Clarence Carter was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, and began painting at an early age. He studied at the Cleveland School of Art from 1923 to 1927, and as a result of patronage from local arts supporter William Millikin, Carter was able to travel to Europe. While in Italy, Carter felicitously met and was encouraged in his studies by Hans Hoffman.
Back in the United States, Carter taught at the Cleveland Museum of Art from 1929 to 1937. He was also Director of the Federal Art Project for Northeastern Ohio, and taught at the Carnegie Institute. He served as guest instructor at various institutions including the Minneapolis School of Art (1949), Lehigh University (1954), Ohio University (1955), Atlanta Art Institute (1957), Lafayette College (1961), and the University of Iowa (1970).
Carter was a member of the American Water Color Society, and in 1962, served as Vice President.
He used a watercolor technique that involved precise use of form, quick color washes and little retouching. From the beginning of his career, Carter painted in a modernist idiom characterized by a precise, realist line and strong psychological component. His work from the 1930s can be considered part of American Scene painting, and he was much concerned with the complex realities of American rural life.
There is a rich emotional quality to Carter’s work, and he once said “For me no great art has ever existed without some mystery and some awe. That is the vast intangible, which can never be defined but only felt in an elusive way, that stirs the spirit.” (Frank Anderson Trapp, Clarence Holbrook Carter, (New York: Rizzoli Books, 1989, p. 7)