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AUTO HISTORY

Motor Illustrator: John Scott Williams

January 1933 cover. In a row of cars stopped at a light, the headlights of a bronze-colored sedan light the road ahead. Beneath the stoplight, large green and red circles, an abstraction of the stoplight, overlap.

January 1933 cover. In a row of cars stopped at a light, the headlights of a bronze-colored sedan light the road ahead. Beneath the stoplight, large green and red circles, an abstraction of the stoplight, overlap.


John Scott Williams (August 18, 1877 — November 4, 1975) was born in Liverpool and is best known as a muralist and illustrator, though he also worked in stained glass, etching, and water color. In 1885, he came to the United States and started work in Chicago where he retouched photos by day and studied art in evening classes at the Art Institute, counting illustrator Fred Richardson as a significant influence. He married fellow artist Clara Peck in 1906, and the two would go on to collaborate on a number of illustration projects. In 1907, he began illustrating magazines and books. From 1909 to 1915, he lived in an artist's colony in Leonia, New Jersey where fellow artist John Rutherford Boyd also lived. The two would go on to share studio space, and Boyd would be best man at Williams's second marriage.

With four other American illustrators, he exhibited work in 1910's St. Louis City Museum show. In 1915, Williams, already a member of the Salmagundi Club, painted one of forty-nine identically-molded bonbon boxes that were to be sold at auction. His design was said to have a poster-like effect. That may have been a reference to the Japanese print influence in his art that led to his use of flat areas of bold colors and off-centered placement of figures.

During World War I, he created a poster named "For Victory", used to encourage the sale of war bonds and stamps. The image is of Columbia standing in front of an American eagle while troops march beneath a red sky. The idea came to him one night about midnight and he worked through the night to five o'clock A.M. to complete the work of American strength and dynamism.

Williams became an illustrator for the New York Herald Tribune from 1927 to 1934. His magazine illustrations would also appear in the Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, Collier's, The Delineator, The Country Gentleman, and Ladies' Home Journal.

In 1925, at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, he designed twenty-seven tinted glass images of famous European printers' marks (trademarks) from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to decorate the Library Reading Room's eight-by-eighteen foot windows. He did another version of the printers' marks windows in 1930 for the undergraduate reading room at Gilman Hall, Johns Hopkins University.

In 1929, he exhibited water colors at the Art Institute of Chicago, and in the early thirties he would do etchings in the style of social realism. But he also gave significant attention to mural work. In the early thirties, he began designing a major work for the Indiana State Library and Historical Building — four oil-on-canvas murals depicting the building of the state and featuring historical, allegorical, and symbolic figures, along with five brightly-colored, boldly-designed stained glass windows depicting state founders. When his work was done there, he went on to design murals for the Arsenal Technical High School and Fendrick's Pleasant Room Restaurant, both in Indianapolis. Williams was, in fact, so well recognized as a muralist that he was elected President of the National Society of Mural Painters in 1937. In 1938, as part of the Federal Art Project, he painted another mural, "William Penn Welcomed at New Castle", for the post office in Newcastle, Delaware. For New York's 1939 World's Fair, he designed a 28- x 73-foot enamel mural, produced by Ferro Enameling Corp. of Cleveland, depicting riders on horseback and allegorical angels in the conquest of the elemental forces of nature. The panel now hangs in Cleveland's Lakefront train station. And in 1946, again in Indianapolis, he designed a Nativity scene mural for the annual Christmas decoration of the Soldiers and Sailors monument. Following WWII, for the American Battle Monuments Commission, he designed seventeen enamel maps for World War II memorial monuments in overseas cemeteries.

Williams was also an arts educator and proponent of the arts. He held teaching positions at the University of Wyoming (1946-1949) and, as chairman of the department, at Wyoming State University (1948-52), as well as at the Phoenix Art Institute. He also organized the American Artists' Professional League and served as its president from 1955 to 1957. He exhibited widely (fourteen times at the Art Institute of Chicago) and held memberships at the National Academy, Salmagundi Club, National Arts Club (where, in 1940, he was awarded an artists' life membership), Architectural League of New York, Society of Graphic Arts, and American Watercolor Society.

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