Garth Williams (1912-1996) may possibly be one of the best known illustrators of the last 100 years. Though his name might not illicit the same response as, say, Maurice Sendak, his drawings are instantly recognizable and true classics of illustration.
Williams was born to artist parents and grew up living on farms. He and his parents moved to the United Kingdom and he briefly studied architecture before deciding to become an artist.
After moving back to New York during the early years of the second world war, Williams began to shop his portfolio to publishing houses, one of which was Harpers, which was looking to publish E.B. White’s Stuart Little. In what is probably serendipity by definition, E.B. White had turned down other illustrators after initially wanting Robert Lawson to illustrate and finally decided on Williams.
Stuart Little, Williams first commission was wildly successful and lead to other commissions for books that have become not only classics of 20th century childrens literature, but firmly cemented in our childhood memories. Maybe I’m biased, but this is due largely to Williams imaginative imagery and fluid realistic lines.
Books that Williams illustrated include Margaret Wise Brown’s Little Fur Family; and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie reissue series that began in 1953 (and might possibly be its most well-known issue).
Williams is perhaps best known (by me and by many other people) as the illustrator for E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. His drawings in Charlotte are so vivid, humorous and captivating that whenever I see them I am instantly transported to an earlier year, feeling an emotional pull towards a time when I first began to read and pictures with words made the stories much richer in my imagination.
Just this past week, William’s drawings for Charlotte’s Web were auctioned off by Heritage Auctions. For a fleeting moment, I thought I might actually have a chance to purchase a piece of my childhood, and actually bid on a couple. It’s a testament to everything about Williams I’ve just written here that bidding on all of the drawings went far above anything I could have afforded, with the iconic cover drawing selling for over $150,000.