A gentle DEW: remembering Dunstan Williams

Cartoonist Dunstan E. Williams, better known as DEW, died last December. Mark Lyndersay remembers the man who entertained generations of Trinidadians

  • Courtesy Dunstan E. Williams
  • Dunstan E. Williams

It seems strange that a man who spent decades in the public eye should be so successful at being invisible, but Dunstan E. Williams, far better known by his signature, DEW, performed his particular magic by being the observer, not the observed.

For most of the latter half of the 20th century, DEW drew cartoons for the Evening News and the Trinidad Guardian, delineating with sure, steady lines of pure black ink and an incisive wit all that was funny, familiar, and sometimes worrying about the lives of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

The youngest of a family of two boys and three girls, DEW took his cue from his mother, Octavia, who drew constantly and proved to be something of an art pioneer herself, drawing designs on dresses when such a thing was unheard of. DEW was remembered as a child who drew and was always being serious about it. He came from a family notable for its reserve. Not one for parties and dances, his sister, Eucille Cook, who confesses to being the most outgoing of the Williams children, would have to persuade him to go to the Guardian’s parties, then have to pick him up and accompany him.

DEW was strikingly tall but painfully thin, and he looked uncannily like one of his characters, a person with a compelling physical trait you couldn’t forget. In his case, it was a head that seemed just a little too big for his slight frame, always wrapped in large glasses.

And he saw everything. The petty absurdities of Caribbean life, the matronly beauty of its mature women, the survivor’s instinct of embattled Trini men. In DEW’s world, everything was as familiar as next door, but as beautiful as a polished new universe. That keenness of observation, and his desire to have a say, extended well beyond the borders of his daily cartoons. He wrote letters frequently to his paper under the nom de plume “I De Clare”, and he drew for anyone who would ask.

His art appeared in publications as widely different as the programmes for the plays of Judy Stone at the Normandie in the 1980s and the 1970s book An Introduction to Family Life Education, in which his instantly familiar line-work describes the inner workings of human reproduction. He also contributed a number of cartoons to Caribbean Beat over the years.

If there seems little to be said about Dunstan E. Williams the man, it’s because DEW the artist invested so much of that personality in his decades of gorgeous cartooning, a body of work that tells its own charming history about the people of Trinidad and Tobago, and everything about the person who created them.

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