Clara Stocker

Clara Stocker in a 1927 sketch by Duluth artist David Ericson. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

Duluth-native Clara Stocker devoted her life to the study of music, art, and language and travelled the world to gain her knowledge—then returned after each trip to teach what she had learned to the people of Duluth.

Stocker was born in Duluth on May 9, 1886, the daughter of Dr. Samuel and Stella Prince Stocker. Her parents had met when Samuel went to work for Stella’s father at the David Prince Sanatorium in Jacksonville, Illinois. Shortly after they wed the couple moved to Duluth where he set up a medical practice.

Clara grew up in a home filled with music and intellectual pursuits—her mother was a music teacher, composer, and lecturer. Stella Prince Stocker wrote several plays and light operas, including Ganymede (1902) and Sieur DuLhut (1916), which was performed at Duluth’s Orpheum Theater in 1917 with noted local photographer Louis Dworshak in the title role. She was a recognized expert on American Indian culture and music and lectured on the topic throughout the U.S. She was one of five founders of Duluth’s Cecilian Society in 1889, which in 1900 became Duluth’s Matinee Musicale.

As a child, Clara Stocker performed in Duluth recitals, usually with students of her mother’s music school, which operated out of the family’s home at 1014 E. 2nd St. She first performed solo in 1897, when she was 11 years old. Many more performances followed. Her brother Arthur, born on June 14, 1888, was also a talented musician—as well as a singer—and, like Clara, even as a child earned local fame.

Clara and Arthur were probably home-schooled by their well-educated parents—Stella was a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Illinois Conservatory of Music in Jacksonville, Illinois. Beginning in about 1901 their mother took them on extended trips to New York City and Europe where she often lectured and she and the children studied music and languages. Tragically, Arthur died of pneumonia on May 16, 1903, at the age of 14. The Duluth News Tribune said he had “achieved considerable fame as a soloist…and won praises from famous vocal teachers.”

Clara and her mother continued to travel abroad annually to study and lecture; after months in Europe they would return to Duluth to teach. Clara began teaching piano in her mother’s school about 1906. While in Europe, she studied at France’s University of Grenoble and the Sorbonne, and back in the U.S. did graduate work at New York’s Columbia University. In addition to teaching, she performed regularly in Duluth, in recitals and as part of the Matinee Musicale. In 1914, returning from a winter in Paris, Clara began teaching French conversation as well.

In 1918, Dr. Stocker retired from his medical practice due to illness; he was moved to the Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane in western Minnesota and died there 11 years later. Stella Stocker died in Florida in 1925. A memorial concert was held in her honor in Duluth on May 7, 1925, in the First Unitarian Church on First Street and 18th Avenue East.

Between 1920 and 1928, Stocker published six scholarly articles about the French language in the Modern Language Journal. They include “Notes on the Intonation of Spoken French,” “Teaching French through Folk Songs,” and a three part series on French tonetics, or the study of tone in language.

Stocker continued to teach and write in Duluth into the 1940s, setting up shop in the Temple Opera Block. She wrote program notes for some Duluth Symphony concerts and reviewed the Symphony and other local musical events for Duluth newspapers. Over the years she composed pieces for the piano, chamber works, choral works, and accompaniments to the Finnish epic the Kalevala, but only two collections were published. One was Two Little Pieces for the piano, published in 1937. (See the second of the two little pieces, Moderato poco scherzando, performed here.) The other was a series of eight Finnish melodies she arranged for the recorder, published by E.C. Schirmer Co. in 1942.

Stocker had become interested in Finnish art and culture in the 1920s and visited Finland twice, in 1930 and in 1934. She studied the Kalevala and lectured on it in Duluth and around the United States. She met Finnish artist Juho Rissanen and they remained friends for life.

In the 1930s Stocker lived in several locations on Park Point, finally settling in a home at 2601 ½ Minnesota Ave. in 1940. The following year a story in the Duluth News Tribune described her home as being full of books, musical instruments, and oil paintings by Duluth artists Knute Heldner and David Ericson. During the holidays, Stocker sent out personally produced Christmas cards that included a poem or carol that she had written, such as the carol Christmas Love in 1944.

In the early 1950s Stocker wrote “Biography of a Free Spirit,” the story of  Milma Lappala, a Finnish minister who, along with her husband Risto, served Unitarian congregations on the Iron Range in the first half of the twentieth century. The manuscript was never published, but it was used extensively as a source for the chapter on Lappala in Women Who Dared: The History of Finnish American Women (1986).

In her later years, Stocker became interested in the World Federalist Movement, which formed after World War II and advocated the building of global institutions stronger than the United Nations to avoid future wars. Stocker wrote opinion pieces and letters to the editor arguing for the movement.

Stocker left Duluth about 1952 and lived in New York City, Mexico, Florida, and North Carolina. She died in Asheville, North Carolina, on July 7, 1973.

Story by David Ouse. Originally published on Zenith City Online (2012–2017). Click here for more stories by David Ouse.