HANFORD — Willard G. “Bill” Clark, founder of the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, died Nov. 22 on the ranch where he lived for all of his 85 years.
His passing follows the closing of the center, located in Hanford (Kings County), earlier this year.
The son of Wesley and Mary Clark, long-time dairy farmers of registered Holstein-Friesian cattle, Clark graduated from Hanford High School, UC Davis and Harvard Business School. He served in the U.S Naval Air Force for four years and from 1958, he managed the family ranching and dairy operation that eventually had one of the top Holstein herds in the nation.
Clark originated World Wide Sires Inc., and developed it into the world’s largest broker of frozen bull semen for artificial insemination, with distributors in 66 countries, including Japan. On Dec. 5, 1991, the Japanese government awarded him with the Order of the Rising Sun with Rosettes and Golden Rays, Fourth Level, in recognition for his dedication to promotion of better relations between Japan and the U.S.
In 1995, Clark and his wife established the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, with Dr. Sherman Lee of the Cleveland Art Institute as advisor, to assemble a collection of Japanese art and sponsor programs and educational opportunities. Located about 45 miles south of Fresno, the center was founded to conserve, study, and exhibit the paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts of Japan. The collection was composed of many distinguished works representing artistic activity in Japan from the 10th into the 21st century.
Starting with a significant gift of Japanese paintings from the Clarks, the center’s collection grew to around 1,400 works of art like hanging scrolls, screens, ceramics, kimono, sculptures mainly from the Kamakura period (1185-1333), and decorative art primarily from the Meiji period (1868-1912) housed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Among the highlights of the collection were Buddhist sculpture and painting from the Kamakura period, a wide range of paintings from the Edo period (1615-1868), and a selection of folding screens of the finest quality. Exhibitions from the collection in Minnesota were hosted in Hanford twice a year.
The facility’s rural setting offered a modern “scholar’s studio” environment for contemplation and study. As they entered the first gallery, visitors were greeted with paintings/single screens displayed in tokonoma (alcoves) with tatami (bamboo straw mats), integral elements to a traditional Japanese-style home.
A vital part of the Clark Center was the library of 7,000 volumes specializing in Japanese art and a research facility for visiting scholars. Through its collection, internship program, lectures, symposia, and library resources, the center contributed to the development of scholarship in the field.
On May 22, 2009, the Japanese government awarded Clark with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon in recognition for his accomplishments in contributing to the introduction of Japanese art and toward the promotion of cultural and educational exchange between Japan and the U.S.
The center said in a message on its website, “Without your interest and curiosity in Japanese art and culture, we couldn’t have existed for 20 years since the founding in 1995.
“Although The Clark Center closed to the public on June 30, 2015, its art collection and bonsai collection live on at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) and the Shinzen Friendship Garden in Woodward Park, Fresno.
“We hope you will visit the MIA to see our art collection and the Shinzen Friendship Garden … the new home of the GSBF (Golden State Bonsai Federation) Clark Bonsai Collection.
“We are no longer accepting donations and would appreciate it if you would consider making donations to the MIA and/or the Shinzen Garden instead. Also, if you have included the Clark Center in your will as a legacy gift, please consider changing the legacy to the MIA or Shinzen Garden.”
Clark was very active beyond the operations of the Clark Center, serving on various committees and boards for prominent museums in the U.S. and other Japanese-related organizations.
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth “Libby”; daughter, Catherine (Joseph Joyce) of Wellesley, Mass.; son, Stuart (Lena) of Carmel; son, Wesley (Shaida) of Danville; and eight grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held in the spring.