Garth Montgomery Williams

16 Apr 1912
8 May 1996
Offer Flowers
Light a Candle
Pray for the soul
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Garth Montgomery Williams (April 16, 1912 – May 8, 1996) was an American artist who came to noticeable quality in the American Post-war era as an artist of kids’ books. A large number of the books he outlined have become classics.

In Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and in the Little House series of books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Williams drawings have become inseparable from how we think of those stories. In that respect… Williams[‘s] work belongs in the same class as Sir John Tenniel’s drawings for Alice in Wonderland, or Ernest Shepard’s illustrations for Winnie the Pooh.

His friendly, fuzzy baby animals populated a dozen Little Golden Books.

Mel Gussow in The New York Times wrote, “He believed that books ‘given, or read, to children can have a profound influence!’ For that reason, he said, he used his illustrations to try to ‘awaken something of importance… humor, responsibility, respect for others, interest in the world at large!'”

In the United States, Williams worked making lenses at a war plant, applied for work as a camouflage artist, contributed war-effort posters to the British-American Art Center in New York, and brought his portfolio around to the major publishing houses. He drew for The New Yorker for a mutually unfulfilling period of time. Then, in 1945, he received his first commission as an illustrator, from editor Ursula Nordstrom of Harper’s Department of Books for Boys and Girls. The story is that Nordstrom “told him she was expecting a manuscript that he might illustrate. In a fortuitous coincidence, when the manuscript arrived the author had pinned a note to it: ‘Try Garth Williams’. The author was E. B. White; the book was Stuart Little.”

In 1951 he illustrated Charlotte’s Web (1952); his eldest child Fiona, who was a toddler when the family escaped the Blitz, was his model for Fern Arable.

At 84 Williams died at his home in Marfil; he was buried in Aspen, Colorado. He had been married four different times throughout his life, and had five daughters: Fiona and Bettina from his first marriage; Jessica and Estyn from his second; Dilys from his fourth; and a son, Dylan, from his third marriage.

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