Clara Pauline Barck was born August 4, 1868 in Ellenton, New York, to John and Margaret Barck. The family travelled west along the Oregon trail, eventually settling in Portland. In 1900 she moved to Chicago to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Department of Decorative Design. In 1905, Clara married George Welles, a former president of the Village of Park Ridge. They separated in 1914, and having no children, she moved back to Chicago. The divorce was finalized in 1916. She retired to San Diego in 1940 and died there in 1965.
In 1900, Clara P. Barck, along with 4 other women, started the Kalo Shop in Chicago on Dearborn Ave, where they created leather and textile objects. The store later moved to the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue. After her marriage to George Welles, an amateur metalsmith, Clara Barck Welles moved to Park Ridge and began to work in copper and silver. There she founded the Kalo Shop Arts Crafts Workshop, hiring former Art Institute women graduates and immigrant Scandinavian metalsmiths to produce the branded Kalo silverware and jewelry. She was a successful entrepreneur who had one of the largest businesses in Park Ridge in the early 1900s with over 50 employees at its peak. The silverware was sold at various locations on Michigan Ave in Chicago. She also opened a store on 5th avenue in New York, which closed during World War 1.
Clara became an advocate for women’s participation in the arts and women’s suffrage. In 1910 she worked with the Chicago Political Equity League and served on the social committee. In March, 1913 Clara Barck Welles was the Chairman of the Parade Committee for the Illinois Delegation’s participation in the Votes for Women march on Washington, DC. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, “No suffrage organization in the city escaped a visit from Mrs. Welles for paraders and money. She got about the task of building up a large body of marchers with an enthusiasm and determination that is an inspiration.” Clara Barck Welles designed the hats that the marchers wore and lead the pageant participants with a civil war baton. Grace Wilbur Trout, Mrs. Robert McCall, Mrs. Marlon Drake, and Ida B. Wells Barnett all participated in the pageant. (Ida B. Wells’ participation did not come without controversy for Barck Welles and Trout. See the Wells biography for more information.) In February 1914, she was one of several suffragists who spoke at a registration rally at the Auditorium theater in Chicago.
In July, 1914 Clara Barck Welles and Ruth Hanna McCormick organized a fundraiser for the suffrage movement “Heirlooms go to the Melting Pot” at the Kalo Shop on 32 Michigan Avenue. Over 100 women dropped off gold and silver jewelry to be melted down to nuggets. The nuggets were kept at the suffrage trunk at the Continental Commercial National Bank, then forwarded to Philadelphia for minting. According to the Chicago Daily News, Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, sent a congratulatory message to the Kalo Shop thanking the women for this unique project supporting the suffrage movement.
Sources: Hand Wrought Arts & Crafts Metalworks & Jewelry 1890-1940 by Darcy Evon 2013; “Mrs. Welles Assured of Fine Lineup of Illinois Women in Suffrage Parade” by MarionWalters, Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Feb 23, 1913; “Pageant at Washington Biggest Thing Yet Attempted by the Suffragists” by Marion Walters, Chicago Daily Tribune, March 2,1913; “Heirlooms go to Melting Pot”, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 31.1914.
By Maria Hrycelak MD, Co-President of the Kalo Foundation of Park Ridge, Illinois