William Edward Bloomfield Starkweather (1879-1969)
Falotico with a William Starkweather
collection at the Hickory Museum of Art
in Hickory, North Carolina.
The period from approximately 1895 through 1915 was considered by rare book scholars to be the Golden Age of Book Illustration in America. Book publishers thrived on the popularity of mass-produced books, and publishing houses opened throughout the United States. Book illustrators found employment, and artists moonlighted to make ends meet. One such artist was William Edward Bloomfield Starkweather.
William Starkweather was born in Belfast, Ireland, as William Bloomfield. After his father, Edward, passed away, William’s mother brought him to America. They settled in Connecticut. Soon after the move, young William’s mother died, and he was adopted by the Starkweather family of Winchester, Connecticut.
After high school, William moved to New York City to study painting at the Art Students League. It is unclear if Starkweather met his painting teacher, John Henry Twachtman, in Connecticut before or during his time at the Art Students League.
While he was learning to paint, Starkweather saved enough money to go to France to study at the Academie Colarossi. He attended the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900 and was overwhelmed by the Best in Show painting of Joaquin Sorolla, The Sad Inheritance.
The painting inspired Starkweather to return to America and begin saving money to study with Sorolla in Spain. It is during this time that Starkweather accepted the role of book illustrator to earn money for his travels. He worked for four different publishing houses in New York.
The majority of Starkweather’s book designs, about 70, were for R.F. Fenno & Company. He also designed a few books for F.M. Buckles & Company, Grosset & Dunlap, and Macmillian and Company, totaling about 15 books.
It is not known now, and may never be known, the exact number of books he designed or illustrated during this time. Book cover designers were rarely credited for their work.
Starkweather had a long career as a painter and a relatively short career as a book illustrator. Major museums display his paintings, and he is identified as a regional American Impressionist.
Learn more about William Starkweather’s life and work.
Adapted from the introduction of the “Hidden Treasures” exhibition catalog, originally researched and written by Peter Falotico. © 2013 Hickory Museum of Art.