It’s been a big year for the Spirit of ’76 Museum in 2018, but not nearly as big as the 3-ring binder Scott Willard carries with him.
Scott, Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences at Mississippi State University, has spent the last two years doing something only one person before him has ever done; catalog as many known Archibald Willard paintings as possible, including pictures, locations, sizes, and historical descriptions. The only other person to attempt such a thing? Willard Gordon in his 1976 book “The Spirit of ’76: An American Portrait,” which Scott is using as the basis for his own project.
Thanks to a grant from National Honor Society Phi Kappa Phi called “The Love of Learning”, Scott was given funding for a week-long tour of Northeast Ohio, stopping at several places of significance to the history and preservation of Archibald Willard’s work. One of those days was spent entirely at the Spirit of ’76 Museum, cataloging not only the museum’s collection, but also the works on loan from Dan Zivko’s personal collection as part of the “Yours Truly, A.M. Willard” exhibit.
While at the museum, several people from Wellington and the surrounding communities stopped in to share their own Willard collectables with Scott, from watercolors to old photos and antique business logs detailing Archibald’s old pay. But the most notable finds came from inside the museum itself, including solving the mystery of a rather sour-looking woman’s portrait, to a seascape water color originally thought to be another artist’s work.
So far, Scott has found and cataloged over 500 paintings created by Archibald Willard, and the journey to finding them all has been an adventure of its own. From recruiting the help of a former FBI agent, to visiting a Hollywood producer, Archibald’s paintings have made their way all over the country, and Scott has enjoyed the chase. “It’s the hunt,” he says about what has partially kept him going over the last couple years.
500 paintings is an incredible amount of work for one artist, but Scott is quick to remind people that Archibald painted not only for fun, but also for profit. “This was his job. It was how he made his living.” Based on the work and documentation Scott has done, it’s easy to see that Archibald was not picky about where his work ended up, or how it was finished. Oils, watercolors, and ink on everything from the standard canvas to paper and wood dot the pages of Scott’s notes. Inside an Archibald Willard gallery, the somber and dark “Roman Soldier” could hang next to the delightfully-goofy “Yankee Doodle” and not many would bat an eye.
Scott’s hunt doesn’t end with simply paintings. Before it was canvases, Archibald used his talents with a brush painting carriages and furniture with elaborate and detailed scenes, which adds to Scott’s list of works to document before his self-imposed deadline. Scott hopes to have his book available for the public in October, just in time to honor the 100th anniversary of Archibald Willard’s death. While he would be more than happy to provide physical copies of the finished work to historical societies, museums, and collectors, his goal is to provide a place online where anyone can view the final product in an easy-to-read format.
So what makes Archibald such an appealing guy? “Some of the people have the paintings due to relevance of subject matter more than the artist, to be fair,” Scott admits, but he doesn’t believe that’s the main reason. “Willard is most known for his ‘Spirit’ paintings, and if people look past that, they realize there is so much more to him as an artist.”
If nothing else, the overwhelming proof inside Scott’s 3-ring binder shows just how much of a legacy Archibald Willard left behind.