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Construction of the Clark Institute, summer 1953

The History of the Clark

While Sterling and Francine Clark had collected art strictly for pleasure, they were interested in establishing a public art gallery for their collection. Sterling considered founding a museum in Cooperstown, New York, near his family’s home, or bequeathing everything to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but by 1946 had decided to create a museum on property he purchased at the corner of Park Avenue and Seventy-second Street in Manhattan. Shortly thereafter, however, the Clarks resolved to build their museum outside of New York, and were drawn to the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts.

The Clarks had a strong familial tie to Williams College, where Sterling's grandfather had served as a trustee between 1878 and 1882 and his father was a trustee from 1882 to 1886. Encouraged by a series of conversations with the leaders of Williams College and its art museum, Sterling and Francine Clark first visited Williamstown in the early autumn of 1949. This visit was followed by a warm and friendly correspondence between the leaders at Williams and the Clarks, who resolved to situate their museum within walking distance of the college. A charter for the new Institute was signed on March 14, 1950, just six short months after the Clarks first visited Williamstown.