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 Harold L. Clay  (1926 - 2004)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: illustration, landscapes, portraits

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Ad Code: 4
Harold L Clay
Last Harvest, 1994, oil on canvas, 24" x 30"
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following was submitted in September of 2006 by his William Clay:

Harold L. Clay (signed as H Clay, on all but his early work) was born in August 1926 in Franklin, Pennsylvania and raised just outside of Franklin, in a community called Rocky Grove.  While in school he was encouraged to draw by a grade school teacher who saw potential in his cartoon drawings of planes and trains.  Graduating early from Rocky Grove High School, he joined the Army Air Force in the spring of 1944 and was trained for electronic repairs for bombers and land-based radio transmitters.  Sent overseas, Harold was subsequently discharged in 1946 and, with the GI Bill firmly in hand, he enrolled not long after at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.  With a degree in art, and training as an illustrator, Harold moved to Buffalo, New York in the late 40’s, on his older brother’s recommendation.

Harold worked primarily as a commercial advertising artist in Buffalo until 1950, when he applied for work as a technical illustrator at the then Bell Aircraft.  He was called in immediately and offered a job based on his wartime training as an electronic technician for the burgeoning post-war defense industry.  Needless to say, the pay was substantially more than he was making as an illustrator. Freshly married, and with a son on the way, he reluctantly accepted Bell’s offer.

From this point on, until retirement, Harold’s art became his off-work passion, and his hobby of radio repair became his life’s vocation.  Harold is best known for his work in acrylics, painted from the mid-1960’s through to his passing in December of 2004.  The influence of Edward Hopper may be clearly seen in Harold’s early watercolors.  During the fifties, when working in oils, hints of Buffalo’s Charles Burchfeild were plainly evident in the tonal quality and even subject matter.  While Harold worked in ceramics, watercolors, pastels, sculpture, pen and ink, and even scratchboard, it was his switch to acrylics that allowed an individualistic style to fully develop in its own right.

While considered a realist, Harold did not delve into super-photo real images.  Instead he originated paintings consisting primarily of the hills, farms, and other landscape features of his native Pennsylvania.  He was most often compared to Andrew Wyeth in feature article reviews contained in the local newspapers.  While this comparison was valid to a point, and H Clay’s work was carefully composed, it was less structured than a typical Wyeth composition.

In the mid-60’s Harold became a night course instructor in fine art painting for a local school district. This evolved into an addition to his home of a larger studio and the institution of regular art lessons. Harold’s studio was expanded once again in the 80’s to house more gallery space and an enlarged painting area for use after retirement from Bell.  From the late 50’s until his death, sales of his artwork were steady and rewarding.  His clientele were most often located in the Western New York region and to corporate clients in the Buffalo area.  However, through arrangements with friends, he reached a steady market beyond Western New York, particularly in the Detroit metro region.

Harold had a long-standing agreement with the member’s lending program at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. The Albright-Knox would rotate paintings for rental use by members and member groups, with the artist receiving part of the rental proceeds.  As a member of the Buffalo Society of Artists, Harold also displayed works at the Albright-Knox gallery during their annual shows.  Harold also exhibited his work for several decades at a local home for the aged.  The works were rotated on a regular basis for the enjoyment of the home’s residents and staff alike.  This act of charity was conducted until the home closed in the late 90’s

During his sub-career as an artist, Harold received several commissions to paint specific topics. While not widely known as a portrait painter, none-the-less his skills as an illustrator held true when working with this subject material.  He was commissioned to paint a portrait of Herbert Hoover for the local elementary-middle school in Kenmore, New York, and to this day it hangs in a place of honor outside of the school office. Other commissions were delivered to private parties in the region and nationally.

His membership in local and nation artists groups gave him exposure locally and beyond.  Among his affiliations were: The Buffalo Society of Artist, the Kenmore Art Society and the Miniature Artist of America.  While often participating in local Western New York art exhibitions, including for many years the Allentown Art Festival, H. Clay held numerous one-man shows throughout his career. During the 60’s and 70’s these were held in a variety of locales ranging from the downtown YWCA to more intimate exhibit space in Snyder and Amherst, New York.  Later, with expanded gallery space at his home, Harold held yearly invitation only exhibits and sales events.

Harold passed away in December of 2004 in Alden, New York, just east of Buffalo.  A full accounting of his body of work has never been completed, however an inventory of held work versus sold indicates a prolific career as an artist.  


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