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Edward Warren Clark was Magic Lantern Man


Although he was born in Portsmouth in 1849, Edward Warren Clark was a thoroughly modern man. He was an entrepreneur, a photographer, and a globetrotter with a taste for high-tech equipment and media attention. “Professor Clark,” as he liked to be called, held a lifelong passion for the people and culture of Japan. He became well known for his illustrated lectures on Asian culture using a “magic lantern,” the Victorian equivalent of a slide or video projector.(Full feature below)


In our age of giant 3D-Imax screens and films wirelessly downloaded to portable  phones, the magic lantern seems clunky and tame. But think of Warren as a speaker on, the hi-tech educational channel on the Internet today. The TED slogan is “riveting talks by remarkable people.”

Using electric arc lights and glass “lantern slides” these machines could produce large colorful images and even animated effects. Invented as early as 1650, powered at first by candles, whale oil, or kerosene, the magic lantern had evolved to a sophisticated and compact machine by the era of E. Warren Clark. That technology allowed him to introduce audiences to the very different world of the Japanese at the dawn of the 20th century when Asia was largely unknown to most Americans.

Resurrecting Portsmouth heroes

E-Warren_Clark courtesy Richard CandeeE. Warren Clark is back, plucked from obscurity by New England historian Richard Candee of York, Maine. You can read all about Clark and his illustrated lectures in the latest issue of The Magic Lantern Gazette (Spring 2012) a publication for collectors obsessed by this extinct technology. In case your subscription has lapsed, read on.

Why bother to unearth the life of a largely forgotten Episcopal minister, teacher, tour guide, real estate speculator, and philanthropist?

“Why not?” says Candee. “I am a material culture historian. It’s what I'm trained to do.”

In recent years Candee has resurrected other Portsmouth artists including Thomas P. Moses, Harry Harlow, and Russell Cheney. He has written books on photographer Wallace Nutting, the Joseph Sawtelle maritime art collection, and the city’s Atlantic Heights neighborhood. Candee’s guidebook Building Portsmouth, now in its second edition, has become the bible of historic city architecture.

Recently retired as Professor Emeritus of American and New England Studies at Boston University, Candee is currently founder of Discover Portsmouth and president of the Portsmouth Historical Society. But he has left his mark on Strawbery Banke Museum, the Portsmouth Athenaeum, the Black Heritage Trail, Warner House, The Pearl, Memorial Bridge, Rock Rest, The Hill, Wentworth by the Sea, and a dozen more local and New England preservation projects. He is perpetually juggling new Portsmouth topics that strike his fancy.

So for much of last year Candee plumbed online newspaper databases, dug into manuscript archives, and poured over old scrapbooks, photographs, and letters loaned from a descendant of E. Warren Clark. Candee is drawn, he says, by the creative “characters” who leave behind a great deal of material that he can assemble like pieces from a jigsaw puzzle. He collected a foot-high stack of research on Clark before he began writing about him. That’s not so much. His research on painter Russell Cheney alone now fills 20-feet of shelf space in more than 22 binders in his home library.


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