Mountain Confidential : John Clark
John Clark is a polymath : he creates luminous sculptures of art glass, repairs finicky Apple computers, helps oversee concerts and cultural events at the Sherbino Theater and the Town Park stage… and he’s also the Mayor of Ridgway. Here he is on techno-nerd-dom, the joy of high-altitude gardening and growing up with one of the Dead Kennedys.
My childhood ambition was…I honestly didn’t have a lot of ambition as a kid. I grew up in Boulder, at the foot of the Flatirons, and had a pretty idyllic childhood. Believe it or not, in fourth grade, my best friend was Eric Boucher, who later became famous as Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys. Eric and I spent a lot of time playing with Tonka Toys and drawing what we thought were futuristic cars, and even sent some of our drawings to Ford. They sent us back a brochure called “So You Want to be an Engineer…”
I am in Ridgway because…I’m in Ridgway because my wife Mallory’s sister, Liza Clarke, and her husband Bill Ferguson moved here first. We visited a few times, starting in 1978 (when we came to our first Bluegrass Festival, the 5th Annual). In 1982, Bill, a.k.a. “Fergie,” found a book at the library on starting a high-altitude native-plant nursery. The book recommended hiring family, as they’ll work for nothing and won’t quit. Mallory is from Greenwich, Connecticut ; she and I met at C.U. We were living in Boulder at the time, and we jumped at the chance to move to Ridgway. We’ve never looked back.
Mallory and I got married in Ridgway, in 1983, the year after moving here, and bought a little house that same year. We have two incredible daughters. The oldest, Rosy, just got her masters in Early Childhood Ed. in New York City and loves living and working in Brooklyn. Her younger sister, Louisa, just got her undergrad degree from Barnard in NYC, and promptly moved back to Boulder, where she loves working at a fancy locavore restaurant off the mall called The Kitchen.
Working for Fergie back in the early ‘80s, I helped landscape much of Town Park in Telluride. I love seeing all the huge trees we planted as saplings 30 years ago.
You are an artist and also, as the Mayor of Ridgway, a politician. That’s a fairly unusual combination ! How do you think of yourself ?
At this point in my life, I think of myself primarily as a nerd. I’m in my second “career” now, as the Mac Doctor, after almost 30 years making art glass. I’ve found that I have a knack for technology. In fact, I could probably find work anywhere in the world for the rest of my life, because everyone needs help with their technology these days, right ?
As for being mayor, it might sound funny, but I don’t think of myself as a politician. The main reason I’ve been able to stay involved with Ridgway’s town government for most of the 30+ years I’ve lived here is that we’re completely non-partisan. I think of myself as a public servant in the purest sense of the term. I love my town, and I love that we’ve been able keep it one of the best places to live that I’ve ever experienced.
Do you find the time to keep up with your glasswork ? Do you have a new exhibit planned ? Where can people go who would like to see what you’ve done ?
Unfortunately, with all the things that I’m doing these days, my glasswork has had to take a back seat to everything else. Just last year, I closed Alpine Art Glass, my art glass business since 1985, after realizing I was paying more to keep it running than it was bringing in each year, as I was primarily working on computers full time. I still have a wonderful studio behind my house, and I love the thought that I can keep doing fused glass as a hobby until I can’t get around anymore. Who knows when I’ll find time to get out there on a regular basis, but someday soon, I hope.
As for where people can see examples of my work, I’ve got pieces all over the region. In Ouray, there’s the front doors in the Beaumont Hotel and the big panel over the bar at the Bien Tiempo restaurant, as well as probably my favorite project of all, three big combo fused-and-leaded glass windows in a private residence on the east side of town. In Telluride, there’s a set of Victorian-styled panels in the lobby of the Hotel Columbia that I love, and my first big project from 1985, several big panels surrounding the hot tub in the Smuggler condos, not to mention dozens of pieces in private residences all over the area. I also made about 20 fun, bent-glass pendant ceiling-lights for the now-defunct Jean’s Westerner store in downtown Montrose. My friends would probably tell you that the best place to see a good cross section of my work is in my home in Ridgway.
You are known locally not only for being a cultural maestro, but also a Mac wiz ! How did you learn so much about computer operating systems and photography ? Have you always had an interest in taking photographs ?
My evolution into techno-nerd, like much of what I’ve done in my life, was pretty unintentional. My brother worked for Apple in the early ’90s, and I got my first Mac through him in probably ‘93 or ’94. I was hooked right from the start, and simply dove in headfirst. The next thing I knew, I was at a friend’s house and his Mac wasn’t working, and I asked if I could take a look. Sure enough, I had it up and running again in no time. The rest is history, as they say.
As for photography, I’ve always loved that medium. I started with film, of course, but never did work in the darkroom. It was the advent of digital photography, coming at the same time my interest in computers was taking off, that got me more focused on the craft. These days, I love that I’ve always got this amazing little camera in my pocket, the iPhone, and how I can do things with it that not too long ago would only have been possible using Photoshop on a powerful desktop computer. It’s simply astounding what you can do with a smartphone these days.
You are deeply involved in scheduling musical events, talks and other cultural happenings at both the Sherbino Theater and Town Park. What have been your particular favorites over the past few years ? Why ?
I certainly wear a lot of hats around Ridgway, and helping out with both the Sherbino and the Concert Series is a ton of fun in so many ways. I’m particularly gratified by the evolution of the concerts in the park every July, and I’ve had a ball being the emcee the last couple of years. My favorite shows have been Peter Rowan in 2014 and the Steep Canyon Rangers, the last show of this year’s series. I’m pretty sure this was our biggest crowd yet, and it’s been great hearing folks rave about how much they enjoyed it. It’s so cool to see it start to take off, and become something that people are talking about far and wide.
I don’t want to give short shrift to the Sherbino though, as we’re coming up on our 100th anniversary on Sept. 11 of this year. A big celebration is being planned, with some pretty exciting highlights that I’m hoping will be announced soon. I’m on the board of the non-profit that runs the venue known as the Ridgway Chautauqua Society, and I’m very proud of the diverse programming we’ve created in true Chautauqua style. We’ve got poetry, lectures, film and, of course, music. Two relatively new endeavors are a monthly trivia night and something called Ignite (a series of 5-minute, faced-paced presentations, each covering something the presenter is passionate about), which some of your readers are probably familiar with. Musical highlights at the Sherb in the last few years have been Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Mollie O’Brien & Rich Moore, as well as, for me, the Matt Flinner Trio and a band called Dirty Kitchen, both from 2014.
Are there any events coming up that you would like to tell us about ?
On top of the Sherbino’s big Centennial Celebration on Sept. 11, there’s the new Townie Tuesday movie night, every other Tuesday in Town Park on the stage. The next one will feature the film “Galaxy Quest” on Aug. 25, after dark. The biggest thing coming up is our humongous RAMP downtown infrastructure project with CDOT. That begins next spring, and we’re in the midst of finalizing detailed engineering. We hope to have it out for bid the end of this year, with a contractor hired and ready to start in March of 2016. Obviously, that’s going to be one of the biggest changes ever for Ridgway, but I believe it will be so positive for our future.
What do you love about living here ?
I would say that I love how Ridgway has evolved into one of the most energetic, community-focused and welcoming towns I’ve ever encountered. I’ve had so many people tell me that they love it too, and that’s a strong word from a lot of folks. I often hear statements like, “There seems to be an energy that’s hard to describe, but it just makes me want to be here !” Ridgway is changing fast, and of course that worries me in many ways, but I remain optimistic and confident that we can grow in a positive direction. I think that because the vast majority of people I meet who are moving here are doing so because they like Ridgway for what it is now, and not because they want to make it more like where they came from. That’s a big change from even 10 years ago.
Why is summer your favorite season ?
I’ve thought a lot about it in recent years. I’ve decided that summer is so amazing here because it’s so short in relation to winter, which in this climate tends to bleed over on either end to include late fall and most of spring. Summer also tends to fly by more than any other season. I think that’s because we try to pack so much into it. Of course, everyone is different, and I’m one of those people that would rather be hot than cold. My wife is the opposite, so we have to work hard to balance the two.
Do you have a landscape (if only in your mind) that calms you — a place you go to escape ?
Not only in my mind, but I’ve realized that my favorite place to be is at an outdoor music festival. My dream would be to retire to a life of travelling from festival to festival all summer long.
Of course, like most of us who live here, I also love to get out into the high country. If I have to go somewhere in my mind to relax, it would probably be something like the top of Sneffels or Courthouse on a gorgeous summer afternoon.
What’s a favorite indulgence of yours that might surprise us ?
Really good tequila.
Your greatest passion ?
Music. Without a doubt, to me, music is the most powerful thing in my reality. It can lift me up like nothing else. Add YoYo Ma playing the Prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite #1 to that summer afternoon on top of Mt. Sneffels, and I’m in heaven.
Your biggest frustration ?
That the world seems to keep getting increasingly disparate and divisive.
I believe that all of us who live in this region are incredibly fortunate to be able to live where we do, and the best thing we can do in return is to try to give back in whatever way we can. Whether it’s locally, regionally or globally somehow, find something you can do to make someone else’s life a little better. One by one, maybe we can turn the tide of divisiveness.
Why did you decide to run for mayor ?
It’s funny, because I didn’t really even want to at first. I liked being on Town Council, but I wasn’t eager to take on the extra responsibilities, especially on top of all the others things I do. When the previous mayor, Pat Willits, decided to run for county commissioner, he suggested I run for mayor in his place. I had to think about it a lot, and it finally came down to, “I guess it’s my turn.”
I’ve always thought that everyone should find a way to volunteer in his or her community, and it’s especially true in a small town. I volunteered for the Planning Commission shortly after I moved here. I found urban planning to be fascinating when I studied it in college [and so] I chose town government.
In the end, I’ve found being mayor of Ridgway to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I think what sets it apart from being mayor of a larger city is that Ridgway has such an amazingly strong sense of community. It helps that it’s a really small town, because it’s so easy to directly reach the vast majority of residents. And believe me, I’m under no illusion that everyone in Ridgway likes me or thinks I’m doing a great job. At the same time, its been impressive to see the things that we’re doing, like the Creative District, the Concert Series, the RAMP project, etc., generate such buzz for the town. It’s humbling to be able to have even a small part in such positive developments.
There’s always more we could do, of course. I’d like to see us find some innovative solutions on the affordable housing front, as the only way Ridgway will maintain its powerful community energy is if we’re able to retain our demographic and economic diversity. I also think there’s a lot more we can do to balance our regulatory structure with an awareness that development and construction in town shouldn’t be unnecessarily complicated and onerous.
I think Ridgway’s “secret sauce” is its people. We’re blessed to have the most passionate, engaged populace any town could hope for. And it’s not just the people who live in town ; there’s a large population in the area immediately surrounding town that consider Ridgway their home. I think the vast majority of them love Ridgway as much as I do, and are involved in a way most municipalities could only wish for.
Telluride Daily Planet du 20/08/2015