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A Life in Style

Left: This two-story 1928 Pueblo Revival home was constructed of adobe brick made from soil excavated from the site. Right: The original arched front door with its tile surround is the perfect setting for homeowner Jean Marie Clarke to showcase her Nizhoni Maxi caftan, which was inspired by traditional Native American designs.

For fashion and textile designer Jean Marie Clarke, home—and the world—is a thing of beauty.

By Michelle Jacoby | Photography by Ellen Barnes

For Jean Marie Clarke, founder of the Pax Philomena clothing line, life is a journey chock-full of chance encounters with people and places who can change the course of your life. From her colorful childhood in India to the hallowed halls of Princeton University to the storied textile mills of Italy, Clarke has created a life rich with art and design, passion and purpose. She shares, in her own words, the key moments that have been instrumental in reaching her success.

A career is born
“Betsy Bohn—who, coincidentally, is the daughter of the former owners of my current home—kind of launched my career, really. She was my teacher at Madison Park School in Phoenix. One day, I brought in one of my batiks. It was a Southwestern-themed piece of a mother and papoose, and she asked if she could buy it from me. It encouraged me to keep doing batiks, which I sold to art galleries during my middle and high school years. I have always been fascinated with Native American culture, as was my mother, and together we would often travel to places such as the reservations in Taos, New Mexico, and the Hopi Mesas in northeast Arizona. We saw the Hopi Snake Dance, one of the only times the community opened it to observers, and at Second Mesa, we would visit Old Oraibi and the residents would let us into their pueblos. It was really enchanting.”

Giving back
“One of the main motivations behind my clothing collection is to be able to give back. Growing up in Calcutta, India, my parents would often see Mother Teresa on the streets helping the sick, starving and dying. When I went back there earlier this year—the first time I had returned since I was a child—I visited her convent. I got to see the small room where she slept, and I prayed at her tomb. I also saw the children in the orphanage. It had such a profound impact that it inspired me to donate a portion of proceeds from my collection to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.”

1. Modeling the colorful Paradise Maxi Dress from her latest collection, fashion and textile designer Jean Marie enjoys the warm seasonal breezes on an upstairs sun deck, located off the guest bedroom. 2. Having worked in art and textiles for most of her career, Jean Marie has a meticulous eye for high-quality fabrics and prints. Her fashion line includes stylish and effortless clothing for women and men, such as the Angela Maxi Dress, which features branching botanicals on a warm cream background. 3. The etched panels on the original mahogany front door are similar to the ribbon and floral motifs found in Mexico’s Spanish colonial churches. The designer’s Amjer Metallic Blouse was inspired by her love of Navajo rugs and her mother’s hometown in India. 4. Evergreens, along with eucalyptus trees planted by Louis J. Bohn, provide privacy to an upstairs patio and soften sounds from nearby busy streets. A curved parapet provides the perfect backdrop for Jean Marie’s indigo-dyed Isadora Tunic, which was created using a mud resist printing method known as dabu. 5. The ladderlike structure is an adobe brick form that was used in the construction of the home. The yellow of the Native American blanket complements the Sorrento Maxi, which features a fan design block printed on cambric.

“I feel a responsibility to the Bohn family to cherish this house and keep its history alive.”

—Jean Marie Clarke, homeowner

Chance meeting
“Over the years, you meet certain people who, whether they intend to or not, change the course of your path in life. For me, it was a chance meeting with Pope John Paul II. I was studying art history at Princeton, and during my junior year I went to Rome. Within hours of landing, the group I was with was offered tickets to attend the papal mass for the Feast of Saint Paul. No one was interested, so I and two other women took them. We made our way to the mass and were separated—they disappeared in the crowd and, somehow, I was guided by a Swiss guard to the front of the church, where I was seated among monks, bishops, priests and nuns. After mass, we were ushered to the sacristy, where the Pope personally spoke to each of us. When he came to me, my knees felt like rubber, and I thought I was going to collapse. He had such a presence; I had never felt anything like that before.”

1. Racks of garments from Jean Marie’s fashion line, Pax Philomena, flank an intricately carved, arched wood door that once served as the entrance. 2. A vintage photo, given to Jean Marie by the previous owner, highlights the home’s original entryway. Today, the house, which sits on a busy corner, is concealed from traffic by a surrounding wall. 3. Jean Marie has filled her home with classic Southwest-inspired furnishings and accents. In the living room, a Navajo rug anchors the bright and open space, while the original Victorian tin-stamped ceiling brings an unexpected texture to the room. Parabolic arches draw the eye toward the dining room.

Perfect formula
“After graduating from college, I wanted to return to Italy to design textiles. I applied for a fellowship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, seeing it as a step in the door to meeting people in the industry. Little did I know I would soon meet silk fabrics entrepreneur Antonio Ratti, one of the most influential textile printers in the world. I introduced myself to him during an event at the museum. He didn’t speak English, and I spoke very little Italian. But when he heard my name, he perked up, thinking I was related to Formula One champion Jim Clark. Who knew a race car driver would help launch my career in the Italian textile industry?”

“Throughout my life, my mom, Philomena, has been behind me all the way.”

—Jean Marie Clarke, homeowner

Education is key
“Throughout my life, my mom, Philomena, has been behind me all the way. Because she was the daughter of immigrants, she drilled into me that I had to have a good education in order to make it in this world. ‘Nobody can take that away from you,’ she said. When I got accepted to Princeton, my parents didn’t have the money to send me, but she said, ‘You’re going, no matter what we have to do to make it happen.’ She put me on a plane, and I had never been to the East Coast before. It was difficult, but it made me stronger. I’ll always be grateful for that.”

School spirit
“After I had my two sons, I wanted to go back to India. At that same time, I started collaborating with an Indian mill in Bangalore, and I acquired a taste for Indian textiles and garments. Then my 25-year college reunion came around, and I was named the costume chair. Princeton reunions are a big deal—everyone comes dressed in costume, and I wanted to make it a memorable event. I had fabric printed in Italy, from which I created silk scarves, camp shirts for the men, and tunics with beautiful embroidery for the women. That was the first time I truly designed clothes, and from then on I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

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1. Many of the furnishings and accessories are original to the home, including this Craftsman-style table and lamp that was designed by Louis J. Bohn, for whom the house was built. A humorous sign recalls the citrus groves on which the property used to sit. . 2. A pair of arches separates the entry from the living room, while a chunky column highlights the thickness of the adobe brick that was used to build the house. A stairway with a delicate iron banister leads to the upstairs bedrooms. The wood floors are original. 3. In an upstairs bedroom, large French doors bring light in and add a sense of openness to the heavy adobe walls. The simple dotted swirls of Jean Marie’s Karma Maxi Dress reflect a similar soothing sensibility. 4. “This house has a truly beautiful atmosphere about it, and guests comment on the feeling of peace they receive upon entering,” says Jean Marie, as she relaxes at the kitchen table. On the wall behind her is a batik created by her mother, Philomena Clarke. 5. When Jean Marie purchased the home, she made it her mission to maintain much of the architectural details and furnishings, including the kitchen table and chairs, which she refinished in bright white. The original etched door was a gift from Doris Bohn, daughter of Louis J. Bohn. “It’s such a lovely piece of history, and I’m glad it’s returned home,” says Jean Marie. 6. A tall, narrow, arched window allows copious natural light into a small nook at the top of the stairs. The wrought iron sconces were designed by Mr. Bohn.

OLD HOUSE, NEW LIFE

On a bustling corner in north central Phoenix, tucked away and hidden beneath a canopy of verdant eucalyptus trees, is a house of high fashion. One of the original homes built in the area in the 1920s, the two-story adobe is now the residence and atelier of designer Jean Marie Clarke.

“The house was built in 1927 by Louis J. Bohn, then owner of the Arizona Electric Co., and his wife Gertrude,” says Clarke. “They lived here with their children: two daughters, Betsy and Doris; and a son, Louis Jr.”

The dwelling, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Homes, originally sat on 40 acres of citrus grove the Bohns called El Domingo Ranch. “It was lush with oranges, lemons and peaches. Mr. Bohn planted the eucalyptus trees that are still standing there today,” Clarke says.

Having lived nearby as a child, Clarke says she’s always admired the home and, in fact, has a personal connection with it.

“Betsy—or, as I called her, Ms. Bohn—was my grade school art teacher. I didn’t know her family owned the residence until one day, when I was riding my bike along the canal, I saw her selling grapefruit on the street corner in front of the house,” says Clarke. “She told me she lived there with her sister; they were so mysterious. The home mesmerized me, and I always wondered what it was like inside.”

Clarke would get that chance in the mid-2000s when she discovered that the property was for sale. By that time, the surrounding orchards had already been developed, but the house remained. Today, it stands at the corner of an apartment complex.

“The only thing the Bohn sisters stipulated when they sold the house was that it had to stand,” she says. “It couldn’t be destroyed; that was part of the deal.”

Clarke made it her mission to keep the home as true to its original state as possible. The mahogany doors—crafted by the same company that made the doors for the Orpheum Theater in downtown Phoenix—are etched with beautiful sandblasted designs. The sconces, which Louis Bohn designed, are original and unique in their Southwestern deco style. And the living room ceiling still retains its original pattered Victorian-stamped tin.

Clarke also purchased much of the original furniture and artifacts from the Bohn estate, including the dining table and chairs and an oak office desk; Gertrude’s sewing machine, which sits in a corner of
the dining room, was given to her by Doris as a gift. “She also gave me the original molds for the adobe bricks from which home was made,” says Clarke. “These molds built this house.”

While a ’20s-era art deco style is prevalent in the home’s details and finishes, Clarke adds her passion for Southwestern art and Native American culture with a few personal touches. Original batik art made by her and her mother, Philomena, are displayed lovingly on walls throughout the house, while a Navajo rug from the Hubbell Trading Post that Clarke purchased as a child is featured in one of the bedrooms.

“The house has a truly beautiful atmosphere, and everyone who visits comments on the feeling of peace they get from it,” Clarke says. “I feel a responsibility to Doris and the Bohn family to cherish it and keep its history alive.”

1. Built of adobe bricks made from soil excavated from the basement, the two-story house was designed to feature irregular surfaces and rustic details. 2. Louis Bohn Jr., son of the Louis and Gertrude Bohn, poses with his bicycle in the home’s original front yard. At the time, the property sat on 40 acres of citrus groves. 3&4. As the city expanded around the house, what was once its rear facade, seen during construction in a vintage photo, now serves as the front entry. Guests enter through the adjacent condo development to a parking lot that connects to the home’s driveway. An iron gate provides security. 5. Louis J. Bohn observes an early Arizona adobe resort. His company, Arizona Electric Co., performed the electrical work on the property.

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