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Clarence Comes to Asheville

Updated: Jul 7


When he arrived in Asheville in 1900, Clarence didn't waste any time to begin marketing and promoting himself as an artist. You never would have guessed that he had been a sickly and reclusive young man who knew nothing about business. Initially he didn't have the money to rent a studio, and so he established an outdoor "Summer Art School" on Sunset Mountain at Overlook Park, which was said to be "660 feet above the city" of Asheville, and on the route of street cars. Apparently, students were expected to live at the school. From an Asheville Citizen article on April 8, 1902:


Tents will be provided so that students can live in the open air all day and night as well. These will be located on the plateau overlooking the view of the French Broad valley and city of Asheville. . . .


. . . The regular summer terms will be about eight weeks and the tuition will be $40 for the terms, payable in advance; $25 for half term of four weeks, $15 for two weeks; no entry made for less than two weeks for the summer term. This will include daily criticism by the director and lectures, talks upon the lives of the masters, lectures on color and higher criticism in portrait and landscape. There will be a regular exhibition room where the studies made daily will be offered for sale to the thousands of tourists visiting the park. . . .

. . . Students are expected in all cases, except otherwise provided for, to furnish their own materials. These will be supplied to them at cost by the director.


Aunt Ruth, aged 13 -- whose family would have been living with Clarence at that time -- attended the art school. From the Asheville Citizen on April 19, 1902:


. . . Misses May Jones, Belle Jones, Maud Hamilton and Ruth Watts are working steadily at the Overlook studio. Water color sketches, pen drawings, lead pencil sketches, etc., are made daily. Much of this work is extremely well done and shows an ever broadening sense on the part of these young ladies, and a desire to grasp the great essentials and principles which govern art and to which their attention is called constantly by Mr. Worrall. . . .


Here is a postcard showing Overlook Park. There was a casino there as well, with a restaurant attached.


Eventually, Clarence made enough money to rent a studio in downtown Asheville, as shown in the photo above. (Note the Stickley chair in the foreground -- it matches the side chairs I inherited from my great-grandmother Mary Moore Watts. She supposedly acquired her chairs when living with Clarence.)


While in Pennsylvania, he had mainly painted portraits, but in Asheville he focused more on the scenery in and around Western North Carolina, and pastels became one of his favorite media. (His first cousin, Elizabeth Handy Ker Moore, opened an art and sewing supply store next door to Clarence's studio.) Below is an untitled pastel on black cardboard that hangs today in the Asheville Art Museum.

In 1905, Clarence married one of his students -- Annabelle McRay. She was twenty years his junior, and they had two sons and a daughter.


A lengthy article about Clarence appeared in the Asheville newspaper in 1910, which helps to bring him to life. As you will see, he had a giant ego and was a shameless self-promoter.


MR. CLARENCE A. WORRALL TELLS NEW YORK SUN ABOUT NEW MINE


Well Known Artist of This City Has an Interesting Interview in New York Paper -- Tells of His Work in Asheville and Section


Mr. Clarence A. Worrall, the well-known artist of this city whose paintings are now being exhibited in New York City, in a recent interview published in The New York Sun tells that paper of rich deposits of a new cleansing powder in this state which he controls. The interview will be read with much interest by Mr. Worral's many friends in this city. The Sun says:


Clarence A. Worrall, who has been painting the mountain scenery in Western North Carolina for the last ten years, is in New York for his first visit in that time. "Picturing" might be a better term than painting,: for though Mr. Worrall does paint in oil the greater part of his work has been in pastel.


Mr. Worrall has been having a modest exhibition of some of his works at Davis & Sanford's and they have attracted considerable attention because of their coloring and their detail. He says he has never done much in the exhibition line and as for seeking for medals, "I am above it," said Mr. Worrall. "It is only the little men that hunt for such things."


Mr. Worrall says he has made thousands of pictures in his ten years in the North Carolina mountains and that they are all good. He is an enthusiast on the scenery in that part of the country and on what is usually termed the "cracker" class.


Mr. Worrall is a tiny man physically. Apparently he would not tip the scale at 100 pounds. He says he goes to bed at 8 o'clock and gets up at 5. He says he can do a pastel in an hour and a half and in the last ten years has done several thousand of such pictures, portraits and oil paintings. He is frank in his admiration for his own work and says he knows some day his little pictures will bring easily $10,000 a piece. He likens himself to Whistler in some ways, but he disclaims being a follower of that master. Mr. Worrall believes he has founded a new school.


"I went down into this country because of my health," said Mr. Worrall. "The doctors said I had to get away from studio work. A friend who advised me to go to North Carolina said I could paint that scenery as it was. For a year I tramped around exploring. At first I was at Asheville and later I went to Arden. I started out in life as an etcher. A few years ago a firm wanted to guarantee me $20,000 a year if I would work only for them. I got my only art schooling at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. Thomas Eakin was my instructor. He told me not to pin myself to any master and I followed his advice. I floated about like Whistler and I worked my art education out of the wood.


"I once saved the town of Asheville," said Mr. Worrall modestly. "How?" Well I made a painting 9 x 18 of the scenery for hundreds of miles around and as a result a great boom came to the town. Then I caught a cold in Chicago, where I was exhibiting the picture, and I was ill two years. Then I broke my leg at the knee while crossing a stream on the trunk of a tree. The doctors said I would never recover the use of the leg again, but I did recover it by bringing into play, through about two years, muscles not ordinarily much used. Look at this."


Mr. Worrall stood on one foot, drew up his broken leg and wiggled it about at the knee in a fashion that would have done credit to a contortionist. "I guess I've got the use of that back all right," he said. "Why, my pedometer there registers 300 miles for the last thirty days.


"When I first went down into that country, I established a free school of art. [Note by RW: It was not free.] I kept it going for only two years, but I enrolled about two hundred pupils, and they came from as far away as Texas. My idea was really to establish a manual training school, but happily Mr. George Vanderbilt did this. [Note: He was referring to Mr. and Mrs. George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Industries, which later moved to the Grove Park Inn.] In my art school I used to have twenty-seven classes a week. Oh, that was nothing. I am a rapid worker. I can do a day's work in a couple of hours, but you must remember it has taken me thirty years to acquire the knowledge and experience that makes that possible.


"I left the beaten track of art and artists because I could not stand the little bickerings and petty jealousies," said Mr. Worrall in answer to a question. " Expect there will be some jealousy now that I have returned, but that is natural; but the vast majority of my pictures that have been sold have been purchased by artists or connoisseurs. I know that country down there so well that I could paint you a scene from memory which would be true down to the minutest detail. Down at my place I have about 500 pictures of which about 200 are in oil. I am going to have them up here next fall on exhibition.


"To tell the truth, I have never had but one large exhibition of my works, and that was in the big hotel at Asheville. [Note: Likely the original Battery Park Hotel.] I have been working for the last ten years with one purpose in view, though art has been my recreation. I have covered the country for miles about. Sometimes I had my camp with me, sometimes I was the guest of farmers. They make you perfectly welcome and you can stay a day or a month anywhere. They give you the best they have in the house.


"I have had various interests, and I have now the greatest kaolin deposits in the country down there. [Kaolin is a white clay used in making ceramics and porcelain.] Besides I have control of a tract of land running for twenty-five miles along the railroad which is filled with deposits of a new cleansing power. Then I am building a big lake around which we shall have a bungalow colony. Besides I have written several pamphlets and brochures, one of them a sketch of Whistler. Here is another," Mr. Worrall added, handing over.


It is called "Golden Rules and Maxims for Art Students and Others, as deduced from a study of the antique and giants of painting: Raphael, Michael Angelo, Titian, Rubens, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Fortuny, Whistler, Sargent, Millet, and Meissonier.


"That," said Mr. Worrall, "was one of my textbooks." He displayed about half a dozen framed pastels which were lying on a chair, and which to his caller, who knows nothing about the first principles of painting, seemed very pretty and realistic.


"And," Mr. Worrall added, "there are hundreds more of these down in North Carolina. But persons only offer $100 or $200 a piece for them, whereas they are easily worth $1,000. But money is no object to me. To tell the truth, I am a philanthropist. On that country down there of which I am in control government experts have estimated there is $100,000,000 worth of that cleansing powder I told you about."


Throughout the early 1900s, until his death in 1920, advertisements for Worrall's art classes and exhibitions were prolific in the Asheville Citizen-Times. In addition, there were also many articles mentioning his art work. For example, a newspaper story about a society party might include the information that Clarence had painted the place cards or that several of his paintings hung on the walls. He also tried, with some success, to get involved with the Asheville public schools by teaching art to school teachers.


He painted portraits of Asheville leaders such as Mayor J.E. Rankin, Dr. S. Westray Battle (well-known surgeon), Philip S. Henry (who owned Asheville mansion Zealandia at the time), ex-governor of North Carolina Locke Craig, and North Carolina Supreme Court Judge Patrick Henry Winston.


His self-proclaimed masterpiece was a huge painting of mountainous landscape said to be "eighty miles of French Broad Valley and surrounding country on canvas." It was 9 x 18 feet, and depicted the view from Overlook Park on Sunset Mountain. For 10 cents it could be viewed by Ashevillians at the "old library" on Church Street, and Worrall took it on tour to various cities, including Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, and Los Angeles. It was stolen while on tour, and apparently has never been found.


In 1918, Clarence almost lost his life when a pane of glass fell out of a window and came close to hitting him. From the September 24, 1918 Asheville Citizen-Times:


Glass Showers on Avenue Sidewalk


About 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, a large pan of heavy glass crashed from the second floor above the Galax theater entrance, sprinkling the sidewalk with fragments and causing some slight consternation to pedestrians for the moment. Clarence Worrall narrowly escaped being ingulfed by the unexpected deluge.


Clarence died in Asheville two years later on December 13, 1920, from pneumonia at the age of 62. He is buried at Riverside Cemetery -- in fact his plot is right next door to my in-laws, Fred and Grace Wood! Rev. Dr. R.F. Campbell of the First Presbyterian Church officiated at the funeral and burial, indicating that Clarence was practicing the religion of his mother's side family, along with the rest of the Moores and Wattses living in Asheville. And it seems that Dr. Campbell was also a fan of Clarence's work -- it was his family that donated the pastel landscape shown above to the Asheville Art Museum.


One source I found says Clarence came to Asheville in 1898, two years prior to his Moore cousins migrating there. I don't know if that is true, but if it is, then he may have been instrumental in bringing them to Asheville rather than the other way around, making him even more important in our family's genealogical history.

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