Numerous Studies of Charlotte, Chronicling Garth Williams' Struggle to Find the Perfect FaceGarth Williams. Numerous studies of Charlotte for Charlotte's Web.
Garth Williams. Numerous original preliminary studies for Charlotte the spider in Charlotte's Web, 1952. Twenty sheets, varying in size from 4 x 4 inches to 13.75 x 9.5 inches (with most being 10.875 x 8.5 inches); two sheets in ink, the rest pencil on paper. All but one of the pencil sheets initialed by Williams; the two ink sheets are signed in full by Williams. Many notations throughout, presumably for E. B. White and for himself. Also included are picture references of spiders and their webs. All in generally fine condition.
It seems that Garth Williams' most difficult character to pin down was Charlotte, the spider. E. B. White was adamant that his animals not be anthropomorphized, and Williams rather famously struggled with various faces for her. In a letter to Peter F. Neumeyer, Williams wrote: "White gave me the two enormous tomes on spiders, about 30,000 different kinds all with different faces, all gruesome. I struggled to invent a loveable spider-face. They all have 8 eyes. Mouth like pincers. So I used the wooly spider-type, placing 6 eyes in the hair, leaving two as we are accustomed to finding them. Finally I gave her a Mona Lisa face, as she is, after all, the heroine of the story" (Peter F. Neumeyer, The Annotated Charlotte's Web, p. 199). White was unhappy with Williams' humanized spider faces, and in the end, it was White's own suggestion of a simplified face -- "two dots on the edge of her face looking down and [...] 3 strokes to suggest hair on the top of her head" -- that became the face we know today. A fascinating collection revealing the evolution of one of the most famous characters in children's literature. From the Estate of Garth Williams.
Also included are two picture references for the artist, including an article from Natural History magazine from May, 1952 entitled "Jewels of the Dawn" with several photographs of spider webs. Williams liked one photo in particular, and above the photo, in Williams' hand, he writes: "This I'd like for end papers - web with dew drops. (The whole web.)" The endpapers for Charlotte's Web did, in fact, contain a drawing of a web festooned with dew drops.
It's interesting that Williams was concerned with the endpaper design, as, apparently, White was not. In a letter to editor Ursula Nordstrom he wrote at an early stage, likely before Williams' suggestion: "I agree with you that the endpaper is too bright. But on the other hand, I'm not sure that anybody thinks about endpaper except publishers, and probably not more than 1800 people in the United States have ever heard the word 'endpaper,' and they are all [Adlai] Stevenson people" (Neumeyer, p. xxxiii).
Also included is an article from Nature Magazine entitled "Spiders and Webs" by E. Laurence Palmer, with several illustrations of spiders and their webs.
Reference: Peter F. Neumeyer, The Annotated Charlotte's Web. New York: HarperCollins, 1994.
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