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The Clarks of Cooperstown: Their Singer Sewing Machine Fortune, Their Great and Influential Art Collections, Their Forty-Year Feud Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 8, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Curator and writer Weber (Balthus) tells the fascinating story of an art-obsessed family—especially Sterling and Stephen Clark, whose affinity with artists, says Weber, went beyond the usual collector's. The family fortune was founded by Edward Clark, as the business partner of sewing machine mogul Isaac Singer. His son Alfred used his inheritance to support the sculptor George Grey Barnard and the piano prodigy Josef Hofmann. Sterling and Stephen were Alfred's sons. Sterling was a brash bon vivant who married a French actress and took part in an abortive movement to depose President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose policies he believed were destroying America's capitalist economy. He also built a museum in Williamstown, Mass., to house his extraordinary collection of Courbets, Renoirs and others. Stephen, a founder of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., was reserved and dour, yet adventurous as an art collector, buying the works of avant-garde artists like Van Gogh, Picasso and Brancusi. One of the founding trustees of the Museum of Modern Art, he stirred up controversy when he fired the museum's first director, Alfred Barr. Weber's delightfully written study includes much insightful psychological speculation about these larger-than-life men. (An exhibit abut Sterling and Stephen Clark and their collection will be at the Metropolitan Musem of Art in New York City May 22–Aug. 19.) 16 pages of color illus., b&w photos throughout. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The Clark family helped shape American commerce and culture, yet their saga is little known. Weber (Balthus, 1999) portrays the Clarks with splendid animation and a deep understanding of the passion for art. Attorney Edward Clark amassed the considerable family fortune by shrewdly managing Isaac Singer's sewing-machine company, and built New York's famed Dakota apartment building. His son and heir, Alfred, "lived a carefully divided life" as husband to an exceptional woman, father of four sons, and a man who loved men. Two of his sons inherited Alfred's devotion to art and largesse. Audacious and macho Sterling was a pleasure seeker and a fanatic collector. The owner of 39 Renoirs, he built the renowned Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts. Sadly, his over-the-top emotions instigated a decades-long estrangement from his brothers. Proper and hardworking philanthropist Stephen was a quietly brilliant collector (Edward Hopper was a favorite). Instrumental in establishing New York's Museum of Modern Art, he also built the Baseball Hall of Fame. Weber's exquisitely sensitive yet hugely entertaining group portrait of the Clarks is a potent tale of family and wealth, anguish and the solace of art. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 8, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307263479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307263476
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G. D. Edwards on May 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Debby Applegate in the May 20, 2007 NY Times describes this as a "flawed family biography" although she admits it is "fascinating." It is indeed a fascinating family saga which resulted in great legacies to the National Gallery in Washington, DC; the Clark museum in Williamstown, MA; the Modern and Metropolitan museums in NYC; and several cultural institutions in Cooperstown, NY; not to mention the "Dakota" apartment building in NYC. Don't be misled by Ms. Applegate's smart alecky review.
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Format: Hardcover
I read biographies all the time and this one had the potential to be superb: Singer Company fortune, amazing art collections, fascist plot against FDR (yes!), surprising sexual liaisons, family feuds of a rarified nature. However, it feels tedious to wade through, because the author is not a gifted writer, gushes too much when he should be more objective, and spends far too much time rhapsodizing over individual works of art to the point where we lose sight of the people collecting them. An editor could have pruned what feels like endless repetitions of Sterling's shopping trips and pushed the author to analyze, not emote. I understand from a New York Times article (not the review mentioned by the other reviewer) that the book was rushed. It certainly feels like it missed a stage in the editorial process.
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The writer had a ready -made fascinating subject in the Clark family, but somehow he managed to make the book boring! I did not have any real sense of the characters humanity. In fact much of what he wrote was contradictatory.
His viewpoint seemed to change from chapter to chapter.
It was also repetitive. Did we need several descriptions of Sterling Clark's shopping habits?
The brothers were unsympathetically portrayed. Maybe they really were as nasty as they sounded! I would have liked to know how their early lives helped shape their later personalities, also more about their family relationships.
The book was quite well illustrated with color and black and color photos, which helped when reading the descriptions of the art they collected. But...oh dear....the descriptions of individual paintings were so convoluted and strained.
Overall, I was glad to turn the last page and I only stayed with it because it was my book group choice. Despite not enjoying this particular biography, my interest was aroused and I might do some more reading and research into this family. And I was fascinated by the sewing machine magnate, Singer!
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This book is strictly for serious art lovers. It tells the story of three generations of the Clark family -- some of the most prolific art collectors in America. It tells of the creation of the Cloisters, the Museum of Modern Art, the Clark Institute in Williamstown and the Baseball Museum in Cooperstown. If you love to get into the depths of paintings, it has pages upon pages of vivid description. One exceptionally long but memorable example is a description of Van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at Night which I found magical.
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It's an interesting premise -- a collective history focusing on the heirs of the Singer Company fortune. However, the author gets too involved in presenting inconsequential minutiae that I decided I could find better ways to spend my time and I stopped reading the book about halfway through.
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I was interested in the family history, not the art, so I could have done without about 200 pages. The author is painfully wordy, but I got the facts I was looking for. The used copy I bought was in great condition.
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These folks had such an incredible influence on modern culture. All that money and all so well spent! And who knew they built the fabled Dakota! I wonder what other signature real estate they were responsible for.. The book was well written and held my interest thru all three generations of the impressive Clarks.
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Format: Hardcover
It would be facile to describe Alfred, Sterling, or Stephen Clark just as "wealthy deadbeats". Look at all they accomplished! Directly or indirectly, members of this family are responsible for establishing three art museums (The Clark in Williamstown, MA; The Museum of Modern Art in NYC, and The Cloisters), as well as contributing valuable donations of art to so many others; establishing the Baseball Hall of Fame; building the historic Dakota apartment building in NYC, a hospital in Cooperstown, and so much more.

Unlike some of the other reviewers, I appreciated Mr. Weber's thoughtful and detailed descriptions of the important works of art acquired by Sterling and Stephen Clark, particularly Van Gogh's 'The Night Cafe', and Seurat's 'Circus Sideshow', and what these paintings meant to the men who bought them.

This is a consistently interesting book about a unique American family, with a fascinating cast of characters. The author's presentation of the lives of Alfred, Sterling, and Stephen Clark certainly didn't feel rushed to me, not at all. This is a well-researched, detailed book and Mr. Weber has a very engaging, almost personal way of telling it; his style is similar to great conversation.

I recommend this biography, and also, as a companion piece to it, "The Clark Brothers Collect: Early Modern and Impressionist Paintings", the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibit catalog of works of art that were once owned by Sterling R. and Stephen C. Clark. Seeing the works of art they collected, and what they gave or bequeathed to American museums, the reader will appreciate their generosity all the more.
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