Creative Brotherhood

Willard and the ‘Creative Brotherhood’
The measure of a man can, to a large extent, be judged by the company he keeps. Stephen Willard was a reclusive man who often stayed in the darkroom while his wife Beatrice regaled visitors to their studio with his artistry.  While he is known mostly for his artistic efforts, he had an avid interest in natural science and associated with many highly revered naturalists as well as other professional artists from his era.

University of Arizona Professor Peter Wild describes Willard as belonging to a select group he calls The Creative Brotherhood.  This elite group was comprised of naturalists, painters, and photographers who often travelled together into the desert and mountain back country of California and assisted each other in their various pursuits.  According to Professor Wild, The Creative Brotherhood included:

  • Charles Francis Saunders a botanist and naturalist who authored many books about California and the Southwest.  He featured Willard’s photographs in an article about Kings Canyon which appeared in a New York Journal in 1915 when Willard was only 21 years of age.
  • J.  Smeaton Chase, an Englishman who was a naturalist and author of a number of books about the unique aspects of the California landscape.  Traveling with Carl Eytel on a long back country trip on horseback, he recounted his observations and exploits in his book California Desert Trails.
  • Jimmy  Swinnerton an early, highly successful cartoonist for the Hearst Newspaper Company who, for health reasons, moved to the Palm Springs area where he continued his cartoonist career and became a successful landscape painter.
  • Carl Eytel a German immigrant and an artist and illustrator who settled in the Palm Springs area where pursued an ascetic lifestyle and lived in a shack.  He traveled the desert with author George Wharton James and contributed over 300 illustrations to Wonders of the Colorado Desert.
  • Edmund C Jaeger a biologist, desert ecologist, and college professor who authored many well known nature books on flora and fauna and was known as the “dean of the California deserts.”
  • George Wharton James an eccentric individual born in England who was a photographer and author who wrote over 40 books on a wide range of subjects, many focusing on the natural history of the desert.
  • Fred Clatworthy a law school graduate who became a highly regarded photographer whose work in the Rockies and throughout the west appeared in many journals such as National Geographic Magazine.

In his youth, Willard also likely met and learned from early pioneers in photography, including George Fiske and Harry Cassie Best, during his forays into Yosemite and the Western Sierras.  Later he was known to have interacted with photographers Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Phillip Hyde.  Willard may have been a shy, unassuming individual, but he was highly regarded  and considered as a peer by many well known colleagues in the arts and natural sciences.