Willard Clark modestly considered himself a craftsman rather than an artist. For decades, he carved delicate, wooden engravings (his inspirations for the wood cuts he became famous for was a family member who made carved wooden ships in a bottle for the Smithsonian Institution) of Southwestern landscapes, adobe dwellings and señores y señoras, the essence of Santa Fe in the 1920's and 1930's.
Willard Clark was born near Boston, Massachusetts, but grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His summers were spent studying painting and drawing at the Grand Central School of Art and the Hawthorne Art Academy in New York. In 1928 Clark came through Santa Fe on his way to California (where his father was the head of the South American branch of Philips Petroleum) and fell in love with the majestic landscape of the American Southwest.
During that visit Willard realized that Santa Fe had only one print shop, operated by The New Mexican. He decided to stay in Santa Fe and start his own printing business teaching himself the craft of printing, cutting his own woodblocks, setting type and binding small books. Willard Clark developed a graphic style that came to represent early Twentieth-century Santa Fe to many around the world.
His quaint images soon became synonymous with the establishments for which he produced them, such as the menu design for Fred Harvey restaurants and hotels. In 1943 Clark accepted a position as a machinist at the National Laboratory in Los Alamos. Though he planned to return to his print shop after the war, Clark remained with the Lab until his retirement in the 1970's.
In 1988 he began creating a book of Santa Fe memoirs between 1928 and 1943 titled Recuerdos de Santa Fe. His retirement allowed the time to create wood engravings of exceptional detail which reflected the charm that Clark felt had vanished from Santa Fe.
Unlike a woodblock print, which is carved with a wide blade on the plank side of the wood, wood engravings are etched on the end-grain with fine instruments much like those used on copper plates. Clark made wood engravings and woodblock prints, making the most of his tools and grinding his own pigments.
Shortly before his death in 1992, Clark was recognized by the Museum of Fine Arts of New Mexico with a retrospective show.
Williard Clark, who always maintained that he was just a humble craftsman, rarely signed his work and such pieces are especially valuable. Kevin Ryan controls the Clark's Studio estate and has continued to make prints from the original blocks his grandfather left behind. Because of the ephemeral nature of the materials used, only small runs are produced. Having learned from Clark himself and using the old techniques and hands-on care passed on to him, Kevin's restrikes admirably maintain the standards and feel of the originals.
This authorized restrike of "Rural Scene" is Printing V 14/53, 2013.