AOIF launches campaign to acquire iconic Charlotte’s Web cover art

“Some Terrific Pig.” Charlotte’s Web has captured hearts, young and old, for nearly three quarters of a century.  E.B. White’s classic tale of the unlikely friendship between a young pig named Wilbur and a barnyard spider named Charlotte has sold over 45 million copies and been translated into 23 languages.  It remains the best selling children’s book in the United States. 

And now the original artwork for the book’s iconic cover design could be coming to make its permanent home at the California charity, The Arts of Imagination Foundation, which has recently launched a capital campaign to acquire and preserve it. 

Founded in 2021, The Arts of Imagination Foundation utilizes story-inspired artwork to inspire an in-depth community conversation about why stories matter, how they can unlock our imaginations over multi-generations, and what they can teach us about ourselves, each other, and the world around us in the process. Their work is committed to increasing access to art and to arts education. Their partnership programs extend from the collegiate, like the University of North Carolina, to early education, like the Child Development Institute, which serves underserved families throughout Los Angeles. 

“Whatever our age or our background, our relationships with art and timeless stories provide a universal backdrop for communication and allow us to understand each other in a more meaningful way,” says The Arts of Imagination Foundation Executive Director, Brady Schwind. “I call it the ripple effect – artwork, and the story it represents, have an enduring influence on all those they touch. Quite simply, they can help us tackle difficult subjects in today’s world. They can connect us to our best selves, and help us live our best lives.”

Garth Williams’ illustrations for Charlotte’s Web haven’t changed since the book was first published in 1952. He also illustrated E.B White’s Stuart Little, the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, as well as many other children’s classics.

Schwind adds, “In looking to obtain the cover of Charlotte’s Web, not only are we viewing it as a historically important piece of artwork, which we feel must be saved and preserved in a way that ensures it is accessible to all, we see it as the perfect showpiece to represent the spirit of American storytelling.  The huge popularity of Charlotte’s Web bridges a global community of different cultures, ages, and backgrounds united by common ideals: the importance of family, friendship, and kindness, and our shared emotional experiences navigating the inevitable seasons of life.”

The original artwork for the cover of Charlotte’s Web, surprisingly, comprises two pieces. The first is the pen and ink illustration drawn by Garth Williams, which depicts the cherished image we all know by heart. The second piece is an original color guide Williams created for the publisher, as color on the final cover was only added during the printing process.  The artwork combination, currently being offered for sale by a private party in New York, carries with it a six figure price tag, but not one out of line with the value of prestige artwork with such an instantly recognizable cache.

If The Arts of Imagination Foundation is able to successfully secure funding for the artwork, they will use the the cover of Charlotte’s Web as a centerpiece of the foundation’s ongoing story-influenced exhibits and programming. “This is a classic tale we know unites generations past and present. We want this story, and the artwork that personifies, it to also spark generations to come.”

Schwind finds his personal inspiration in the cover’s most subtle of details:

“When you look at Garth Williams’ cover design – you notice all eyes are on Charlotte – the smallest, the most insignificant.  But it’s she –  the smallest character who gets the title, the focus, and who changes the world with her actions. It’s a reminder for all of us to never underestimate the power of doing small things with great love.”

To find out more about sponsorship and donation opportunities to the Charlotte’s Web acquisition campaign email info@artsofimagiantion.org

Picture this…

A child whose only contact with books and reading has fallen in love with the novel her teacher has been reading aloud to her 3rd grade class over several weeks. She dreams about Wilbur, asks for a pig for Christmas, urges her mother not to squish any spiders in the house. She checks the book out of the school library and takes care of it as if it were her own prized possession, using a bookmark and refusing to dog-ear the pages.

Friday rolls around, and the teacher announces that there will be a special activity on Monday for all those who are interested. He doesn’t reveal any details except that the activity has to do with Charlotte’s Web. The child prints her name on the list of interested students with extra care, and spends the weekend dreaming of what’s to come.

On Monday, she puts on her favorite shirt, pink with a white collar, and pulls her hair back in a pony tail. She gets to school early and sits in the front row. The special guest comes in, a portfolio tucked under one arm, and introduces himself. He understands they’ve been reading Charlotte’s Web, is that right? Yes!, the children call out. Who can describe the cover for me?, he asks. Many hands shoot up in the air, but it’s she who is chosen. She knows it by heart.

There is just one human on the cover, Fern, and she is surrounded by barnyard animals. In her arms is Wilbur the pig, and on either side are a sheep and a goose. But all of these figures are firmly focused on the most important character of all: Charlotte. She is not the biggest, she is not the loudest, but she is the most powerful of all, and all eyes are on her now. Above is the title, which is draped with a web spun by Charlotte, and she hangs down on a silk thread from the letter C.

Now, she recites all the words on the cover from memory: “Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, author of Stuart Little. Pictures by Garth Williams.”