As nearly every one of his works proudly proclaims, Williams Hawkins was born in rural Kentucky on July 27th, 1895. Following the death of his mother at an early age, Hawkins was raised by his maternal grandmother on her prosperous farm outside Union City, Kentucky. There he broke horses and enjoyed hunting and trapping. In 1916 he moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he would live for his remaining years. Illiterate and with only a third-grade education, Hawkins worked a variety of odd jobs, from plumber to brothel manager to truck driver, an occupation he continue until well into his eighties. An amateur photographer in the 1930s and 40s, Hawkins began painting and drawing in the 1970s. His subjects were often taken from covers of the magazines, newspapers and other material he collected off the street, as well as his recollections and the buildings around Columbus. In 1981 he was discovered by fellow artist Lee Garrett, who encouraged Hawkins' development and career as an artist. He submitted one of his pieces to the 1982 Ohio State Fair exhibition and took top prize; from then until his death in 1990, Hawkins significantly increased his output, completing over 500 paintings and drawings. Hawkins has been the subject of numerous exhibitions, including the 1997 show William L. Hawkins Born July 27 1895 held at the American Folk Art Museum, and his work has been included in many folk and outsider art exhibitions.
Using only a single paintbrush and working with enamel house paint that he often found discarded by the local hardware store, Hawkins created works of brilliant color as seen in Two Deer in a Fiery Forest. Possibly inspired by his childhood days hunting in Kentucky, the two deer stand alertly, as if disturbed by the viewer at whom they directly gaze. The faces have been heightened with starch (possibly dried glue) to add three-dimensionality, a technique he increasingly used in the mid-1980s.