The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Carol Stuart Watson, the Nation’s Capital Illustrator
A daughter’s reflections on the iconic artist who profoundly influenced the District of Columbia’s cultural and visual art signature
By Marjorie Young
Carol Stuart Watson had many titles over her lifetime. She was an illustrator, editor, travel writer, restaurant reviewer, muralist and – my personal favorite – mother.
Often called our Nation’s Capital Illustrator, mom was a ninth generation Marylander with a special love of the National Capital Area. Her illustrations appeared in Washington publications, products, and films, profoundly influencing the cultural and visual art signature of the region.
To say my mother had a lifelong love affair with Georgetown and its colonial neighbors would be an understatement. She arrived at Georgetown Hospital on August 14, 1931, the eldest of seven children born to Dr. Leander Scales Stuart and Henrietta Christine Kreh Stuart. Mom attended Bethesda and Lynnbrook Elementary Schools, Leland Junior High School and Bethesda Chevy Chase High School. She was among the first students to attend Montgomery Junior College from which she graduated and then went on to graduate from the University of Maryland, where she earned a fine arts degree in 1953.
After college, mom joined the staff of the now defunct Times-Herald paper in Washington, then, in 1954, she co-founded Georgetown’s community paper, The Georgetowner, where she initiated a long term strategy to establish colonial carriage trade motifs as a dominant graphic design theme of the National Capital Region. “Carriage trade” refers to the wealthy clientele of a business.
By the way, The Georgetowner is now in its 60th year of publication, a bi-weekly tabloid-size newspaper reaching the affluent community in Georgetown and surrounding areas of the metropolitan District of Columbia, whose “influence far exceeds its size.” In an article published last October, Jerry McCoy wrote that mom and the paper’s other co-founder, Ami C. Stewart, continued a calling begun 165 years earlier when Charles Fierer published Georgetown’s first newspaper: The Times and the Potowmack Packet, in 1789. He said, “Mrs. Stewart and Miss Stuart innately knew they were carrying on a rich and noble tradition.”
In 1960, mom and my dad, David Watson, founded Carriage Trade Publications in Georgetown, located under the K-Street Expressway next to the old coal power plant. Together, they befriended and did business with the owners of many of the finest shops and restaurants in Georgetown and across the region. Mom used her considerable talents to teach their many customers how to build comprehensive brand image campaigns. By doing so, and being so prolific in her output, she had a terrific influence on the visual brand language of the entire area. She designed the shapes, colors, materials, finishes, typography and composition which directly and subliminally communicated the personality of the District, through compelling imagery and design style. She was also one of the few commercial illustrators in town with offset press training.
Before other travel guidebooks became established, mom and dad published Shopping in Washington and Dining in Washington. These annual reviews and advertising guidebooks were distributed through all the participating clients’ shops. Together, they befriended and did business with the owners of many of the finest shops and restaurants in Georgetown and across the region. Mom also illustrated historical scenes of Washington, Georgetown, Alexandria and Frederick, Maryland, which were printed and widely circulated on postcards and calendars and were additionally printed for framing.
In 1976, she illustrated the Historical Bicentennial Map of Montgomery County, Maryland. This was a big undertaking, as it encompassed many historical homes and sites with brief history of each. The result was a very large, handsome and colorful print that now hangs on many walls in Montgomery County and elsewhere. She also created a slide show depicting the history of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, which was shown daily for years in a special presentation at the Harper’s Ferry National Park visitors’ center.
As a muralist, mom created several major works, two of which include the large scene of “Colonial Georgetown” at Lockheed Martin Headquarters in Bethesda, and another at the United States Chamber of Commerce that depicts the “Romance of Lafayette Square.” She also produced calendars, posters, coloring books, maps and drawings for the Friends of the National Zoo.
My mother’s creativity branched out in many other directions. She was a courtroom artist for major TV networks, covering newsmakers of the era including Gov. Marvin Mandel’s trial and the Hanafi trials. She even illustrated a number of children’s books and a couple of cookbooks, and was, herself, an excellent cook. I believe she won a contest for a Maryland crab dish!
She also enjoyed designing Christmas cards, which were sold nationwide. Her designs appeared on notebooks, wrapping paper and Christmas ornaments. In 1982, she won the Graphic Arts Award Competition, sponsored by the Printing Industries of America, for her design of Bear Branches gift wrap. Around this same time, she worked at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, where she served as a graphic illustrator for the Fleet Systems.
Always striving to give back to the Georgetown community she loved so dearly, mom was an avid volunteer with the Salvation Army, Junior League of Washington DC, Travelers Aid Society and United Way, among others.
I think one of the most remarkable things about my mother is that she accomplished all of this by age 54. She accumulated a long list of achievements in her short time on this earth, and she left an indelible imprint on her beloved community that rippled out across the District and throughout the nation. It’s almost incomprehensible that her life ended when she was the same age I am now.
I’ll always think of her as a loving wife and the most incredible mother, but I’ll also remember mom as a prolific artist, a superb photographer and as a person who simply appreciated beauty in everything: music, flowers, nature, family. Mom was as sensitive as any lens in a camera. She missed very little.
For all of these reasons and more, I’d like to invite you to join me for a special presentation, “Carol Stuart Watson, the Nation’s Capital Illustrator,” on Saturday, June 13 at 1 p.m., at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library, at 3260 R Street, NW. Washington, DC 20007. We’ll look back at her iconic artwork and illustrations that defined the District’s visual landscape during the mid-twentieth century, as well as the life of the extraordinary woman who created them.
This lecture will provide a unique perspective of a period that helped define the Georgetown we know today, which should be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about our community. I hope that it will also appeal to historians, artists, antiques dealers, art students, editors, publicists and writers who strive to learn more about a fascinating era and one of its most amazing contributors. For more information about this event, please call 202.727.0233 or go online to http://dclibrary.org/node/359
For more information, watch a short documentary about Watson by her daughter at YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mitafdpxjk
Facebook: Carol Stuart Watson
ABOUT MARJORIE YOUNG
Marjorie Young was born in Arlington, Virginia, and was raised by very entrepreneurial parents who were the founders of Carriage Trade Publishing, magazines devoted to the high society of Washington and the District of Columbia.
Young remembers working on projects with her parents from a very, very young age, whether posing for photos in Shopping in Washington and Dining in Washington or collating the magazines. She later graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in journalism and minor in fine art.
In 1995, Young founded Carriage Trade PR in Savannah, GA (http://carriagetradepr.com/), a public relations agency to help businesses publicize their “powerful reputation” by creating positive word-of-mouth in the community and online. She named her company in honor of her parents and their publishing firm. In 2013, Savannah Morning News named Carriage Trade PR, Small Business of the Year (http://savannahnow.com/exchange/2013-12-30/carriage-trade-pr-2013-small-business-year). Young is also the proud mother of a 27-year-old daughter working on her Ph.D. in robotics engineering at Georgia Tech. This year, Young is celebrating Carriage Trade PR’s twentieth year in business.
Carriage Trade PR