Wichita has lost one of its most well-loved and well-known artists.
Wayne Clark, an accomplished painter whose body of work stretches back to the 1940s, died on Sunday afternoon at age 91, surrounded by his large family.
Clark, a father of eight, had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for nearly 20 years — and had became well known for finding a way to paint through it. Just days before he died, he was still working on what would be his final painting depicting a stunning orange sunset that he and his son, Jonathan, had witnessed last winter.
On Friday, after a lively breakfast with his son and grandson, Clark — still sporting his signature handlebar mustache — suffered a fall that resulted in a serious head injury and bleeding on his brain, said his youngest son, Jonathan, who had been has father’s caretaker.
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Jonathan said he promised his father he wouldn’t let him die in the hospital and was finally able to get him home from Via Christi on Sunday afternoon, where Wayne Clark was greeted by a group of more than 20 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and close friends. His dog, Sara, and his “stupid cat,” Scooby-Doo, also were there.
Wayne Clark died shortly after returning home.
“We got him home and he was with us for an hour and 19 minutes,” Jonathan said. “Everybody was here.”
Wayne Clark was born in 1926 in Vesper but didn’t fully discover his love of art until he enrolled at what was then the Municipal University of Wichita. (He played football there, as a wingback, with another famous Wichitan, the late Linwood Sexton.)
While in school, handsome young Clark served as a model for art teacher Clayton Staples. He served in the Army Air Corps, and in 1947 returned to college and enrolled in an art appreciation class.
Soon, he was at the Kansas City Art Institute, studying under the famous painter Thomas Hart Benton. He finished his fine arts degree at Wichita University in 1950 and had a family. His career included stints teaching art in public schools, and he worked at Boeing as a production illustrator. He also spent years working as a commercial artist and textbook illustrator.
Through it all, he spent all the time he could painting, and his life’s work is a collection of pieces focused on the beauty of his surroundings. A trip through his portfolio reveals barns and bridges, sunsets and storm clouds, flowers and birds, and recognizable sites from all over Wichita. Despite a Parkinson’s diagnosis in 1999, Clark continued to paint with the aid of a slider attached to his easel that helped steady his hand. He was featured in a 2012 Hatteburg’s People” segment and also in a video by Healthline Networks called “Faces of Parkinson’s Disease.”
His children describe their childhood as wonderfully chaotic, their farmhouse on Pershing as a place where all the neighborhood kids wanted to be. Their parents, including mom, Joan, who died in 1985, were both artists, and their house was full of fun.
All of his children grew up to be artists — many choosing art as a profession.
“Growing up, knowing how difficult it can be to survive as an artist, he jokingly discouraged his children from going into the arts,” remembers Wichita artist Steve Murillo, who had been a close friend of Wayne’s since 1972. “And in the typical rebellious nature of artists, all chose to pursue an artistic bend.”
Wayne Clark’s last shows in Wichita were in 2014 and 2015. For the first, he partnered with friend Don Weddle on an exhibit that spent the summer at Friends University’s Riney Fine Arts Center. For the second, he hung work at Delano Barbeque and donated a portion of his sales to the Parkinson’s Association of the Plains.
Despite the worsening of his Parkinson’s, Wayne Clark was still a frequent visitor at Final Friday shows and would paint any time he was having a good day.
Besides his art, said his eldest daughter, Cyndie Wooley, Wayne Clark’s legacy will be his children — and the laid-back, quick-witted manner in which he raised them.
“He extended his friendship to our friends,” said Wooley, a celebrated technical illustrator. “Everybody’s lives were all touched by what a great person he was. He was very, very charming.”
Fellow artist Kathy Fathi, who teaches silver smithing at CityArts, was a school friend of Jonathan’s and grew up knowing the Clark family and Wayne. She stayed close with him through adulthood, and her husband, artist Will Fathi, also developed a friendship with Wayne. They would talk for hours about art and about Wayne’s time in the service.
“He painted so prolifically and was such a talented artist,” Kathy said. “He was such a gentleman and so kind and has a real ornery sense of humor, which I loved ... He was such a wonderful friend to have.”
Wayne Clark is survived by children Parry W. Clark of Meadsville, Missouri; Cyndie CH Wooley of Petaluma, California; Ruth A. Howell of Ashville, Ohio; Carl H. Clark of Wichita: Karin L. Clark of Wichita; and Jonathan Clark of Wichita; along with many grandchildren and great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by wife, Joan; daughter Judy K. Skerl; and daughter Patricia L. Clark.