William Steig papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
William Steig (1907-2003) was an American cartoonist, illustrator, and writer of children's books. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in the Bronx. His father, Joseph Steig, was a house painter, and his mother, Laura Ebel Steig was a seamstress; both Polish-Jewish immigrants from Austria and Socialists. His brother Irwin was a journalist and a painter, his brother Henry was a writer who painted and played the saxophone, and his brother Arthur was a writer and poet. Steig graduated from Townsend Harris High School at 15, but never completed college, sporadically attending City College of New York, the National Academy of Design, and the Yale School of Art. In 1930, Steig began a long and fruitful relationship with The New Yorker, for which he produced more than 2,600 drawings and 117 covers. When he was sixty-one, Steig began writing children's books. His third book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969) won the Caldecott Medal, and he continued writing into his nineties, producing more than thirty books, including Dominic (1972), Doctor De Soto (1982), and Shrek! (1990), the basis for the DreamWorks animated film of the same name.
Steig married four times and had three children. From 1936 to 1949, Steig was married to the educator and artist Elizabeth Mead Steig, with whom he had a son, Jeremy Steig, and a daughter Lucinda, before divorcing. He married Karl Homestead in 1950, with whom he had a daughter, Margit Laura (professionally known as Maggie Steig), before divorcing. He was married to Stephanie Healey from 1964 to 1966. His final marriage to Jeanne Doron lasted the rest of his life.
In addition to his artistic and literary work, for much of his adult life Steig was a devoted proponent of the work of Wilhelm Reich, the radical Austrian psychologist who believed in "orgone energy," a biological or cosmic energy which Reich claimed could solve health problems, including cancer. Steig wrote and illustrated material related to Reich's work, and although Reich was accused of fraud and later arrested, Steig continued to publicly support Reich and the concept of "orgone energy" throughout his life.
Steig died of old age in Boston, Massachusetts, on October 3, 2003, at the age of 95.
This collection contains a wide variety of material related to Steig's life and work, though it is weighted towards the professional side. It includes correspondence; notebooks; personal and professional records; drafts of Steig's writings; financial records; press, promotional material, and material from exhibits; awards Steig received; and original artwork, including original ink and watercolor drawings and work that would later appear in the New Yorker. There is also ephemera related to the movie Shrek, as well as personal artifacts, such as Steig's brushes and pens. Finally, there is an additional series of material not included in the original gift which was purchased to complement the archive, and which includes proof copies of some of Steig's books.
While the correspondence is primarily professional in nature, and not very personally revealing, the drafts of journal entries from Steig's life in the 1950s and 60s document a period of transition in his life and work and recollections from his childhood. In addition, the material related to Steig and his brother Arthur documents a close, intellectually intimate relationship. Of the greatest immediate interest, however, are the more than two thousand pieces of original artwork, which make up around a third of the collection material. In addition, the writings which Steig produced under the direction of Wilhelm Reich, the controversial (and later discredited) Austrian psychiatrist who Steig considered a visionary thinker, may be of interest to a researcher seeking to understand Reich's small but notable influence on American artistic and philosophical thought in the post-WWII era.
For more detailed information, see series notes.
Gift of Jeanne Steig, 2013. Material within Series X. Material purchased to complement the archive consists of a number of purchases made by staff of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts from 2013-2021.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Sam Allingham
- Finding Aid Date
- 2021 August 27
- Access Restrictions
This bulk of this collection is open for research use; however, original audiovisual material contained in Series VIII is restricted.
Access to original audio/visual materials and computer files is restricted. The Kislak Center will provide access to the information on these materials from duplicate master files. If the original does not already have a copy, it will be sent to an outside vendor for copying. Patrons are financially responsible for the cost. The turnaround time from request to delivery of digital items is about two weeks for up to five items and three to seven weeks for more than five items. Please contact Reprographic Services (firstname.lastname@example.org) for cost estimates and ordering. Once digital items are received, researchers will have access to the files on a dedicated computer in the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center. Researchers should be aware of specifics of copyright law and act accordingly.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.