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Art Beat

Feb. 12, 2004


Warner and Dorothy Jane:
A love story


[Photo of the Clarks in their nursing home room]Fortuna artist Camille Regli phoned me the other day with a terrific love story, just in time for Valentine's Day. She said the Ferndale Arts Cooperative would be hosting a special retirement party on Feb. 14 for Warner and Dorothy Jane Clark, a couple who had been involved in the gallery as a team for several years. Dorothy was the artist -- a watercolor painter -- but Warner gallery-sat for his wife on her assigned days because of her bad back.

Camille went on to say that two years ago, Warner had been forced to arrange for Dorothy, his wife of 52 years, to live in a nursing home, since he was no longer able to care for her by himself. Dorothy continued to paint at the nursing home, and Warner continued to gallery-sit for her until a few weeks ago, when he got the flu and couldn't seem to get his strength back. Camille said that Warner, now 91, had recently moved into the nursing home with his 84-year-old wife, and the gallery wanted to honor the couple -- hence the Valentine's Day party. [Photo above right]

I arranged to visit the Clarks at St. Luke Manor (recently renamed St. Luke Health Care and Rehabilitation Center), a small hospital-like facility in a residential neighborhood in Fortuna. Warner greeted me warmly at the door to their room, but told me his wife wasn't quite ready for visitors yet. He led me down a corridor to a sunny visitors' room, with orchids and pansies in the windows. "We'll just give her a little time," he said. Apparently Dorothy had been up half the night counseling one of her young caregivers. "She's a people person," Warner told me. "All the young girls come in and talk over their problems with her."

I asked how he liked living at St. Luke's. "It's not easy," he said. "But I'm just so delighted we're together again." I asked how he and Dorothy had met.

"Well, here's the story," Warren began. "We did a nonprofit peace thing, kind of like the Peace Corps, in France and Germany after World War II. You see, Dorothy Jane lost a fiancé, a Navy flyer, at the beginning of the war. And then at the end of the war -- five days before the end -- she lost another fiancé. That was Colonel Elliot in General Patton's army -- he had her picture with him when he died. It was a terrible shock for her. That led to our many years of working together toward peace."

[photo of Clarks wedding day]Warner and Dorothy met shortly after the war ended, while working at the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) Training Center in Mackinac Island, Mich. He says it was love at first sight. "She was singing in the International Chorus and I took one look at her and said, `Wow! What a lady!'"

The couple married in 1951 and continued their volunteer work with the MRA for another two decades. Warner described the organization's mission as the "ideological counterpart to the Marshall Plan," and says he was one of about 30 officers hand-picked by General Marshall to work toward reconstruction in Germany, France and Italy both during and after the war. "We were to present the ideas of what freedom and democracy were all about -- what we were fighting for as well as what we were fighting against." Warner says. "We tried to unite cultures."

[Photo at left: The Clarks on their wedding day in 1951]

The couple worked with the MRA around the world, as well as in the United States. "We worked in race relations -- I worked with Martin Luther King Jr. before he was famous," Warner told me. "Dorothy even met Mary McLeod Bethune [founder of Bethune-Cookman College in Florida and adviser to FDR on race relations]. We were invited to her home because we wrote a musical about Mary called the Crowning Experience and took it all over the country. The musical had a tremendous effect of showing what black people could give to society -- that doesn't seem like much today, but in those days it was quite new."

When the Clarks retired from the MRA, they settled in Tucson for a while, where Warner worked as an accountant. His firm lost its most lucrative client in 1982, and Warner and Dorothy decided to sell their home and hit the road. "We bought a used Airstream travel trailer for an art studio on wheels, and an old Lincoln Continental sedan to tow it," said Warner. "That's when Dorothy's art career really took off."

The couple traveled to 27 states and Dorothy painted them all, selling her watercolors in galleries all over the country. Their travels ultimately led them to Humboldt County, where they settled eight years ago. They lived in Fortuna and Dorothy joined the Ferndale Arts Coop, where she and Warner worked as a team. He has fond memories of his gallery-sitting experiences, and showed me a short story he had written about selling a small boy one of Dorothy's paintings of a cowboy for 5 dollars, "just so he'd have a hero to hang on his wall."

After we chatted for a while, Warner led me back down the corridor to the room he shares with Dorothy and introduced her as "his bride of 52 years." She had lively blue eyes and a bright red cast on her left arm. "I fell and broke my arm," she explained.

"It was no small thing," Warner added, holding Dorothy's hand. "She was in surgery for two hours. I thought I might have lost her." Dorothy shushed him.

[watercolor painting of blue heron standing in marsh grass, bridge and fog in background]
Great Blue Heron, watercolor by Dorothy Jane Clark

A young nurse handed Dorothy her medicine. Warner said the medication she receives to control her pain "would kill you or me," and they told me about Dorothy's spina bifida, which has left her with debilitating pain for much of her adult life.

I asked Dorothy how long she had been painting. "All my life, one way or the other. When I wasn't working, I was painting." She notes that many of her watercolors were composites of photos Warner took for her. I asked them what it was like, being married for 52 years.

Dorothy smiled. "We've gone through some very deep chasms..." They look at each other and laugh. "Oh, yeah. Oh, boy," Warner agrees, "... but then we surfaced again," Dorothy continued. "It was better after each surface, for having gone so deep in the chasm."

I told her Warner said he fell in love with her at first sight and asked if it was reciprocal. "For me, it was love before first sight," she said. "I saw a picture of him with his sister, and I was very disappointed because I thought they were married. Isn't that astounding that you can know, just from looking at a picture, that that's IT?" She smiled at Warner. "Silly, isn't it?"

Warner and Dorothy's Valentine's Day party will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Ferndale Arts Cooperative, 580 Main St., Ferndale, on Feb. 14, and is open to the public.

Linda Mitchell can be reached via




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