Willard Clark was born near Boston, Massachusetts in 1910, but grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina where his father was President of the General Motors Argentina Branch. His summers were spent studying painting and drawing at the Grand Central School of Art and the Hawthorne Art Academy. His inspiration for the wood cuts he became famous for was an uncle who made carved wooden ships in a bottle for the Smithsonian Institution.
Willard had worked a little as a graphic artist, but his interest was in becoming a portrait painter. It was with that pursuit in mind that he headed to California. On the way, he stopped in Santa Fe to visit friends. He was very taken with the beautiful landscape and felt at home in the mostly Spanish-speaking population. He decided to stay and bought a press to begin a printing business. He then taught himself the art of woodcutting and engraving.
In 1930 he married Bertha Berchtold and built a small adobe house where he had his print shop downstairs. He would do the printing and create his own illustrations – wood cuts which he would create in the evenings and print during the day. A modest man, Clark characterized himself as “just a craftsman.” His training as a painter helped him learn how to render very intricate objects as wood-engraved illustrations. Little evidence remains about the daily business activities of the print shop, and he refused to grant any interviews. In 1942 he closed his shop and went to work for Los Alamos National Laboratory as a master tool and die machinist for the next thirty years.
When he retired in 1979, Clark bought a small press and went to work on a body of work that is now sought by many collectors for its precision of technique and artistry. He created complex woodblock prints in a style that represented early twentieth-century Santa Fe to many people around the world. He produced “Remembering Santa Fe”, a book of 48 original etchings along with stories about his life in Santa Fe during 1928-1943. He was given his first exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe shortly before he died in 1992 at age 83.
1. Museum of New Mexico’s Museum of Fine Art
2. Dr. David Farmer, Director of DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University
3. “Remembering Santa Fe” Introduction by Kevin Ryan