July 22, 2017
Today would have been John’s 96th birthday and his family and friends are all thinking of him on this occasion. To observe the event I have picked a few images from the archives showing John through the years. The family holds a wonderful trove of photos, letters, clippings and of course artwork that documents John’s long life and career, all of which we hope to put to good use in the years to come. John’s work is in the collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Louisiana Arts and Sciences Museum and, of course, the Historic New Orleans Collection, and it is our intention to continue to expand those holdings for the benefit of future scholars and art lovers. In the meantime, please take a moment to remember the man and the artist on this, his special day. Happy birthday, John!
March 17, 2017
I am pleased to report that John’s magnificent 1970 painting Topographia IV—Cosmas II will be included in the exhibition ‘Deceptive Space: Op Art from the New Orleans Museum of Art,’ presented at the Slidell Cultural Center. The exhibition opens tomorrow, March 18, and will be up until April 29. There’s not much info on the Slidell Cultural Center site as of this writing, but hopefully there will be more forthcoming.
Topographia IV—Cosmas II is one of a series of ten paintings that John executed in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Most are in a square format and they apply a hard-edged geometric structure to the softer abstract forms that John had been exploring from the late 1950s through the ’60s. The titles of the paintings indicate John’s interest in Byzantine art—the work of sixth-century Alexandrian scholar and cartographer Cosmas Indicopleustes in particular—in combination with the inspiration he gathered from his travels in Europe and Latin America. This series of paintings and their related sketches and oil studies reflect a significant development in John’s work. The combination of abstraction with a basic geometric format (often three vertical divisions, each one dominated by a different hue) was a motif that he was to continue to explore throughout the remaining 45 years of his career. Topographia IV—Cosmas II is in the permanent collection of the New Orleans Museum of Art and was reproduced on the cover of the catalogue for ‘Exploring the Medium: 1940-1999’— NOMA’s career retrospective of John’s work.
January 17, 2017
A new year is upon us and the time seems right to offer some beautiful and rarely seen examples of John’s work, newly framed and on display in the studio for the first time. John produced a fair body of work in a variety of graphic media over the years but all indications are that he displayed them infrequently, if at all. Regardless, from the mid-to-late 1950s to the early 1960s John regularly worked with linoleum block printing and screenprinting processes, the results of which include a number of unique examples incorporating elements of collage and hand-coloring. John’s graphic works clearly relate directly to his painting and drawing but have a mid-century modern quality that is uniquely their own. In 2000 and 2006 John produced a series of monotypes at Hand Graphics Studio in Santa Fe but he never worked with block or screenprinting again. The prints pictured here were expertly framed by Ben Joyce Fine Art Frames of Santa Fe and are all glazed with Tru Vue museum glass.
July 22. 2016
Today we take time again to observe John’s birthday—this would have been his 95th. Son David is currently in New Orleans working on organizing John’s archives, Dottie is at home in Milwaukee and son Jonathan is touring the American West in his recently acquired RV. Regardless of where we are, John’s family and friends will all take a moment today to think of him. Towards that end, below is reproduced another image from the archives—a photo from March, 1987, taken at the New Orleans Museum of Art during Newcomb College’s Centennial faculty art show. Pictured with John are our good friend and Senior Curator at the Historic New Orleans Collection, Judith Bonner (left), and on the right another close family friend, the artist (and Newcomb graduate) Ida Rittenburg Kohlmeyer.
In John’s immortal words, ‘I AM smiling!’ And indeed he is. Happy Birthday, John.
May 5, 2016
It was a quiet winter season for the Clemmer family but with the arrival of spring we have some news to report. Most significantly, John’s 1999 sculpture Hashivenu was donated by 3618 Studio, llc, to Chai Point, Milwaukee. Dottie is, of course, still resident at Chai Point and it seemed fitting for the sculpture to find a permanent home here. John’s roots were in Wisconsin as his father, John Franklin Clemmer, Sr., was born there and John began visiting Sheboygan regularly in the mid 1950s. Hashivenu was originally commissioned in 1999 and you can see the piece in progress in the ‘John Clemmer: Sculpture’ film for which there is a link on the ‘Images’ page on this site. A dedication ceremony was held at Chai Point on the afternoon of May 4 and Dottie, David, Jonathan and Dottie’s sister Judy were all in attendance along with residents of Chai Point and our dear neighbors from Sheboygan, Sherm and Mary Laviolette. Some adjustments will be made to the presentation of the piece (lighting, a backing of some sort, a plaque) but it already looks quite beautiful in its new home.
In other news, in April David escorted Dottie on a lovely Viking River Cruise of the Low Countries. The journey began and ended in Amsterdam with visits to Hoorn, Arnhem, Kinderdijk, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels, Bruinisse and Rotterdam along the way. The weather was spring-like (i.e., not terribly cold but wet and windy) for much of the trip but that did not dampen David and Dottie’s enjoyment of the many wonderful places they visited. Highlights included trips to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the amazing Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo. A lovely time was had by one and all. John and Dottie were dedicated travelers and we were thinking of John often during our trip, which ended on the second anniversary of John’s passing in 2014.
3618 Studio has also initiated a series of donations of John’s artwork to the Historic New Orleans Collection. The first two groups of artwork consist primarily of early works on paper dating from the late 1930s and 1940s. These fascinating pieces document John’s student days at the Arts & Crafts Club of New Orleans and the period following his military service when he returned to New Orleans and became an instructor at and, eventually, director of the Arts & Crafts Club. There could be no better venue for these works than the the HNOC which will preserve them and make them available for scholars investigating John’s legacy and a very significant and fertile period in the history of modern art in New Orleans.
From the Archives
December 14, 2015
I apologize for the long delay in posting new info on this site—it has been a very busy summer and fall season with much coming and going and regular visits to Sheboygan and New Orleans. There is interesting news to report, starting off with the exhibition of Pierre Joseph Landry’s amazing woodcarvings at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The show, titled Pierre Joseph Landry: Patriot, Planter, Sculptor, opened in mid-October and will remain on display until May 20, 2016. It brings together all eleven known works by Landry, who produced his carvings in present-day Iberville Parish in the 1830s and ’40s. Landry was a fascinating individual who lived during a time of great tumult and change in Louisiana. As a fifteen-year-old Landry immigrated with his family from France, arriving in Louisiana in August, 1785. He married twice, fathered 17 (!) children, and served with distinction in the military, rising to the rank of first lieutenant in Meriam’s Militian, subsequently serving as captain and commander of a regiment under his friend, Major General Andrew Jackson. Landry and his regiment fought in the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. In the 1820s, Landry was stricken with tuberculosis of the knee and was thereafter confined to a wheelchair. With no formal instruction, he began producing his carvings utilizing local woods such as elm, magnolia and oak. He died in St. Gabriel in 1843, a wealthy, accomplished and worldly man with substantial land holdings and a large family.
Pierre Joseph Landry’s carvings are remarkable for their level of technical accomplishment but they also reflect the artist’s engagement with the larger world and the geopolitical environment of his day (Napoleon Bonaparte and Andrew Jackson both make appearances). Some of the carvings illustrate biblical allegories, others suggest a rather ribald sense of humor, and some remain enigmatic to this day. John Clemmer was a Landry on his mother’s side of the family and members of the Landry clan exist in great numbers across south Louisiana. I’m afraid can’t give the exact relationship between Pierre Joseph and John except that it was something in the manner of a great-great-great maternal grandfather, or thereabouts. This exhibition is a rare opportunity to appreciate the fullness of Landry’s artistic achievement and everyone is encouraged to visit NOMA between now and May of next year. The exhibition was co-curated by longtime family friend William Fagaly, who also contributed to the exhibition catalogue with his co-curators Katherine H. Burlison and Richard Anthony Lewis. More information on the exhibition is available by clicking here.
Dottie visited the Landry exhibition in early December with John Ed Bradley and found it fascinating and beautifully installed, not that one would expect anything else from the good people at NOMA. It cannot pass without mention that the self-portrait bust by Landry bears a bit more than a passing resemblance to his descendant, John Clemmer.
July 22, 2015
Today would have been John’s 94th birthday. We miss him every day but his memory remains very much alive. John’s paintings have hit new highs at auction (specifically, last month’s Neal Auction—see below) and a piece of his sculpture is soon to be installed in the main lobby area of Chai Point in Milwaukee—John’s final residence and Dottie’s home to this day. The piece is a scroll sculpture and was originally commissioned in 1999 by a couple residing in Chicago’s northern suburbs. This was John’s final sculptural commission and he can be seen working on it in the short film on his sculptural work that appears at the bottom of the Images page on this site. The Clemmer family was able to acquire the sculpture from the owners in Chicago and we will post images of the piece when it is installed in its new home.
The image to accompany this news update is a fascinating one. Discovered in a folder in John’s New Orleans studio this spring, it is a photo of John taken in early 1946, most likely at the Arts & Crafts Club in the French Quarter. John had just returned from his military service and was 24 years old. Behind the camera was Elliott Erwitt, the celebrated Paris-born American photographer and future member of the Magnum Photos cooperative (co-founded by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others in 1947). Erwitt was just 17 years old at the time he photographed John and the story of how the two happened to meet is still being researched. Their friendship extended over 46 years as a copy of a book of Erwitt’s beach photographs from John’s library attests: It is signed and inscribed on the title page ‘For John Clemmer with many thanks for a wonderful surprise! Elliott Erwitt, New Orleans, 21 Feb. 1992.’ This atmospheric photo, quite possibly a unique print, provides evidence of the talent of the aspiring young photographer and evokes John in the prime of his youthful Paul Newman-esque good looks.
Happy Birthday, John. We are all thinking of you today.
June 21, 2015
We are thrilled that the good folks at the Neal Auction Company in New Orleans decided to honor John by reproducing one of his paintings on the cover of the catalogue for their forthcoming sale. The beautiful small painting on board, which appears in the Clemmer inventory as Still Life-Orange was painted circa 1968 and was given to our beloved friend Dr. Brown Crosby Mason. Dr. Mason was David and Jonathan’s pediatrician from birth through high school and he passed away in February of this year. He was a lovely, gentle man and a gentleman of the old school. His obituary can be found by clicking here. The esteem in which he was held by generations of New Orleanians is evidenced by the dozens of heartfelt tributes entered in the Guest Book.
In addition to the cover painting for the Neal Auction June 27-28 sale there are two additional pieces—a floral painting from Dr. Mason’s collection and a 1968 piece titled Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego from a private New Orleans collection. Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego is but one of many pieces in John’s oeuvre with a religious theme. As a person who was not overtly religious, the use of religious themes and iconography in John’s work offers a promising area for future research.
We look forward to John’s paintings bringing strong prices in the forthcoming sale!
April 11, 2015
Today marks the one year anniversary of John’s passing. We are all thinking of him today.
March 23, 2015
It is my pleasure to post here John Ed Bradley’s eulogy for John, delivered at Touro Synagogue in New Orleans on May 9, 2014. John Ed’s text was originally published in the Xavier Review, Volume 34, issues 1 & 2, in the fall of 2014. The publication of John Ed’s eulogy was achieved through the efforts of Dr. Tom Bonner, contributing editor of the Xavier Review.
He kept an old Carnival mask hanging from the top of a window frame in his studio. It was up near the ceiling, held there by a string.
There were small holes for the eyes. The mouth was a dark red smear. The skin had yellowed with age. He’d painted it many years before, when he was a young artist in the French Quarter. He said it was the last one he’d painted, the last of hundreds. I wondered if he kept it as a reminder of how far his life had taken him. I was so in awe of John I thought it was a masterpiece and belonged in a museum.
“How much you want for it?” I asked him once. “How about a thousand dollars?”
“Okay, two thousand? I’ll write you a check today.”
“Why don’t you take it? Just don’t tell Dottie.”
He was only teasing, but I wasn’t. Later it occurred to me that the reason he kept the mask ten feet off the ground was to make sure I couldn’t reach it.
Many of you had the pleasure of visiting John in his studio. It was just around the corner from the big Victorian where Dottie and John raised Jonathan and David. You climbed stairs up to a wooden porch, and there was a small sign tipped back against the window that said “3618 STUDIO.”
You knocked and waited and finally the door pulled open. And there he was: White-haired, smiling, glasses perched on his nose, New Balance running shoes on his feet. “The Great John Clemmer,” I liked to say, bellowing for all the neighbors to hear.
Classical music was always playing. Sunlight fell in puddles on the floor. On your left there was a poster taped to the wall for a Pierre Bonnard exhibition. In front of you was a long cypress table crowded with cans of colored pencils and his most recent drawings. On your right were shelves piled high with brushes and tubes of paint. Further on there was an old desk holding little ant mounds of paint. Then there was his easel, a big homemade thing with wheels that could support large canvases.
You’d sit in director’s chairs and talk about art and the artists he knew until it was time to walk to Barcia’s Grocery for shrimp po-boys and Barq’s root beer. When he entered the ladies behind the counter would say, “Hello, Mr. Clemmer. How are you doing today, Mr. Clemmer?”
There’s a funny story John liked to tell. He’d finished work on one of his greatest paintings, and he showed it to one of the Barcia children, who was then a teenager, and asked for her opinion. She appraised it for a minute then shook her head sadly and said, “Not enough blending.”
John loved that. Whenever I visited him and saw a new painting in the works, I’d give my head a shake and say, “John, not enough blending.”
I’ll tell you how I met him. It was twelve years ago, and I was obsessively collecting art. On my days off I liked to go to the Williams Research Center and read through the artist files. It seemed every story in those files included his name. You read about artists who exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Club in the 1940s, and there was John Clemmer. You read about Paul Ninas or Xavier Gonzales or Enrique Alferez, and there was Clemmer. You read about Newcomb or Tulane: Clemmer. The Orleans Gallery? Clemmer.
Finally I asked for the Clemmer file, and a research assistant brought me a huge folder filled with old news clippings, photographs, and fliers for exhibitions. I spent hours poring over it. John’s story, I realized, was no less than the story of art in Louisiana in the twentieth century.
I decided I had to meet him. So I went home and wrote him a letter. And before you know it he and Dottie and I were sitting together in their condo on St. Charles Avenue. I put a tape recorder between them and started pitching questions, most of them about artists whose work I’d collected.
What was Alberta Kinsey like? I asked John.
“She was marvelous,” he said. And he served up stories about her, one after another.
Kinsey died in 1952, but John brought her to life for me—the way she dressed, the smell of flowers in her garden. He took me into her home on Royal Street, where she was giving private instruction to a chubby little boy named Jimmy Lamantia, who was sprawled on the floor drawing pictures.
What about Paul Ninas? I asked.
“Paul was rather exotic, “ John replied. And now I was with the two of them, walking the streets of the Quarter. Paul wore a brightly colored sash around his waist instead of a belt. At his home on Esplanade Avenue he kept a piece of driftwood in the living room. Yes, driftwood.
John invited me to his studio, and soon we were getting together a couple of times a week. I must’ve asked him about two hundred different artists, and he knew them all.
“Oh, sure,” he’d say, each time I brought up another one. It seemed incredible. Could his memory really be that good?
One day I did an awful thing. I decided to test him, since he knew so much, and I invented a name. This artist never existed; I made him up. “What about Leon Bowie, John?”
He perked up. “Leon Bowie?”
“That’s right. I’m sure you knew him.”
“Never heard of him,” he said.
He gave me permission to dig around in the racks where he kept his paintings. Some dated back to his youth. “What about this one, John?” I’d yell when I found something interesting.
“Which one?” And he’d come shuffling over for a look.
“Oh, that’s ‘Noon Visit,’” he said, and he told me the story that inspired it—an ill-fated love affair, rendezvous at noon, the plane crash that ended it. What a perfect name, I thought. He told me how he’d used paints hand-made by a guy named Larry Bocour. You couldn’t get them anymore, Bocour was dead, but put your fingertips on that surface, feel the grainy texture. That’s what Bocour’s paints gave you.
No surprise, I was enthralled by John and his world. I was then in my forties but I already felt old and used, while he was in his eighties and driven like mad to paint. You would’ve thought he was in the spring of his career, the way he worked each day. I went to see him one morning and he was sitting in his chair looking at a painting from 1947. It was leaning back against his easel, and he was studying it intently. I told him how much I liked it, and he said “It’s not finished yet.”
“Come on,” I said. “How can it not be finished?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s just not. But we’ve been talking to each other again. It’s doing this…” And he curled a finger in on itself.
John and I had a lot of adventures together. One day we went to the home of an amateur painter who’d repeatedly called him asking for an appraisal of her work. Seems nobody would give it to her straight—Was she any good?—and she thought she’d get a master to give his opinion. The walls of her home were festooned with her work. There were paintings from floor ceiling, paintings stacked behind chairs and in corners, paintings under beds, paintings hanging from doors.
It looked like my house, in other words, but these paintings were all by her hand, painted in the throes of some desperate fever, which explained the palette. The lady like color—color before anything else. You risked corneal damage if you stared too long.
“What about this one, Professor Clemmer?” she said.
John stepped up to it. “Oh, yes,” he said.
“And this one?”
“Oh, my,” he answered.
He was so patient with her. So gentle. He understood that she really didn’t want his criticism. What she wanted was to be acknowledged. She existed; she had done what she could with what she’d been given; here was proof. We went all through the house and finally came to a small painting on the second floor. John tipped his head back and studied it through his glasses.
“Lovely,” he whispered.
She was straining to hear him.
“Lovely,” he said again.
Tears poured from the lady’s eyes, and he turned and faced her. And something in her countenance seemed to lift. A burden, a fear. If ever John’s decency was on display, it was at this moment.
“Thank you for a pleasant afternoon, my dear,” he said. And we left.
We went to gallery and museum exhibitions. One day at the Milwaukee Art Museum Dottie and I became separated from him. He seemed to have disappeared. We searched from room to room and eventually found him standing in front of a big Pierre Bonnard oil painting. John greatly admired Bonnard. I should’ve known he would be here. “John, we thought you were lost,” I said.
He didn’t look away from the painting. He was pressed up close to the surface, examining it. “How—does—he—do—that?”
By now Bonnard had been dead for almost sixty years, but John was referring to him in the present tense. He was alive because his painting was alive.
Another day in New Orleans John and I were driving down Magazine Street when he suddenly reached over, patted me on the arm, and told me to stop. He was peering through the window at a two-story house built close to the street. “I live there once,” he said.
“You and Dottie?” I asked him.
“No,” he answered. “With my family when I was a boy.”
Then he told me a story. He’d been playing with friends about a block away, when a terrible blast rocked the neighborhood. He went running toward the noise and turned the corner. A gas explosion had ripped through his house. His mother was dead. So was an old aunt who lived with them.
I didn’t know what to say to him. In November of 1937, when the accident occurred, John would’ve been sixteen years old. And he was in his late eighties this day. It struck me that he’d been passing by this house for seventy years. The memory would’ve been unavoidable.
“John, what do you remember about your mom?” I asked him.
“I remember she was beautiful,” he said.
He kept looking through the window. “Just that,” he said. “That she was beautiful.” He patted me on the arm again. “Okay,” he said, “let’s go.”
I had a writing instructor at LSU who said to me once, “There are years of my life that aren’t worth days of my life.”
He was no lightweight, this man. But I was 21 years old, and I didn’t understand what he meant: “There are years of my life that aren’t worth days of my life.” How could this be?
I think I understand now. I wouldn’t trade days with John for whole years I lived before I knew him. 1973, for instance. Give me a handful of mornings with John and I’ll give you 1973.
1987. I’d give you all of ’87 for just one more afternoon in his studio. Not enough? How about 1999? Take it. You can have them both. Give me John.
We get up, we get dressed. We stumble out in the world. The car starts, the road is clear. We drive to his studio and park where we always do. We pass through the gate, the gate squeaks. We climb the stairs, we knock on the door, the door opens. There’s music, and light everywhere. And John.
There is always John.
January 23, 2015
As anticipated (and as noted in my 12/1/14 post), three more examples of John’s artwork are coming to auction soon. The venue is once again the Neal Auction in New Orleans and you can find the link to their forthcoming 2-day auction here. The sale takes place on January 31 and February 1 and there is a lovely small 1970 mixed media painting titled Til (lot #346) in the Saturday 1/31 session. The Sunday 2/1 session features a very fine 2002 colored pencil drawing titled Low Moon (lot #936) and an ink drawing of a still life of magnolia flowers in a vase (lot #937). I don’t know the date of the magnolia still life but it is an excellent example of John’s draftsmanship. Please note that the print catalogue (and possibly some online sources) illustrates Low Moon with an incorrect orientation—it’s a vertical, not a horizontal—and misstates that the floral still life is a lithograph, not an ink drawing. The estimates on all three pieces are very reasonable and we encourage one and all to bid on these treasures from the collection of family friend Joel Weinstock. We are still anticipating that a few more pieces from Joel’s collection will be coming to the Neal Auction in their next sale scheduled for April 17, 18 and 19.
Although the floral piece in the Neal sale is not a lithograph, John did work fairly extensively in the graphic media. My inventory of John’s New Orleans studio includes a number of silkscreen prints, linoleum block prints and monotypes. These works have not been exhibited and I hope to have some examples framed up in the not too distant future.
To conclude, I’m posting a special and unique item here: John’s one and only piece executed in a digital medium. John’s relationship with technology was somewhat of a mixed bag. He never owned or, to my knowledge, used a computer but appreciated the world of possibilities that they opened up. (John always kept a typewriter and was quite a capable two-finger typist.) He never had a cell phone but didn’t object to them. When compact discs eventually emerged to replace vinyl records and cassette tapes he acquired them enthusiastically and built up a substantial classical collection—the only kind of music that he listened to. John was not a Luddite and despite his rather limited engagement with late 20th/early 21st century technology he frequently expressed joy and amazement in what it had to offer. The exception to the rule that John never used a computer is below—an untitled digital drawing executed in June, 2013, on an iPad belonging to our dear neighbors in Sheboygan, Steve Rassell and Gary Shea. Not bad at all for a first, and only, effort—it is still recognizably John’s hand.
December 1, 2014
Hard to believe, but another Thanksgiving has come and gone. It was just over a year ago that John and Dottie moved into their new apartment in Milwaukee and John was in everyone’s thoughts as the family gathered in the northern suburbs of Chicago at Judy Stein’s house for Thanksgiving, 2014. Judy’s house is decorated with numerous wonderful paintings by John so he was very much present and not only in mind.
Two of John’s paintings from the collection of longtime family friend Joel Weinstock were presented in the November 22 session of the Neal Auction Company’s Louisiana Purchase sale. I am pleased to report that both pieces exceeded their estimates: To The Beach, 1997, sold for $3,585 on an estimate of $1,500 to $2,500, and Bogota, 1965, sold for $2,151 on an estimate of $1,200 to $1,800. The family was very happy to see that Neal is featuring John’s paintings in their promotional materials and that the work is continuing to attract strong bidding. It is likely that additional examples of John’s work will appear in Neal’s auctions early next year—stay tuned for further details as they become available.
September 23, 2014
As many of you know, John and Dottie Clemmer and their family have a long association with Wisconsin. John’s father was a Wisconsin native and when John and Dottie were married he connected with his ancestral home state when he began to spend vacations in the lovely town of Sheboygan, about 50 miles north of Milwaukee on the shores of Lake Michigan. Much of John’s work in the latter half of his long career was inspired by the beauty of Sheboygan and its environs, specifically the neighborhood of Black River in the Town of Wilson, just south of Sheboygan proper, where Dottie’s family had maintained a summer cottage since the 1930s. John designed and built a studio for himself on the Black River property in the 1980s. As with his New Orleans studio, it was his special place. A space of refuge, contemplation and creativity.
The Kohler family also has a long connection with the state of Wisconsin. It has been the seat of the family business empire since the 1870s and the town of Kohler neighbors Sheboygan to the west. The Kohler family is a major employer and is hugely influential in Wisconsin business and politics. The Kohlers have done much to benefit the state. Ruth DeYoung Kohler is the driving force behind the John Michael Kohler Art Center, an exceptionally fine cultural resource well worthy of a city many times the size of Sheboygan. 988-acre Kohler-Andrae State Park, south of Black River, was formed in large part by a 1966 donation of land by the Kohler family. However, between the Black River neighborhood and Kohler-Andrae State Park, is a tract of virgin forest, wetland and beachfront that belongs to Herb Kohler, president and chairman of the Kohler Company. This beautiful 247-acre parcel is the focus of a battle between Mr. Kohler and the residents of Black River over Mr. Kohler’s ambitions to establish a golf course that would necessitate the clear-cutting of the Black River Forest. The proposed golf course would devastate a fragile ecosystem and utterly transform the nature of Black River, whose residents have treasured the neighborhood for its peace, quiet and beauty for generations.
In truth, the Black River Forest is Mr. Kohler’s property and America is a country that holds private property sacred. No one likes being told what they can and cannot do with what is theirs but there are larger concerns. There are environmental, economic, and, yes, even moral issues at stake here, the most basic of which boils down to something along the lines of ‘Is it right to sacrifice the common good for the benefit of the few?’ The Black River Forest is, without a doubt, a common good—not only for the residents of Black River but also for the abundant wildlife that makes its home there. If Mr. Kohler were to have his way this common good will be sacrificed, lost permanently and irrevocably. In response to this threat a grass roots organization has risen up to give voice to not only concerned citizens but the voiceless residents of the forest as well. Friends of the Black River Forest was established earlier this year and has been doing a fantastic job of organizing and making available the information about what the proposed golf course means to all of us, near and far.
Friends of the Black River Forest will be holding a series of events this fall. On Saturday, October 18, a fund raiser will be held at the home of Black River resident Mary Faydash. This event will feature a live auction in which one of John’s Black River-inspired works, Weeden Creek, of 2005, will be auctioned off along with works by family friends and Sheboygan residents Jim Michael and Jean and James Tobin. Weeden Creek is colored pencil on bristol board and measures 14 x 11 inches. It is signed, dated and framed and has a retail value of $2,000. If possible, we encourage you to attend the event or, if not, contact Mary and leave an absentee bid. The Clemmer family is passionately devoted to this cause and any support that you can offer to Friends of the Black River Forest will be very greatly appreciated.
July 31, 2014
July 22, 2014
Today would have been John’s 93rd birthday. We are all thinking of him on this day and we hope that you too will find a moment to remember John and his life and work.
The picture of John below was taken in his Sheboygan studio in October of last year. The painting that John is contemplating is one of two unfinished oils that he was working on at the time.
June 11 ,2014
We are extremely pleased to announce that John’s work is now included in the collection of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. Allison Kendrick, a family friend and collector, has donated an early and important example of John’s work to the Ogden. The painting is titled ‘Swamp Fire’ and dates to 1947 and John’s days as an instructor at the Art School of the Arts and Crafts Club of New Orleans.
The Clemmer family extends its gratitude to Allison for her most generous donation. Thanks as well to Ogden Curatorial Assistant/Preparator Gary Parky for supplying a hi-res image of ‘Swamp Fire’ as it currently appears on display at the museum.
May 12, 2014
It was a bittersweet weekend in New Orleans for the family and friends of John Clemmer.
A memorial service for John took place at the Touro Synagogue chapel early Friday afternoon with Rabbi Alexis Berk officiating. The space was filled to capacity with Clemmer and Landry family members, neighbors from the Carol Condominiums and Foucher Street, John’s fellow artists, friends, and former colleagues and students from Tulane University.
John’s longtime friend and School of Architecture colleague Milton Scheuermann had graciously offered to perform a musical tribute along with his New Orleans Musica da Camera co-director, Thaïs St. Julien. Milton performed on the recorder and hurdy gurdy and Thaïs sang a lovely setting of a poem by St. Francis of Asisi titled ‘Canticle of the Sun,’ composed in the year 1224. Milton related how in the early 1960s John had told him about a radio program that played ancient music. Milton’s resulting interest in ancient music led to the eventual founding of New Orleans Musica da Camera in 1966. Milton and Thaïs’s music was a beautiful and uplifting complement to the service.
John and Dottie’s dear friend John Ed Bradley eulogized John, reading a heartfelt tribute that recounted how they first came to meet and how much his friendship with John and his regular visits to the Laurel Street studio had meant to him over the past twelve years. John Ed was one of John’s most devoted friends and his words touched everyone deeply. David followed John Ed, relating anecdotes about his father, reminiscences of growing up in the home of an artist, and some thoughts regarding the merging of the individual with the infinite. A text requested by John, “Radical Amazement” by A.J. Herschel, was read by Rabbi Berk.
It was a truly lovely service—simple and beautiful, just as John would have have wanted it. Our profound thanks go to Rabbi Berk, Milton,Thaïs and John Ed for their contributions.
Following the service family and friends all retired to the Audubon Clubhouse Café for a reception. Audubon Park was a very special place for John and Dottie. For over 30 years, starting in the early 1980s, they had walked in the park nearly every day that weather permitted. The Clubhouse Café was a perfect setting for the reception, with a large cool interior space and a wide veranda extending all the way around the building. Café manager Jan Greco and her staff provided excellent drink and food to the attendees and a toast was raised in John’s honor. The torrential rains that had been forecast for Friday held off until dusk when they finally arrived in full force, bringing to an end a day of reflection and fond memories of a long and eventful life, well-lived.
On Saturday night, Dottie, David, Jonathan and Michael were treated to dinner at Galatoire’s by Dottie’s former student, longtime family friend/physician, and man-about-town extraordinaire, Dr. Brobson Lutz. It was a rare treat to be in the French Quarter on a weekend evening and Brobson was a impeccably gracious host, guiding the meal most ably (no menus required, thank you), all the while being addressed by the Galatoire’s staff as “Doc.” Decked out in a lovely palm frond-patterned blazer with a yellow tie and white shirt and trousers, Brobson arrived and departed on his gleaming new Martone bicycle. John was toasted again and a lovely time was had by all.
The family weekend concluded on Sunday morning with Jonathan, Michael and David treating Dottie to a Mother’s Day brunch at La Petite Grocery on Magazine Street. Following the meal everyone headed back to the airport and flew off in their separate directions—Dottie to Wisconsin, David to New Mexico, Jonathan to Illinois and Michael to Michigan. Our thanks again to everyone who participated in John’s memorial service and reception. It was as close to perfect as could be, the only exception being the absence of John himself.
April 25, 2014
Dottie and David traveled to Sheboygan on Friday, April 18, and attended services at Temple Beth El the following morning. That afternoon John and Dottie’s friends gathered at the Clemmer house on Wahgouly Road to honor John and raise a toast in his memory. Our dear friend Sue Patron was there to assist with the event and to serve up John and Dottie’s favorite drink, the Positano*, to the attendees. Thanks to all of our wonderful friends who joined us in Sheboygan on the 19th—it was a lovely and memorable afternoon in one of John’s favorite places.
The New Orleans Advocate published a piece about John on April 22—the link to the article is here.
*There are a number of variations on the Positano. This is essentially the recipe for the Positano that John and Dottie have enjoyed, but under another name.
April 16, 2014
The online Tulane School of Architecture News posted an obituary for John yesterday. The link to the site is here.
April 13, 2014
For those who would like to make contributions in John’s memory Dottie offers the following recommendations:
For our Wisconsin friends Dottie suggests that donations be made to Blue Lake Public Radio. This was John’s favorite radio station and he listened to it in his Sheboygan studio every day.
An obituary for John in the Sheboygan Press can be viewed here. His obituary on NOLA.com can be viewed here. The print version of John’s New Orleans obituary will appear in the Wednesday, April 16 issue of the Times Picayune.
April 11, 2014
I am deeply sorry to report that John Clemmer passed away this morning, Friday, April 11, in Milwaukee. He was 92 years old.
Despite initial hopes that he would be able to recover from the stroke he suffered just over two weeks ago, complications eventually set in. On Tuesday, April 8, John was moved from Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital to the Jewish Home adjacent to the Chai Point apartment building where John and Dottie had been living since late November of last year. He was attended to by the nursing staff at the Jewish Home and by hospice providers and every measure was undertaken to ensure that he was comfortable and experiencing no pain. His daughter Trina and sons Jonathan and David were able to travel to Milwaukee to spend time with him.
Dottie and the rest of the family wish to express their thanks to all of the good people at Columbia St. Mary’s, the Jewish Home, Chai Point, and Horizon Hospice for all of their kind attention and support in these last weeks. They spared no effort to make certain that John received the very best care possible and we will be forever grateful. Our very special thanks go out to family friend Karen Katz who has been a rock of support—words are not enough to express the gratitude we have for all she has done for us.
The family is in process of scheduling memorials to be held in Sheboygan and later, most likely in early May, in New Orleans. Please check back here for further information.
Please take a moment to think of John and the wonderful life that he lived, the many lives that he touched, and the extraordinary legacy of art and beauty that he has left us. He was a great man and a great artist and his life was long, eventful and productive.
As before, any messages sent through this site will be immediately forwarded to the family.
March 29, 2014
There is some news for those of us who know and love John Clemmer, and I’m afraid it’s not the good kind. John suffered a stroke on the morning of March 26 at home in Milwaukee. Luckily, Dottie was close at hand and medical assistance was there within minutes. John was in the hospital less than 45 minutes later. His condition is good and his initial issues with speech and mobility have seen marked improvement over the past several days. He is up and moving about and we have high hopes for his recovery. Spring has finally begun to arrive in the upper Midwest and we very much hope that John will be back in his Sheboygan studio in the not too distant future.
The Clemmers thank everyone for their concern and support during this difficult time. If you email us through the contact page here on the website I will make sure that the messages get to John and Dottie.
February 14, 2014
The Clemmers are now back in Milwaukee after another whirlwind five-day trip. Escorted by son David, John and Dottie flew down to New Orleans on February 7 and once again took up residence across St. Charles Avenue from the Carol Condominiums at the Hotel Indigo. On the following afternoon an appreciative and attentive crowd gathered at the LeMieux Galleries on Julia Street for John’s walk-through of his exhibition ‘Nine Years Later.’ Also on hand was a film and sound crew directed by filmmaker David Zalkind. Equipped with a Steadicam-mounted high definition digital camera, David’s crew taped John’s hour-long discussion of his work and responses to questions from attendees. David has previously taped John at home and in his studio and has amassed several hours of material for a proposed documentary film. Please check back for updates on this project.
John and Dottie spent the rest of their time in New Orleans indulging in the local cuisine which they love so much, enjoying the balmy weather and visiting with friends and family. John and Dottie dined with Ivan Mandich on Saturday after the LeMieux Galleries event and spent much of Sunday at John’s Laurel Street studio visiting with John’s friend and longtime studio assistant, Frankie Organo. Son David continued with his ongoing inventory of John’s work, once again finding fascinating material tucked away in the studio. The Clemmers headed north again on Monday the 10th, narrowly missing yet another blast of arctic weather that descended over the mid South and the East Coast the following day.
In case you missed John’s interview with Diane Mack of WWNO radio, the link is still up on the station’s website (http://wwno.org/programs/inside-arts) and we are hopeful that a review of ‘Nine Years Later’ might appear in one of the local media resources (in such case, you will be able to find the links here). Son David took photographs of the February 8 event and you will find a selection below. John’s show has been extended through the end of February, so if you haven’t seen it yet there’s still two weeks yet to go.
The Clemmers once again extend their heartfelt thanks to Denise Berthiaume and Christy Wood of LeMieux Galleries for everything they have done to make John’s show a success and for making this special event a reality.
January 29, 2014
The last few months have been very busy ones for the Clemmer family. John and Dottie moved into their new apartment in Milwaukee just before Thanksgiving, 2013. Like any major transition, the move has not been without its stressful moments, but ultimately it has been a very beneficial one. Their corner apartment, much like their old condo in the Carol in New Orleans, has lovely upper floor views of the city as well as Lake Michigan (a body of water not typically visible from the Carol). The Chai Point staff have been very supportive and given the ferocity of winter weather this season it has been a blessing not to have to go out regularly in search of sustenance. Despite the snow and freezing temperatures, some of our wonderful neighbors from Sheboygan have made the drive down icy Interstate 43 to say hello and visit the Clemmer’s new home.
The big news is, of course, John’s show at the LeMieux Galleries in New Orleans. The opening took place on the afternoon and evening of January 4 and it was a very enjoyable event. The exhibition, titled ‘Nine Years Later,’ looked beautiful—Denise Berthiaume and Christy Wood did a fantastic job of arranging and installing the show and John was very pleased. Friends, family members, colleagues and former students turned out in force and there were more than a few faces that we had not seen in years. Mary and Sherman LaViolet came all the way from Sheboygan to be with us that evening—certainly the longest distance traveled by any attendee. It was a special pleasure to see Bishop Roger Morin, who made the drive from Biloxi to see the show and shake hands with John. It was truly gratifying to have such a strong turnout and the Clemmer family thanks everyone who came to Julia Street that evening.
Jonathan graciously took on paparazzo duties and a sampling of his photographs from the opening are below.
The latest news is that John and Dottie will be returning to New Orleans for a special event on the afternoon of Saturday, February 8. John will conduct a walk-through of his exhibition at LeMieux Galleries between 2:00 and 4:00 PM and the public is invited to attend. In advance of this event, John will be interviewed by Diane Mack of WWNO radio (89.9 FM). The interview will be broadcast on Diane’s show ‘Inside the Arts’ on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 4 and the morning of Thursday the 6th (here is a link to the WWNO website: http://wwno.org/programs/inside-arts). We hope that you will join us again on the 8th to celebrate John and his work. Please RSVP to LeMieux Galleries at 504-522-5988 if you expect to attend.