Musician and instrument-builder Clarke Prouty died at his home in Elkins, WV on Thursday, June 5th, 2008, of heart failure. Clarke was an accomplished wood-worker who turned from furniture and boat-building to instrument construction in the 1970s when a friend asked him to build a dulcimer. Clarke went on to build additional dulcimers and guitars, but he is best known for his banjos. Clarke was among the first luthiers to return to building gourd and minstrel-style banjos in the 1980s, making 19th century-style instruments for Mike Seeger, Bob Carlin, and others. Clarke was also an avid musician, and could regularly be found at festivals playing instruments of his own construction.
Clarke moved to Elkins from Lanham, MD, in 1998 after retiring from NASA, where he worked at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Among his other duties, Clarke served as the Mission Manager of the Get-Away Special (GAS) program, which allowed low-budget researchers and high schools and universities to have their own experiments carried on Space Shuttle missions. While Clarke was proud of his work in both aerospace and instrument construction, he did like to joke that, “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to build a banjo.”
Clarke is survived by his wife Sheila, and their four children: Karen, Katherine, Carol, and Scott. Memorial donations may be made to the Augusta Heritage Center Youth Scholarship Fund, Davis and Elkins College, 100 Campus Drive, Elkins, WV 26241.
Doug Van Gundy