Willcockson debuts Native American book
Woodstock author Tom Willcockson recently published his book “Twelve Moons: A Year with the Sauk and Meskwaki, 1817-1818.”
The book already has won the Illinois Association of Museums’ Superior Achievement Award.
Willcockson illustrated and provided a rough text outline for the manuscript, while his friend Elizabeth Carvey co-authored and filled in the details of the narration.
The 52-page book chronicles a year in the lives of the Sauk and Meskwaki, the last two tribes of native people occupying the Mississippi River Valley from 1735 to 1831.
Forced from their native homeland in Eastern Canada, the tribes migrated westward to Wisconsin.
In the new land, they faced additional challenges and met French fur traders who altered their way of life. In order to survive, the Sauk and Meskwaki became allies.
They banded together and moved to the upper Mississippi River Valley.
Willcockson’s book focuses on the lifestyle of the tribes during a specific period, though he does mention Black Hawk, a famous Sauk warrior and leader.
“I decided to set the book right before the Illinois statehood, [when] things really started changing,” said Willcockson.
He created the book with the intention of showing people how life was nearly 200 years ago and to give a sense of what the two tribes were capable of creating.
“It is amazing the things they came up with,” he said. “I want to convey how people can live in the environment in ingenious ways.”
Willcockson said he wanted to do a book on the subject for many years.
He worked at the Newberry Library in Chicago during the 1980s and ’90s after graduating from Carleton College, Northfield, Minn., with a degree in history.
He created illustrations and assisted with the David Buisseret book “Illinois From the Air.”
“I was bitten by the bug,” Willcockson said, in reference to his love for history books.
Eventually, he left Newberry Library to start up his own map business, Mapcraft, which he continues to run in Woodstock.
He designs maps for museums, colleges and zoos – including Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.
Several years ago he became involved with the Hauberg Museum in Rock Island, which is devoted to Sauk and Meskwaki history. It was in the museum, inspired among its abundant material and exhibits, where the idea for his newest book came into being.
Two years ago he began putting together rough pencil illustrations and text body outlines for “Twelve Moons.”
Carvey, the museum’s director, took the book idea to the museum’s board and they approved the project.
Tour and school groups frequently visit Hauberg, and Willcockson said he wanted to make the book interesting for both children and adults.
He represented every artifact in the museum used by the native people through his illustrations. He researched early painters online and traveled to various locations where the Sauk and Meskwaki once dwelled, taking photos of backgrounds to use in his book.
He then completed a pen and ink versions of the illustrations, scanned them into Adobe Illustrator and used Photoshop to color in the scenes.
“My daughter, Katie, helped me with the coloring,” he said. “I wouldn’t have made the deadline [without her assistance].”
“Twelve Moons: A Year with the Sauk and Meskwaki, 1817-1818,” which was officially finished four months ago, will be for sale at Woodstock’s Read Between the Lynes later this month.
“It was a lot of fun [working on the book],” Willcockson said.
“Once a year, I’d like to produce a book like this. I want people to get a sense of how [the tribes] lived, how long they were here and how recently they were here. They had a very interesting way of life.”
Willcockson will appear at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, at Read Between The Lynes, 129 W. Van Buren St., for a book discussion and signing.
He also will speak at the Woodstock Public Library at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23.