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Virginia A. Clarke; 1948-2014: Designer worked on museum, city projects

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Virginia A. Clarke, a graphic designer and artist who took an elegant and functional approach when tackling projects for corporate and public clients, died Monday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, Perrysburg Township. She was 65.

She had breast cancer, said Mark Packo, her life partner.

Ms. Clarke of Oregon was a founder of Design at Work Inc. and became president. She oversaw a staff of about a dozen and operated from a 19th-century building in Toledo's Warehouse District.

In the 1980s, the firm produced a design and marketing plan for the central business district in Lima, Ohio, a project sponsored by the Council for the Arts of Greater Lima. It designed corporate newsletters and annual reports and advertising for Fortune 500 companies with headquarters in Toledo.

Design at Work came up with signs at Toledo Express Airport and for exhibits at the Toledo Museum of Art. Ms. Clarke designed the brightly colored “Toledo Welcomes You!” signs of the mid-1990s, which depicted several modes of transport against a rising sun. The signs could be found on major thoroughfares in the city.

“She had the reputation of doing design work that was just perfect,” said Mr. Packo, a photographer and filmmaker. “She had this elegant style of typography. It wasn’t flashy, but it was immensely readable. She always put function before form.

“She was good at art and good at problem-solving and thinking,” Mr. Packo said. Her approach to each new project “was to make it better than anyone had done it before,” he said.

Elaine Michalik, a close friend, worked in corporation information at Owens Corning when she met Ms. Clarke, who had been contracted to work on a publication that went to employees.

“She was able to understand what I as a client needed and was able to provide that in an elegant way,” Ms. Michalik said. “She herself ran her own business. She knew what it took to run a successful business and transferred that to a large corporation. It was the same discipline to be successful.”

For several years, Ms. Clarke and Mr. Packo had an enterprise in which they created distinctive jewelry by laminating postage stamps and attaching pins.

Ms. Clarke studied sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1974 under a fellowship. She later learned welding to create large metal art pieces. She also was skilled at origami. She liked to cook and garden. She listened to jazz and Renaissance music.

“She was very approachable, and you would have liked spending time with her,” Mr. Packo said.

She was born on Sept. 5, 1948, in Spring Lake, N.J., to Bernice and John Clarke. The family moved to Toledo in 1950, when her father took a job at Owens-Illinois Inc. He retired as an O-I vice president.

She was a graduate of St. Ursula Academy and received a bachelor of arts degree in 1970 from Marymount College, Tarrytown, N.Y.

Surviving is her life partner, Mark Packo.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday in Gesu Church, where the family will greet friends after 9 a.m. Arrangements are by the Freck Funeral Chapel, Oregon.

The family suggests tributes to the American Cancer Society or the Susan G. Komen foundation.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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