Who is H Clay?

"H Clay" is how Harold L. Clay signed his oils, watercolors, acrylics, pen & inks, and most other works
of art he produced during his artistic career. Would you like to know more about him?

Read on...

​​​With a brown bag in hand, and car pool mates to travel along, Harold would spend his working days in the world of ever increasingly sophisticated electronics with Bell. In his spare time he repaired radios, and later TV’s, but the art in his hands would not leave him. 

Harold painted in waters colors and oils through the decade of the 50’s with little thought of sales or a legacy. Instead he painted simply for himself. But it was from this period that he honed the techniques that would later become his hallmarks. After a mid-decade move to the northern Buffalo suburb of The Town of Tonawanda, Harold finally staked out a share of the home that he would label as his studio. 

Unlike the artist garrets of Paris, this studio was merely a corner of the basement that would house his paints, canvas, easels, and drafting table. For his sons it was a place of magic where the smells of oil paints soon became second nature and the production of images never ceased to amaze. However, as the decade of the 50’s wound to a close, there was still something missing. In a writer it would be his “voice”, in an artist it is his style. Harold’s style was still not quite there. 

 The transformation began with a trip back into art history and a critical review of Andrew Wyeth’s body of work. Of the two the latter had the most impact. Wyeth painted in a sparse realistic fashion that was very against the grain of the pop/modern art scene of the day. It was a style that resonated with Harold in a way that no other artist had since his exposure to Hopper and Burchfield. More importantly was how Wyeth accomplished his work. Wyeth did not use the traditional palette of oils, but instead a very dry sparse, almost transparent, use of a medium dating back centuries. 
Egg tempera predated oils and became Wyeth’s choice for expression of his realistic yet impressionistic works. It was a trip back in time using this medium, and Harold readily followed the same path as Wyeth. The trail was made easier as acrylic paints, with much the same character of egg tempera, came on the market place. Regardless, the medium and the message merged in the 1960’s and Harold found his voice, his style.  
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Harold Clay from a pubilicity photo taken in the late 1960's.

In 1926, before the depression, before the first solo trans-Atlantic flight, the last of three boys was born to Ralph and Jessie Clay. Living in Rocky Grove, just outside of Franklin, PA, Harold started out his early school years here and finished them during World War II.

 Harold enlisted in the Pennsylvania National Guard during his last year in high school and finished his senior year early to enter the United States Army Air Corp. Joining the 8th Air Force, Harold was trained as a radio repair technician and attained the rank of a Master Sergeant, with citations for his marksmanship. 
With the war winding down in the Pacific, after Japan’s surrender and the massive withdrawal of troops from Europe, there was a need for fresh faces overseas. Harold was posted to Lintz, Austria in what had been Hitler’s early stomping grounds. Harold was able to observe the beauty that was Europe and destruction of that beauty in his overseas tour of duty.
His return and discharge from the service was accomplished in late 1946. With that discharge, he carried with him the paperwork that was to fire-up post-war America. The GI bill gave Harold the wherewithal to attend the art school in Pittsburgh. His graduation and training as a commercial artist would finally payoff when he arrived in Buffalo, New York in the late 40’s. 
The choice of Buffalo was family related. His older brother Herbert was already in the Buffalo area after a job transfer. The Buffalo of the late 40’s and early 50’s was nothing like the Buffalo of today. The downtown area was vibrant with life and optimism for the future. The corrosion of the Northeast Rust Belt was yet to come. With diploma in hand, skills learned, and talent to develop, Harold started work as a commercial artist.


While Harold's work as a commercial artist may be seen in family held records, it was not financially as rewarding as it could be. With this in mind, Harold sought out a job at the then Bell Aircraft Co. He applied as an illustrator for the Bell Company, and in doing so Harold filled out on the form all he was trained for by Uncle Sam. It did not take long for a call back to Bell. However, what a sharp eyed personnel department caught was the fact that Harold knew something about electronics. The offer was made in this fashion, “We don’t need an illustrator, but here is what we are paying our Electronic Technicians. Are you interested?” 

With a young bride and the first son on the way, Harold didn’t hesitate in trading his air brush for a soldering iron. Thus his career became his avocation and what was a hobby, fixing radios for friends and family, became his career. It would be this way until retirement some 35 years later. 


​​​H Clay at work in his older studio in the Town of Tonawanda, NY
Harold at his day job with Bell Aerosystems in the Niagara Falls plant. (from a publicity photo taken by Bell).