Illustrating the “Little House” Books

As I mentioned in the last blog post when Garth Williams was first approached to re-illustrate the Little House books, he was not too sure about the idea. If you are just now tuning in for the first time look back to the last blog post to learn about Garth Williams, the man behind the famous Little House drawings, and his life prior to illustrating a children’s classic. The reason Williams was not sure about illustrating the Little House books is because he was accustomed to drawing animals, which he was very talented at drawing. He was not certain about taking on the task of depicting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real life.

Little House Books:

At first Williams did not want to accept the offer, but after the editorial persistence he decided to go for it (William Anderson LORE 16,1). In order to properly illustrate Laura’s books, he set out on a tour across Laura’s territory. His first stop was Laura’s house in Mansfield Missouri. The journey started in 1947 when both Laura and Almanzo were still alive. At the Wilder’s farm, Rocky Ridge, he had a chance to sit down with both of them and hear some of the stories firsthand. Williams described her as “’very cheerful, sprightly, very much alive at eighty’” (qtd in Anderson 19,2). He also said that Laura was very helpful but not concerned about how he illustrated the books. From there Williams set out on a track to follow the Ingalls footsteps in order to personally see the places Laura wrote about in her books. On his trip Williams stated that “’illustrating books is not just making pictures of the houses, the people and the articles mentioned by the artist… the artist has to see everything with the same eyes’” (qtd. in Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life 69-70). After visiting all of the places in Laura’s books he then went to Italy to finish his big project. The project took him about six years to complete and then the re-illustrated series was then released in 1953, just four years before Laura’s death in February of 1957. The re-illustrated Little House books pushed the series into vast popularity and helped turn the books into the children’s classic that they are today.

Later Life:

In the 1960s Williams decided to move to Guanajuato, Mexico, where he purchased a 400-year castle. The castle was a good find and needed so work which Williams put in. He ended up transforming the place into a “huge, fortresslike residence and studio” (Anderson LORE 19,2). His property also included some unique features including fountains, a waterfall, and living and dining room that seated up to 150, along with cathedral arches. In 1974, he married Leticia, and she became his business manager. Williams spoke very highly of Leticia as his manager and enjoyed being able to spend more time on his artwork. The family, however, did not spend all their time in Mexico. They ended up splitting their time between Guanajuato, Mexico and San Antonio, Texas. Unfortunately, on May 8, 1996 Garth Williams passed away in Guanajuato, Mexico.

In his lifetime, Williams illustrated just under one hundred books and is remembered most for his illustrations in Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and the Little House book series.

If you are interested in learning more about Garth Williams’ life check out Garth Williams American Illustrator: A Life. We also have a series of Christmas ornaments with Garth Williams’ illustrations on them. We currently have ones for By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, The First Four Years, and our latest release, Little House in the Big Woods.


One comment on “Illustrating the “Little House” Books

  1. Leanne Bunn says:

    I donated over 20 of Garth Williams sketches to the museum in DeSmet. I hope that the many fans of Laura and her family enjoy them. Leanne Bunn

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