NORFOLK, CONN. — Ed Clerk of Norfolk died on March 5 after a long illness.
Ed was born in Albany, N.Y., in 1924 and graduated from the Albany Academy and the University of Virginia. During World War II he served in the Navy for 3½ years, mostly in the Pacific area and in Okinawa.
Ed was a collector of antique Shaker furniture and artifacts. During the 1990s, for a ten-year period, he displayed his collection at the Winter Antiques Show in New York City. He was also a photographer and for 17 years worked as a teacher and darkroom supervisor at the Northwestern Connecticut Community College.
Ed is survived by Skeet Harman, a cousin, and by his longtime friends, Phillip and Naomi Walsh.
Arrangements were handled by Rowe Funeral Home of Litchfield.
To The Editor:
Suzanne and I met Ed Clerk in 1975. Ed was exhibiting at Christine Vining’s Hamilton Hall antiques show in Salem, Mass. At the time, we had been visiting my parents in Newburyport. Salem was an easy drive, and we were fledgling antiques dealers ourselves, eager to soak up anything and everything antiques related that we could. So of course, we attended the show.
Right away, we liked his stuff — and we liked Ed. Affable and enthusiastic, intelligent yet down-to-earth, Ed was impossible Not to like. When we started exhibiting at shows managed by Russell Carrell, we began to develop a close friendship.
I remember that it was at one of Russell’s outdoor antiques shows (flea markets as they were termed then) that Ed had a particularly bad show. In fact, Ed had sold nothing — zero. At the end of that disaster, Russell, who also managed the Winter Antiques Show, asked if Ed would like to do it. Without the stock or the money with which to buy it, Ed didn’t hesitate. Yes, he would very much like to do the show!
One of the requirements would be to dress appropriately for the venue. Just one problem — the only suit Ed owned was one he had last worn in college. Since his college days, Ed had gained weight and the suit no longer fit. Moreover, he did not feel he could afford a new one.
So, at the preview that year, there was Ed in his booth wearing his one and only, three-piece suit. Just before the crowds came in, Ed proudly showed Suzanne, who was working the booth with him, how he had managed it. He removed the unbuttoned jacket and turned around to reveal the back of his vest, which he had cut with scissors so that he could button up the front. With the jacket on, no one would be any the wiser! Suzanne howled with laughter, and Ed, ever self-effacing, laughed heartily right along with her.
With or without proper attire, Ed had earned his place at the Winter Antiques Show. He was at the top of his game, having become the world’s foremost Shaker dealer. At the show, Ed exhibited for sale an iconic Shaker sewing desk. One of his most prized possessions and one that he had owned for a great many years. During the preview he sold the desk, but days later the sale fell through.
Other dealers would most certainly have been upset, and Ed truly needed the sale, but money never motivated Ed. He was happy to still own something he loved, and he promptly took it off the market. He kept his prize for 24 more years before finally parting with it in July 2006 when it brought nearly half a million dollars at auction — a record price for Shaker that still stands. No doubt, Ed still had good use for the money. Even so, there is no doubt either that he missed his desk.
Ed’s love for Shaker antiques was matched only by his love of animals. Once, when Suzanne and I were sharing pizza with Ed at his home in Bethlehem, Conn., he introduced us to a new companion, a dog he had found that day at a highway rest area. The dog came with an interesting story. Another of Ed’s four-legged friends had died a few days earlier. The night before our visit, Ed had a vivid dream in which the dearly departed canine appeared to him, saying, “I’m coming back, and my name will be “Wudge.” When Ed spotted the abandoned dog in the rest area he didn’t hesitate. “Come here, Wudge! Come on, boy!” And the lucky dog happily jumped into Ed’s car for the ride to his new home. While Ed was relating the story to us, Wudge casually lifted his leg on another one of Ed’s prized Shaker possessions. After quickly wiping off the piece, Ed gave Wudge a big hug. There would be plenty of time later to teach his new friend proper manners. Right then what he needed was to feel welcome and loved.
So that was Ed, a great dealer, a genuinely good person, and a dear friend. We will miss him.