Willard F. Clark modestly considered himself a craftsman rather than an artist. For decades, he carved delicate, wooden engravings of Southwestern landscapes, adobe dwellings and señores y señoras, the essence of Santa Fe in the 1920’s and 1930’s.
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.
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. 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. Clark studied art at the Grand Central Gallery in New York to become a painter and commercial illustrator. 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. While visiting Santa Fe, he realized that Santa Fe had only one print shop, operated by the New Mexican. 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. and he decided to stay in Santa Fe and start his own printing business.
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. 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. 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 1942 he closed his shop and went to work for Los Alamos National Laboratory as a master tool and die machinist. Though he planned to return to his print shop after the war, Clark remained with the Lab until his retirement in the 1970’s.
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. In 1988 he began creating a book of Santa Fe memoirs between 1928 and 1943 titled Recuerdos de Santa Fe (Remebering Santa Fe), a book of 48 original etchings along with stories about his life in Santa Fe during those years. His retirement allowed the time to create wood engravings of exceptional detail which reflected the charm that Clark felt had vanished from Santa Fe. He was given his first exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe shortly before he died in 1992 at age 83.
Kevin Ryan is the grandson of Willard F. Clark; after suffering a stroke in June of 1992, Willard was unable to finish the project for Recuerdos de Santa Fe, 1928-1943, and asked Kevin if he would complete the printing of the books, learn to print his woodcuts, as well as learning to do some of his own woodcuts. For the next six months, until his death on December 12th, 1992, Kevin worked and studied with Willard every day. All of the prints available from Garcia Street Books are restrikes by Kevin Ryan of the original Willard Clark woodblock prints; each print comes matted and framed by Kevin Ryan.