Printwear Exclusive: Reflections on Joe Clarke

Printwear talks to a few of industry pioneer Joe Clarke's colleagues on his impact and lasting legacy. 

In the Fall of 2019, the printing world lost an innovator and widely recognized figurehead, Joe Clarke. Clarke was a frequent contributor to both print and digital articles for Printwear, as well as a constant source of information for all our questions, be it a simple query about how a donut probe works, or an in-depth question about screen-printing inks. It also goes without saying that Clarke was someone that many people far outside our walls consulted with, turned to, and entrusted with a wide variety of business information, industry advice, and general education. With The M&R Companies marking Clarke’s legacy through a dedication of their training facility on January 21 in Roselle, Illinois, we thought it fitting to reach out to a few people who worked with and knew Clarke throughout the years, and how he impacted their lives.

We’d also like to send an extra-special thanks to Colleen Lynch, current head of marketing at Clarke Product Renovation and Clarke’s wife, as well as Lon Winters, head of GraphicElephants.com for helping us connect with Clarke’s peers, as well as providing their reflections.

“If there were one word that could sum up Joe, it would be ‘kind,'” says Lynch. “It permeated every cell of his being. While he was an innovator, inventor, and passionate champion of the screen-print industry, it was just the vehicle that brought him in contact with the many people’s lives he touched.”

Lynch contends that Clarke was “relentless” in helping his peers and maintained a sense of gratitude and optimism, even in trying moments like his health struggles later in life. “He created a gratitude list that was so long it took him five minutes to read it,” she explains. “If the topic came up, he’d be happy to share it with you. He felt it was the missing component to achieving contentment. In way of an explanation; if you have gratitude you are generally grateful for something that has already happened; the past. If you are optimistic, it is generally about the future, which leaves you content in the present. I’m biased, but I think it’s ingenious. What a simple way to describe something so elusive.”

Here are a few anecdotes that a handful of Clarke’s peers shared with us which echo some of Colleen’s sentiments:

Greg Kitson, president of Mind’s Eye Graphics
Kitson says Clarke visited Mind’s Eye often since it was halfway between his home and customers in Ohio. Clarke would stop by for discussions with Kitson on a range of topics.

“I remember one visit early in the Smiling Jack blade days where we talked about everything but blades for about six hours because, as JC would constantly remind me if he could make Kitson understand, he could explain it to anybody,” Kitson explains. “I considered this to be a high compliment from an expert who became a friend.”

“Inverse tensioning, blade speed, ink rheology, blade speed, off contact, blade speed, what is a flood bar supposed to do, blade speed, do I need a flood bar at all, were all not merely topics for discussion but designed to make me question everything I/we did to transfer ink to a rag also known as a T-shirt,” he continues.

“The question I loved the most was when I commented, not complained, that Synergy whites had a tendency to climb the (squeegee) blade and flood bar,” says Kitson.  “He would respond with that deadpan look we all know and ask me, ‘do I want an ink that floods, or one that prints?'”  “Then, as I fumbled for a response, that little twinkle would shine in his eyes, and we would go on to the next subject I ‘needed’ to discuss,” he notes. “During the last few years, our discussions were more about family and friends than inks and blades, and I genuinely miss the opportunity to have those discussions. Rest in Peace, my friend.”

Dave Filip, production manager of Bimm Ridder Sportswear
Filip says Clarke helped the staff at Bimm Ridder tackle a variety of complicated projects by lending his extensive knowledge. His conversations with Clarke spanned the gamut from screen-printing techniques to broader topics on God, aliens, and a variety of other things. “The conversations were all over the place,” Filip says. Outside of the technical guidance, Filip points to a more recent artifact he came across at his office. “I have the scribbled note from a late-night conversation when we were just talking about life,” Filip says. “He gave me simply three words and two symbols. They were ‘OPTIMISM+GRATITUDE=CONTENTMENT.’  These original scribbles stay on my desk every day, so hopefully, I will be inspired to follow them.”

Glenn Shull, inkjet equipment product manager at Nazdar SourceOne
“Joe was my technical mentor in the ’80s and early ’90s,” says Shull. “He taught me color theory on eight cocktail napkins (Joe loved making notes on cocktail napkins) (and) we had great discussions on what the future held. Shull says the duo discussed a wide set of topics like wet-on-wet, four-color process, and increasing squeegee speeds.

“Joe was a great conceptual thinker, our conversations left me with the feeling screen printing would always be changing,” says Shull. “Joe always tried to drive that change. He is sorely missed.”

Andy Anderson, owner of Anderson Studio, Inc.
“I first met Joe in 1986 when I was asked to give a testimonial on Joe’s book ‘Control Without Confusion,'” says Anderson. “As the years went by, Joe and I would talk from time to time. The conversations usually started as a printing question from me or comment to him about a recent article. The serious nature of the conversation didn’t last long as Joe had a great sense of humor, and I always enjoyed getting a laugh from him at my expense.”

Anderson says the two conferred over articles through the years where he’d help break the technical language down into layman’s terms. “All of this was totally unnecessary because Joes work was always perfect, but it was a great opportunity for me to stay connected and a great excuse to just talk to Joe,” says Anderson.  “He helped a lot of us printers and became a mentor to many, but his best contribution was his personality and genuineness. He was a friend to all. The real deal. A great man. He is missed by many and loved by all who knew him.”

Laura Maybaum, market segment manager at Nazdar
“Joe and I were not close friends, but in every conversation and every presentation I heard of his, I felt like we were,” states Maybaum. “He had a way of connecting with others in-the-moment like the world had closed into a pinhead and at the same time had the magic of insight swirling around.”

Maybaum says whether it was discussing squeegee blades, metaphysics, or family life “the connection he made with me and whoever was in the audience was amazing. I was so terribly shaken that Joe is no longer with this world, and I was only fleeting in his life. For all those who were closer, I cannot imagine the loss.”

Neil Bolding, technical manager – Autotype, Automotive & Industrial Film Systems at MacDermidEnthone Industrial Solutions
Bolding says Clarke’s humility and humbleness are what set him apart from the crowd. “He had time for everyone, and you knew he genuinely cared about the conversation with you,” he adds. Bolding notes that years after their first introduction, Clarke was still exploring topics he’d been researching, always seeking outside perspectives from others. “The emails I have from him are extensive, especially covering ink transfer with shear stress, shear rate, and maximum shear rate! What could I add that he hadn’t thought about? He still wanted to know. The people who knew him, and he called friends knew Joe was a deeply caring man.”

Rick Davis, screen process manager, Scalable Press
Davis contends that Clarke is “the primary reason” for where he is in the industry today.

“I met Joe in 1987 at a Midwest Screen Printing Association meeting in Cincinnati when I was running a shop with six automatic presses in Dayton, Ohio,” says Davis. “He hired me into Flexible Products in 1988 and quickly became my best friend as well as my boss. Joe inspired me to start writing for the industry publications and coached me through my fear of public speaking. I became a regular speaker on a number of different technical topics relating to screen printing throughout the trade show circuit.”

Further on into their friendship, Clarke served as the best man in Davis’ wedding. He says the two traded many technical diagrams and business plans over the years, and that Clarke’s dedication to share knowledge and educate was tireless.

“Absolutely no one I have ever met made me laugh like Joe did,” adds Davis.  “I can not express what a loss is to our industry, and I will miss him more than anybody knows.”

Alan Howe, technical sales at SAATI USA
Howe says his friendship with Clarke spanned more than three decades wherein there was plenty of laughter and spirited debates. “I gave him and many others plenty of opportunities to toss me to the curb, but Joe was always friendly,” says Howe.

“We would have our say and then move on. He encouraged me so much as I started speaking and writing, and after being voted into the academy, his phone call was priceless. While I was honored to have my name even mentioned a group with him, he made me feel like he was the one who was honored.”

Bruce Ridge, director of technical service at Nazdar Companies
“My first introduction to Joe Clarke was through reading his book, Control Without Confusion,” states Ridge. “This was a straightforward guide to printing process color for a screen printer when the very complicated technical guide books were the primary source of information on the topic. Joe’s book gave me hope I too could print process color.”

“Many years later, I met Joe and went on to work with him in many different capacities, and we talked often,” adds Ridge. “I have not met or worked with anyone in the printing industry that always greeted me with a smile and encouraging words the way Joe did. He was a force of positive energy. That is how I will always think of Joe Clarke.”

Jason Vanick, Princredible
“The world lost not only a great printer and technician but more importantly, we lost an amazing person who touched many lives and enabled people to grow on a personal and professional level,” says Vanick. Working closely with Clarke in recent years, Vanick says some of these quotes from Clarke stuck with him:

“You want your ink to be like cold cream.” 

 “It’s not going to take 10 minutes, but it will take longer than 2 minutes.”

“Improving latitude = better predictability, consistency, and throughput.”

“Maybe cheaper, but not as robust.”

And last but not least, we’d like to share Danny Sweem, CEO of The M&R Companies’ thoughts regarding the upcoming dedication of the training facility at the M&R headquarters in Roselle, Illinois:

“We can’t think of a more fitting memorial to recognize Joe’s contributions as a pioneer and technology leader to the garment decorating industry, than to rename our 10,000 square foot, state of the art facility, as the Joe Clarke Printing Technology and Training Center,”  says Sweem.

joe clarke memorial
Image courtesy The M&R Companies

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Mike Clark

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