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Biography of John Lewis Clarke
In Glacier National Park, which is in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, there once roamed a little deaf Indian boy. He loved to wander in the forest, and made friends with the animals who lived there. Since he loved animals, he would observe them intently and learn their habits. This little Indian boy’s name was John Lewis Clarke.
John Lewis Clarke’s grandfather was a graduate from West Point and a captain in the U.S. Army. He was married to the daughter of a Blackfoot Indian Chief and adopted by the tribe. His son, John Lewis Clarke’s father, also married an Indian princess, the daughter of Chief Stands Alone. Sadly, John’s grandfather was later killed by Indians of another tribe near Helena, Montana.
John Lewis Clarke was not born deaf. He became ill at a young age with scarlet fever. Though he survived, he could no longer hear the sounds that the forest animals made. He could not hear his Indian friends when they called to him. Scarlet fever had caused him to lose his hearing. His Indian friends gave him the name Cutapuis (Cu-ta-pu-ee) which means, “man who talks not.”
Because John could not talk, he could not tell his parents about his many animal friends in the forest and the exciting things that he saw, but he found another way to express himself. He made figures of them out of clay from the river banks. Later, when he was older, he learned to carve things out of wood. He loved to carve animals. With an axe and a pocket knife, he carved a life-sized image of a bear from a cedar trunk. The bear looked so real, the only thing missing was its growl.
When John was old enough to go to school, his parents sent him to the Fort Shaw Indian School. However, since he needed special education, he was transferred to a school for the deaf at Boulder, Montana. He also attended the School for the Deaf at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. When he was older, he enrolled at St. Francis Academy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he studied wood carving.
While he was still in his teens, John returned to Montana and opened a studio. He began to carve all the animals he had known very well in his childhood, and offer them for sale. He made models of animals out of wood, clay, and stone. He painted pictures using water colors and oils, and did excellent pen and ink drawings. He began to make a name for himself as an artist.
John spent most of his 89 years at his home studio in Glacier Park. Every year when the park season was over, he continued his work in Great Falls, Montana, his second home. Many important people bought John’s work. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the famous multimillionaire, was one of them. John’s work was on exhibit in many places in this country. John died on November 20, 1970. In his life-time, he literally carved his way to fame.
Adapted from: Goodstein, A. & Walworth, M. (1979). “Interesting Deaf Americans.” Washington, DC: Gallaudet University. Used with permission from the Gallaudet University Alumni Association. Revised by Vivion Smith and Ellen Beck.
Gallaudet University, chartered in 1864, is a private university for deaf and hard of hearing students.
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