Robert Sterling Clark was a complex, enigmatic man with wide-ranging interests. Born into a life of privilege, heir to the fortune made by his grandfather’s partnership in the Singer Manufacturing Company, Sterling Clark broke with family ties to Cooperstown to travel widely and to live in Paris, New York, and Virginia. After graduating from Yale in 1899 with a degree in engineering he joined the United States Army, serving in the Philippines and China. In 1908 and 1909 he led an expedition to a remote area of northern China to conduct geographical, ethnological, and zoological exploration, and published his findings in the book Through Shên-kan (London, 1912). Living in Paris in the nineteen-teens he met Francine Clary, an actress with the Comédie Française, whom he married in 1919 and whose taste and advice informed his collecting of art, silver, porcelain, furniture, and books throughout their long, close marriage. Clark family connections to Williams College and concerns about the Cold War influenced the Clarks’ decision to establish an art museum in the small New England village of Williamstown and their legacy, the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, was founded in 1950 and opened in 1955.
The Sterling and Francine Clark Papers cover the period 1901–1957 and are divided into seven categories, or series, each of which can be accessed through an extensive Finding Aid:
Correspondence Series. Contains correspondence to and from Robert Sterling Clark’s business associates, friends, family, and acquaintances; it represents a wide spectrum of his financial, personal, and social life including his interests in art collecting, horse breeding, and politics. Note: the Robert Sterling Clark-Arthur de Carle Sowerby Correspondence has been digitized.
Diaries. This series contains the Robert Sterling Clark diaries from 1923 through 1949, documenting his daily life in New York City, Cooperstown, Virginia, and Paris. The Diaries begin with his falling out with his brother Stephen, and continue on and off through the end of World War II, with some spotty entries until 1949. The entries recount friendships, disputes, meals and cooking, parties, financial investments, purchases of artwork and silver, Clark’s relationship with various art dealers, his thoughts and opinions about art and collecting, horse breeding and racing, politics, and the other subjects that make up a lifetime.
Financial Series. The Financial series contains financial records, including bills and receipts, check registers, and bank statements. The receipts are in alphabetical and then chronological order. The remaining financial material is arranged chronologically, with the exception of three folders that contain the records of interactions by Robert Sterling Clark with the Equitable Trust Company; Gardner, Mountain & Company; and Tiffany & Company. Checkbooks are arranged chronologically, separate from the business records.
Images. The Images series consists primarily of images derived from stereodrome (Taxiphote) negatives: the negatives themselves, black-and-white glass slides, and prints in various sizes. Other materials include a film, miscellaneous snapshots and studio portraits, and four photograph albums. The principal subjects are horses and Robert Sterling Clark’s silver and porcelain collections, but some personal photographs and portraits are included.
Personal Series. This series contains miscellaneous documents, records, and ephemera accumulated by Sterling and Francine Clark. Subseries include: 1. Documents (wills, passports, insurance records) – 2. Medical records – 3. Writings (notes and lists, poems, recipes) – 4. Horses (breeding charts, care records, brochures) – 5. Inventories of the Clarks' possessions such as rare books, prints and drawings, furniture, jewelry, and horses -- 6. Ephemera (see the Finding Aid for complete description).
Reading Library. The personal reading library of Robert Sterling Clark is comprised of ca. 800 titles that document a broad range of interests, including collected works of fiction and history and with significant subject development in cookery and horses. The collection includes multiple volumes by a number of authors, including substantive first edition holdings of Pearl S. Buck, John Galsworthy, Sinclair Lewis, and P. G. Wodehouse. Many of the volumes include minor penciled annotations by Robert Sterling Clark, which record reading dates and brief thoughts on the volume in hand.
Realia Series. These items range from a set of andirons presumably used by the Clarks to Robert Sterling Clark's military uniforms. Items related to horse breeding and scientific exploration are included, as are decorative objects such as lamps and figurines. The items have been divided into seven subseries by type or predominant use: 1. Luggage -- 2. Costume and Personalia -- 3. Clark Art Institute Miscellaneous -- 4. Decorative Arts -- 5. Surveying Instruments -- 6. Horse Furnishings and Equipment -- 7. Firearms -- 8. Liquors.