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See it his way

  • A new book highlights the art career of Stuart Williams. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • A new book highlights the art career of Stuart Williams. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • A new book highlights the art career of Stuart Williams. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • A new book highlights the art career of Stuart Williams. Here, Stuart’s brother Willard shows some of Stuart’s artwork. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • A new book highlights the art career of Stuart Williams. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 8:36PM

Look around the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough, and your eyes will glance across a handful of colorful paintings, here and there on the walls. Maybe your gaze will settle on one, all flowers and animals, almost child-like in nature. In fact, similar works can be found all around the Monadnock region; the artist, Stuart Williams, was prolific in his time in Peterborough, from the 1960s until he moved away shortly before his death in 2012.

“There are a lot of people around here who have known Stuart, who have collected his work,” said Stuart’s brother, Willard. Willard owns the Toadstool, adorned with his brother’s art, on the walls up above the highest shelves. In the back office, a simpler piece, not on a canvas but rather on plain paper, appears taped to the wall. 

“Frankly, that's the way a lot of it was treated, he would just thumbtack it on the wall,” Willard said. 

Stuart was the seventh child of the Williams clan, and Willard the eighth, so they were tight-knit growing up. As Stuart grew into his art, the Williamses could count on receiving his work in the form of birthday cards, Christmas presents, calendars, and so on. 

Stuart gained a bit of a following locally, and his work made its way into galleries and exhibits. But despite his prolific volume, his style never really evolved – a side effect, most likely, of the rare condition he lived with. 

Stuart had Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic condition that was virtually unknown when he came into the world and still affects only one in about 25,000 people. Its effects include a voracious, insatiable appetite, lack of sex drive, and often, intellectual delays or disability.

“If you took Stuart's mind without the condition of his Prader-Willi, I think he definitely had this great artistic ability to capture different things and feelings,” Willard said, “but the work never really progressed past that same type of style.”

Indeed, many found his work to be “primitive,” Willard said, but there was something about it that drew in an audience. It predominantly features animals, brightly colored, and flowers, equally vivid, in a dizzying kaleidoscope of color that sends one’s eyes on a journey not unlike a Magic Eye picture. There’s no sense of perspective, really, as Stuart chooses to expand his pictorial space by layering images, so that one has to work a bit to make out the figures. Is that an elephant peering out from behind that collection of petals? Is that Noah’s ark way in the back of the parade of animals? 

“Stuart transcended the limits Prader-Willi placed upon him, but neither Stuart’s life nor his art can be divorced from Prader-Willi,” writes William Corbett in his new biography “Stuart Williams: His World and His Art.”

Corbett began working on the book shortly before Stuart’s death in 2012, and it’s now complete; the author will be on hand at the Toadstool on Saturday at 2 p.m. to discuss it. The book will give those who knew Stuart a chance to weigh their recollections against Corbett’s revelations, and give those unfamiliar a look at what an artist with a rare condition can achieve, against mighty odds.

“It's nice for me to see this collection of his works come together,” Willard said.