Arion Press
Dear {SALUTATION|Friend}, April 2016

We mourn the death of humorist William Hamilton, our friend and the artist for two Arion Press books. We hope this self-deprecating man knew how much he gave the world, not only with his wit but with the warm heart subtly present in his work. Like other Bay Area friends, we sometimes wondered if his California identity was obscured by his fame as a New Yorker cartoonist and his knowing images of that city’s privileged. He could be just as funny about San Francisco society, the Napa scene, or France in the age of Louis XIV.

A fourth-generation Californian, he met Andrew Hoyem in the 1970s, when William was living around the corner from the Balboa Café and given to saying such things as “I think too much about whether I’m invited to the Gettys.”

They became reacquainted when William moved back to the Napa Valley, to a spot not far from where he grew up, in 2004 with his wife Lucy. We discussed various publishing projects, including some excellent writing about California he was doing at that time. When we hit upon Molière, we worried that his “Tartuffe” might come out a little too “Upper East Side.” But his drawings for that book are a mélange of urbane excess across the ages, with recognizable “Hamilton” characters looking completely at home in their ruffs and wigs.

Who better than Hamilton to appreciate Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana, what the edition’s essayist Christopher Buckley calls its “high-comic mayhem.” We knew William would be able to work a vacuum cleaner into scenes of high life in pre-Castro Cuba. (If you don’t get the “vacuum cleaner” reference, read the book.)

The Presidio was on William’s way from St. Helena into the city and our staff enjoyed having him drop by as we worked on our two books, Tartuffe in 2004 and Our Man in Havana in 2010 (both still in print), but nothing compared to the sensation he made, all six foot five of him, at our parties.

Above with our office manager Charles Martin;
below with Edward Albee, Tom Holland, John Field, Diana Johnson, celebrating A Delicate Balance in 2011.

Our artist Mark Ulriksen, a San Franciscan known for his New Yorker covers on sports and politics, contributes this recollection to our memories of the man.

“I had the unique and distinct pleasure one afternoon in late 2014 to share lunch with the incomparable cartoonist William Hamilton, thanks to Arion Press setting up our date. Watching him take in the surrounding patrons at the Presidio Officers Club, I felt like I was actually in a William Hamilton cartoon. His observations about the behavior of a certain class of people (upper) were akin to an anthropologist studying some exotic tribe, albeit with the wit of someone who sustained a half-century of contributions to the one and only magazine that still cherishes and publishes cartoons.

“He continually kibitzed about the people dining near us. We discussed the frustrating aspects of working for The New Yorker, such as their lack of response to submissions by cartoonists and cover artists alike. We agreed that to be a visual artist requires a thick skin.”

Edward Albee Judy Holland, Diane Johnson, William Hamilton, Arion Press,  2011

A small memorial exhibition of William Hamilton’s books and drawings is in the Arion Press Gallery beginning April 15. Hours are M-F, 9 to 5.

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