a dozen books of poetry, as well as other books, including “My World Constitution” and “Virginia Byways”.
In search of inspiration, I often pat dear old Austin on the head when I walk by. It hasn’t helped my golf game, but it has surely made me feel guilty about not spending seven days a week at the museum, as Clark used to do - when he wasn’t spending weekends collecting butterflies in all 95 counties of Virginia!
By Dave Pawson