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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: April 24, 2018

Brunswick library shows 100 works by ‘Charlotte’s Web’ illustrator

Written by: Ray Routhier

Most of us, even if we don’t know it, have probably been captivated at some point by the work of illustrator Garth Williams.

His evocative images can be found in the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books published in the 1950s, as well as on the pages of children’s classics like “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little” by longtime seasonal Maine resident E.B. White. Williams also created the adventurous mutt for “The Sailor Dog” by another part-time Mainer, Margaret Wise Brown. During a career that spanned nearly 50 years, he illustrated more than 80 books.

Seeing Williams’ work usually means going out and getting the individual books he illustrated. But now, seeing work he created for more than two dozen books is as easy as visiting the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, thanks to an exhibit called “Garth Williams: Illustrator of the Century.” The exhibit, largely consisting of pieces gathered by the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature in Abilene, Texas, runs Tuesday through July 31.

The free exhibit includes more than 100 color illustrations, sketches and pen-and-ink drawings that show Williams’ work in various stages. Works will be on display in the lobby as well as throughout the entire second floor. Sketches and illustrations will hang on walls while books and other artifacts will be in glass cases. There are notes and writing in the exhibit too, including bits of a discussion between Williams and White over whether Charlotte should have a human face or look more like a spider.

Williams died in 1996 and created his best-known works in the 1940s and ’50s. The exhibit is being brought to Maine by illustrators Scott Nash and Nancy Gibson-Nash, who run the Portland-based Illustration Institute. Their organization sponsors shows of illustrators’ works and puts on workshops and other events. They were able to secure about a dozen other works for the exhibit, including pieces owned by collector and well-known children’s author Mo Willems.

“I think he’s one of the greatest illustrators of our time,” said Nash. “Illustration is collaborative art form, where the illustrator and writer are not serving their own egos but the narrative. In that way, ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is considered by many to be a nearly perfect book.”

This is the first show the Illustration Institute has organized in a place other than the Portland Public Library, and Nash hopes to continue expanding. Past exhibits put on by the institute have featured Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, pulp illustrators of the 1920s and contemporary artists.

Williams had no specific Maine connection, besides working with some prominent authors who wrote here: White on his farm in Brooklin and Brown on Vinalhaven. Williams was born in New York City and lived the latter part of his life in Mexico. As a young illustrator during World War II, he made posters for the war effort. He also did some cartoons that appeared in the New Yorker and got his first book work with White’s “Stuart Little” in 1945. He quickly gained a reputation for illustrations that made stories come alive. He did a dozen collaborations in the late 1940s with author Dorothy Kunhardt, best known for “Pat The Bunny.” In the ’40s and ’50s, he worked on several books with Brown, best known for “Goodnight Moon.” In 1953, Wilder’s first eight “Little House” books were re-issued with illustrations by Williams.

“He read manuscripts very carefully, and he’d change styles to suit the narrative of the book,” said Nash. “What’s impressive about his best work is that it’s hard to separate his illustrations from the book itself.”

In the show, there are original drawings from “Charlotte’s Web,” the “Little House” books, “The Little Fur Family,” “The Sailor Dog” and “The Cricket In Times Square,” among others. Partial funding for the exhibit comes from a grant from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation.

Maine author and illustrator Melissa Sweet, author of “Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White” will give a free talk in conjunction to the exhibit at library on May 24 at 6 p.m. She’ll be joined by Martha White, granddaughter of E.B. White.

GARTH WILLIAMS: ILLUSTRATOR OF THE CENTURY

WHEN: May 1 through July 31
WHERE: Curtis Memorial Library, 23 Pleasant St., Brunswick
HOW MUCH: Free
INFO: curtislibrary.com

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