The Man Behind the Famous Illustrations

Most people know Garth Williams by his famous illustrations for the Little House books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, but few know more about his life. Williams led an exciting life, traveling many places and living in multiple states and countries. He was also married four times and had five daughters and one son.

Early Life:

Garth Montgomery Williams was born in New York City, New York on April 16th, 1912. His parents were both artists so growing up he did not know anything different from drawing and painting. By the age of ten Williams had already lived in three places: The New Jersey countryside, Canada, and France. His experiences and memories from these different places factored into Williams illustrating career later in his life. When his parents were divorced, he ended up moving to London with his mother. His drawing skills were able to get him a job as an architect’s assistant. Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit as Williams was about to enter architecture school, making architecture a practical profession to enter. This was a pivotal point in his life, because if he did go into architecture then no one knows who would have illustrated some of the most beloved children’s books.

World War II:

Before World War II Williams traveled throughout Europe with his wife; however, once he realized the danger of the war he returned to London. It was there that he worked with the Red Cross and had some near-death experiences. Some of the experiences were “collecting the dead and injured from the city streets and surviving a bomb blast which vaporized a friend walking next to him” (William Anderson LORE 19,2). Garth Williams himself said he then realized that he only had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving. With that realization, Williams realized his family needed to be in a safer place so he sent his wife and child to Canada. He then sailed to America to help with the war effort from there and ended up in New York City.

Early Illustrations:

Williams first book he illustrated is a familiar book to many children and that is Stuart Little, by E. B. White. He had just dropped his portfolio off at Harper and Brothers at the same time that E. B. White suggested for them to try Garth Williams to illustrate his book. Stuart Little was instrumental in his illustrating career as it defined him as a children’s illustrator and displayed his special talent for drawing animals. He also illustrated another well-known book by E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web. When Williams was approached to re-illustrate the Little House books he was not sure of the style as he was accustomed to drawing animals and Laura’s books were based on her real life.

Stay tuned to the next blog post to read about Garth Williams’ experience illustrating the Little House books along with his life after the Little House books.

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