January 16 - March 2, 2001
The story of Willard Clark's life and his achievements is an intriguing one. Trained in art schools in Argentina, New York, and Provincetown, he became an accomplished commercial printer in the 1930s and soon created a typographic style that, along with his own woodcut illustrations, became closely identified with Santa Fe. After closing his printing shop in 1942, Clark spent over thirty years as a master tool and die machinist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, during which time he did little artistic wood engraving. Instead, he made sophisticated steel parts used in nuclear research. Upon retirement from LANL in 1979, he unpacked his engraving tools, bought a small proof press, and produced a body of prints that are now keenly sought by collectors for their artistry and precision of technique.
In 1988, my wife and I met Willard Clark in the home he had built more than half a century earlier on Sosaya Lane. He was comfortable showing his prints to us, but he was reticent to talk about his artistic achievements even though he was producing fine work in a highly demanding medium. Called an artist my many, he said he was simply a craftsman. Living the majority of his life in modest anonymity, Willard Clark left scant evidence of how he conducted his printing business. Not only was there little traditional documentation useful to a biographer, Clark refused to grant any recorded interviews. He left a few albums of his commercial printing work, some scattered notes, and job tickets for no more than six months in the middle of a business that ran for thirteen years. In addition, we have recollections of a coworker from the 1930s, David Allen, and Clark's grandson, Kevin Ryan, to whom he taught the techniques of wood engraving and fine printing.
From these few sources, and from his prints, we know that Willard Clark understood how machines worked, loved the combination and interaction of type and illustration, and taught himself how to print with great skill. He applied his knowledge of figure/ground relationships in woodcuts and wood engravings to create accomplished prints. His early training as a painter helped him to develop a sense of compositional balance, and he learned how to render even the most complex objects as wood-engraved illustrations, almost as if he had challenged himself to turn back the clock to a time before photomechanical illustrations. Beyond all of this, near the end of his life, Willard Clark produced prints from wood blocks that can be compared with some of the best American color prints of his time. He died in 1992 at the age of 83, shortly after the Museum of New Mexico's Museum of Fine Arts gave him his first exhibition.
-Dr. David Farmer, Director of DeGolyer Library