The many faces of Mr. Clark G. Waite

An interesting portrait commission

Spring 1995
An interesting referral

One early afternoon, I got a call from Jan, the Arts Department Office Administrator at Cleveland State University. She told me that someone had called the school looking for someone to paint a portrait. It was not an unusual occurrence for the school to get such requests for art students. But since this particular caller was looking for something special, Jan decided to call me instead.

Jan and I became friends during my student days at Cleveland State. She enjoyed my antics, my flirting and my work. Even after graduating I stopped by her office to say hello whenever I visited the school. And so, though I was no longer a student, she thought that I would be ideal for the job, especially since portrait painting is a difficult commission that requires experience and a certain amount of creative flair.


Under-painting (the first layer of paint) is a fast way to cover the entire surface and evaluate your composition. I model skin tones in grisailles (gray monochrome) and the rest of the painting in thin color washes (paint diluted in medium).

I called the number Jan had given me and scheduled a meeting with the client. We met at the Cleveland offices of Brush-Wellman Inc., the leading global supplier of High Performance Copper, Nickel and Beryllium alloys. Mr. Clark G. Waite, the company‘s Senior Vice President-Finance and Administration was retiring and his business partners wanted to present him with a painting during the company's Annual Shareholders Meeting at Stouffers Tower City Plaza Hotel (now the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel), 24 Public Square, Cleveland, Ohio, in May of 1995. The painting was a surprise gift which meant that I could not meet Mr. Clark.

I listened carefully to the gentlemen gathered in the small office as they pitched ideas for the portrait. After much discussion they could not make up their mind and so they finally turned to me for advice. I candidly told them that none of their ideas seem propitious for a portrait, but that I could suggest a better solution –if they increased the budget for the job. After a round of nods they asked me what I had in mind. I told them I would do a "multi-portrait" that would include all their ideas if they could provide me with the photographic references that I needed.


The many faces of Mr. Clark G. Waite. 1985. Artist's Oils on masonite panel. 40 inches high (101.6 cm).

Fortunately, the partners were prepared with a collection of photographs and I was able to further explain what I had in mind in detail. Fifteen minutes later all the specifications had been agreed upon, an agreement was signed, and an initial installment check issued. Now all I needed to do was work fast to finish the commission in three weeks time -half the time this kind of painting required! Exactly one day before the deadline I made delivery of the framed but still-wet painting. They loved it and I got my final pay check. Still, I confess that I would have loved to see Clark's reaction.

The final rendering of this oil painting is exactly what I had conceived during the initial meeting with the clients. The idea was so clear in my mind that I didn't need to do any sketching. The design had an ingenious composition that includes five portraits of Mr. Waite. In the central portrait he is sitting behind his desk, a very respectable representation of the position he held at Brush-Wellman Inc. On the wall behind him hung three framed pictures -also of him. The fifth portrait is on the desk, on a stretched piece of cardboard, upside-down from our point of view.


Close-up detail of Clark the golfer and Clark the Elvis impersonator. All the images on this page are from Polariod photos. So, they are not the worse, but they are not the best either. But at least they give a good idea of what the painting looked like -except that it looked much, much better.

There is a certain amount of humor infused into this piece. Mr. Waite was described to me as a typical "bean counter" businessman. But there were also splashes of color in his personality. Once during a company celebration he dressed up as "Elvis" in black (the only suit left in the costume shop). This was totally out of character for him and everyone remembered the episode with fondness. Hence, I included the event in the painting.

Mr. Waite was also an avid golfer -though probably not very good at it. But hey, I'm god with a brush so I painted him next to golf legend Jack Nicklaus. It is obvious from Jack's expression that he lost a round to Clark. In fact, Jack inscribed with a pen in the lower right corner of the picture the following words: -"Clark, you are the best. Jack" (Actually, I did the inscribing -so don't tell Clark!)


Clark as the Captain of the USS Constitution. In reproducing the original painting of the actual captain, named Samuel Nicholson, it occurred to me that I could be a very good illegal forger if I ever venture into a life of crime. Just a thought.

I was told that Mr. Waite also had a passion for boating and, now that he was retiring, would be spending more time on his boat. I happened to know a few "boat captains" and they were "kings of the world" when on their boats. I was sure that Clark felt the same. So I painted a replica of the portrait of Samuel Nicholson, the Captain of the USS Constitution, known as "Old Ironsides", the oldest commissioned ship afloat in the world. But in the captain's place, I painted Mr. Waite. I'm sure he never looked better in uniform!

On his desk I added a mug with the logo of the University of Michigan, his Alma Mater. In front of him is a stretch piece of cardboard with a picture of a young Clark wearing his college color and slogan "go blue". On the piece of cardboard I added in writing:-"Best Wishes - Brush Wellman". Clark’s fellow workers would later add their signatures to the card and thus complete the painting. I wished I had more time to polish the painting; there is always something that needs further attention. But considering the short deadline, I was satisfied with the result. So, all that's left to say is: -"Mr. Waite, happy retirement, and may the wind be always at your back!"

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