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Obituary: Clarissa (Chris) Watson 1918-2012

In a glowing review by critic Judith Crist of Clarissa Watson’s first book, The Fourth Stage of Gainsborough Brown, she stated, “The protagonist is my kind of female: a grown up gal with brains, charm, and attractive foibles – a flesh and blood sleuth who’s coincidentally a lady.” Clarissa Watson fit the description perfectly.

Author, art consultant and gallery director, Clarissa Watson of Glen Cove, Sassetot le Mauconduit, France, and formally of Upper Brookville, died on March 17, 2012 in Saint-Cloud, France, just three weeks short of her 94th birthday. She still had crime on her mind and was gathering ideas for the new book she was writing.

Most everyone on the North Shore of Long Island interested in fine paintings and sculpture knew of Chris Watson, as she was familiarly known. She brought art to Long Island in 1953 when she founded The Country Art Gallery and The Country Art School (1953-63) in Westbury, with co-owner Joan Payson, the now deceased former owner of the New York Mets baseball team. She was director, first in Westbury, and then for over 25 years in Locust Valley, where she relocated the gallery in the 1960s to The Plaza, where the developer custom built the “church” to recreate the original Westbury church setting.

Chris organized wide ranging exhibitions that were international in scope. She was the first to exhibit many prominent American and European artists, which she organized through her Art Enterprises International by which she represented over a 100 artists. Exhibited artists ranged from folk to abstract and included: Jamie Wyeth, Ralph and Martha Cahoon, Wayne Davis, Jack Frankfuter, Rhoda Sherbell, George Gach, Henry Koehler, Ray Johnson, etc.

Clarissa’s enchanting, colorful and high-relief personality - and her guest list -always helped to make the gallery openings an exciting community event where one might meet fascinating personalities such as Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, Walter Matthau, Françoise Gilot, French painter, bestselling author of Life With Picasso and mother of Paloma Picasso, or Jonas Salk.

Some of the people she knew socially or who attended her lively after opening dinners give an idea of life during the unique era of the ’50s and ’60s in New York and on Long Island: Dorothy Hearst Paley Hirshon, Tex and Jinx McCrary, Diana Vreeland, CZ and Winston Guest, Jock Whitney, Babe Paley, Bill Paley, Sonny Whitney, Al Vanderbilt, Horst, Molly Phipps, Anita Loos, Madeleine Albright, etc.

As a passionate spokesperson for the arts, Chris played an instrumental role in the founding of the Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn, where she had served on the board of trustees. She was a former art consultant to Adelphi University, Garden City, and had served on the board of trustees of the Hecksher Museum, was a past director of the Matinecock Neighborhood Association, past director Film Festivals, 7 Village Arts Council, and past director producer of the Locust Valley Medieval Christmas Festivals.

Known by many on Long Island as the doyenne of art, she was also a well-known art mystery author, writing novels that have been published in hard cover and paperback both in the U.S. and abroad. Titles include The Fourth Stage of Gainsborough Brown, The Bishop in the Back Seat, Runaway, The Last Plane from Nice and Somebody Killed the Messenger. She wrote numerous articles for newspapers and magazines and had been seen on TV in the U.S. and in France.

She was the cultural deputy for the U.S. of the Association for Economic Expansion and Tourism of the Canton de Valmont in Normandy and was the international chairman for Normandy Remembered, Salon de Normandie, which she organized in Locust Valley where 50 Norman painters honored the 50th anniversary of D-Day. She had held memberships in Mystery Writers of America, The Authors Guild, The National Society of Arts & Letters and the Sewanhaka Corinthian Yacht Club.

She was the wife of the late Edward Louis Watson, mother of the late Alden Wentworth Watson and is survived by her daughter, Robin Watson Picarle (Mrs. Jacques C. Picarle) of Glen Cove, Garches, France and Sassetot le Mauconduit (Normandy), France.

A private service will be held in Ashland, WI. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the charity of one’s choice, or in her name to Saint John’s of Lattingtown, Episcopal Church, Lattingtown Rd., Locust Valley, New York 11560.

The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center of Boston University, Boston, MA, will be the repository of a Clarissa Watson Collection of her manuscripts, papers, and correspondence files. The Twentieth Century Archives collection has become one of the leading centers for contemporary research for scholars in the fields of literature, the arts, and public affairs.