Mary Jane Clark

On Friday, April 21, Mom was the first one at the Gallery. She usually has been for the past 40 years. She would unlock the building, get the lights on, fire up the computer, and get the Gallery ready for business.

It was a pretty slow Friday, but she enjoyed talking to a few customers before heading out about noon. Usually, she would leave for her Friday bridge game, but her partner was out of town, so she went home to do some bookwork and then went to Albertsons for groceries. It was her custom to buy a box of Haagen-Daz Ice cream bars and bring one to me on her way home.

She walked into the Gallery, came upstairs, and said, "I have your ice cream bar!"

I thanked her, then she said, "A funny thing happened in Albertsons today. All of a sudden, I can't see out of my right eye. I think I'll drive out to the eye doctor's office."

Well, obviously, I drove her out. They couldn't find anything, but it was a minor stroke. Later in the evening, she was getting ready for dinner with Jim Foster, her companion of many years, when she had the stroke that knocked her down.

The people at the emergency room were great, and we flew to Colorado Springs with the wonderful Flight For Life crew from Durango. She passed on Sunday morning with my sister, our friend Willie and me surrounding her bed.  She was two months short of her 98th birthday.

We were so fortunate that she was active and vibrant to the end. It's not usually a surprise when someone that age passes, but the artists we work with, her friends, and our customers were caught off guard!


I called Mark Winter, our parent's partner in putting together the Durango Collection of Navajo Weaving that is now at the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis. We talked about her life, and Mark said, "You know, it's the end of an era."

And he is right. As the old traders pass on, the Indian art business is changing dramatically.


Mom grew up in her father's trading post at Blanco, New Mexico, and like most of the other trader's children from the area, ended up going to boarding school in Albuquerque. She was the valedictorian of her class, graduating at 16.

She lived through the Depression, was in the Army Nurse Corp training program for World War II, and worked as an intensive care nurse before entering the Indian Arts and Crafts business in 1973. We formed a company to wholesale Southwestern Native Jewelry. My Dad was already selling Navajo Rugs to those same customers.


Mary Jane and son Jackson

My first sales trip with Mom was to a show in New York City. We got lost in Washington, DC, got stuck in traffic in Manhattan, and almost did well enough to pay for the booth! Antonia and I did many wholesale and retail shows with her over the years.

When we opened our first Gallery in the old First National Bank Building in Durango, she found her new career, which lasted for 42 years. When we remodeled the building where Toh-Atin is now, the architects kept coming back with a lot of chrome and glass for the space's exterior, which she disliked. My friend, Willie Wong, whose father had run the Western Steak House in Durango, was an architect in Boston. She called him and gave him an idea of what we were trying to do. A week later, we had drawings for the current building design. When she had her mind set on something, it usually happened.


With Daughter Antonia at the Kentucky Derby

She had friends from all walks of life but had a special love for the weavers, silversmiths, and other artists we worked with.  She knew about their families, applauded their successes, and worried about their challenges.

She exchanged Christmas presents with Mae Morgan, visited Jeanette Dale and Carol Begay for hours, and was always excited when Anthony Tallboy and his mom came in. She loved all of the Burnham ladies. She worried about Geanita John when her mother died. She was excited to see what Leland Holiday would paint next. When we went to the Reservation in the fall to deliver firewood, she always went.


Mary Jane and Mae Morgan


Mary Jane at Jacob Lake


Delivering firewood to the Reservation


Mary Jane and Jackson at Santa Fe Indian Market

She loved traveling to meet customers like the Rich Family at Jacob Lake and Steve Simpson at Twin Rocks. She loved meeting the people at our fundraising Navajo rug auctions for the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Natural History of Utah.

And she enjoyed meeting new people in the Gallery and spending time with people she had met over the years. "Jackson, I just talked to the nicest people from Australia!" Or "That family from Chicago that comes every year was in this morning!"

And, to be real honest, she wasn't someone you wanted to irritate. She was a force to be reckoned with. But, with rare exceptions, she didn't stay upset for long! She was fiercely defensive of her children, a real "Mama Bear."

As a lifelong learner, she enjoyed taking history classes at Fort Lewis College from Bob Delany, the founder of the Center of Southwest Studies. She was a voracious reader, particularly of history and historical novels.


Mary Jane and Jim Foster at Music in the Mountains

Many of you met our mother in the Gallery or through the Indian Art business, but she had a lot of other sides. At various stages in her life, she was a dedicated skier, horsewoman, fisherwoman, and backpacker who climbed several 14,000-foot peaks and rappelled off the top. She loved classical music, and some of her favorite trips with Jim were their annual Santa Fe visits to the Santa Fe Operas (all of them!) She and Jim both served on the board and as presidents of Music in the Mountains.

She learned to play bridge when she was in boarding school. The nuns brought a priest to the school once a week to teach the girls, and it became a lifelong addiction. To the end of her life, she played three to four times a week and usually made the newspaper as a top finisher in her duplicate games. She went to sleep reading magazines devoted to improving your bridge game.

Her surviving family members include my sister Antonia and me; her grandsons and their wives and children: Ed and Teresa, Gabriella and Aidan; and Nick and Katie, Owen and Sawyer. And by her longtime companion, Jim Foster.

Garret Jaros, an excellent staff writer for the Durango Herald, captured much of her life well, and I couldn't possibly do it any better.

Paul O'Dell and Kathy L'Amour were responsible for this video tribute on the Louis L'Amour website. We think you will like it!

And Jack Turner, in his Durango Native Stories, did an excellent interview with her just a few years ago.

We are thankful for the many years Mom was part of our lives and for the many friends with whom she shared that life. If you are in Durango on June 5, please join us for a memorial service at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College at 3 pm.