WILLARD, ARCHIBALD MACNEAL (22 Aug. 1836-11 Oct. 1918), artist best remembered for his SPIRIT OF '76, was born in BEDFORD, Ohio to Rev. Samuel R. and Catherine Willard. In 1855, he settled in Wellington, Ohio and taught himself to draw. In the early 1860s he apprenticed himself a local decorative artist and wagonmaker, where he painted vignettes on wagons and carriages. He also painted portraits. In 1863, Willard enlisted in the 86th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, serving until Feb. 1864, when he married Nellie S. Challacombe (d. ca. 1912) and contacted Cleveland art dealer JAS. F. RYDER, who photographed and printed several of Willard's Civil War sketches.
After serving briefly again in the Army in 1865, Willard returned to Wellington. He sent a comical painting he did of 3 of his children and the family dog, entitled Pluck, to Ryder in Cleveland, who displayed it and a similar work, Pluck II, in his display window. The paintings were so popular that Ryder made 10,000 chromolithograph pairs, selling them for $10 a set. In 1873, Willard went to New York for a few weeks of formal painting training with J. O. Eaton. Willard moved to Cleveland and in 1875 began painting a 4th of July subject to be made into chromolithographs and sold at the centennial celebration in Philadelphia the following year, producing the Spirit of '76. Willard was prominent in the Cleveland artists' colony, was a founding member and principal director of the ART CLUB, and instructed students in portraiture, landscape, oil painting, and life drawing classes. Willard had 4 children: Byron, Charles, Maude, and Harry. He died in Cleveland and was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery of Wellington, Ohio.
Gordon, Willard F. America's Best Known Painting, Least Known Artist: Archibald Willard and the Story of "The Spirit of '76" (1975).