The Lost Cloars

They're out there somewhere. Stanton Thomas and the staff of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art would love to find them.

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Carroll Cloar, American, 1913-1993
The Ghost, 1955
Location Unknown

We do know the whereabouts of the preliminary drawing which Cloar did for The Ghost; that study was on display in the David Lusk Gallery’s centennial show this summer. But the actual painting itself (its last known owner was a Pennsylvania attorney) dropped off the radar screen sometime in the 1980s. It was reproduced in Hostile Butterflies, an excellent book on Cloar published in 1977 by Memphis State University. “Ghosts were a regular theme in his early art; he’s big on apparitions in bedrooms,” says Dr. Thomas. “Some of Cloar’s best work spoke to his own childhood fears.” His childhood recollections on canvas are among the most haunting and beautiful evocations ever made of the American South.

Midway through this month, one of the most popular art exhibitions ever conceived in this city will bid Memphis adieu. “The Crossroads of Memory: Carroll Cloar and the American South” will head this fall for Athens, Georgia (The Georgia Museum of Art) and then on to Little Rock (Arkansas Art Center) in early 2014.

Put together by Dr. Stanton Thomas, curator of European and decorative art at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, the exhibition represents the single largest collection of Cloar’s work ever assembled; a total of 85 paintings are on display. And since as many as three-quarters of his approximately 900 known paintings are still in private hands, this show is a Carroll Cloar virtual tapestry unlikely to be duplicated anytime soon. So if you haven’t seen the show yet, you’d best head over to Overton Park before September 15th.

 Carroll Cloar, American, 1913-1993

Green River, 1963

Location Unknown 

This particular painting has been “missing in action” for decades. “Green rivers” — meandering streams nearly covered in summertime with the thin pale-green sheen of fast-growing duckweed, the smallest flowering plant — were familiar sights in the flat rural landscapes of the eastern Arkansas of the artist’s childhood, before river channelization and fertilizer run-off created a more toxic environment for duckweed and rendered such scenes rare. Rivers are a constant in Cloar’s work, be they used for baptisms or fishing; in this particular painting, he captures perfectly not just the colors of the scene but the thin, ever-changing linear divisions between weed and open water. “How great it would be to rediscover this one!” says Thomas, admiringly.  


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