A native of Tacoma, Thomas Handforth won international acclaim as an artist, author, and illustrator. Born in Tacoma on September 19, 1897, Handforth attended Stadium High School (then Tacoma High School). There he created the art for the high school annuals. Post-graduation he attended the University of Washington then moved to New York for art training. During his service in World War I he drew anatomical drawings in Washington, D.C. After the war, he returned to New York and studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller and later with Mahonri Young. Later he trained in draughtsmanship and painting at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. He won numerous prizes and became a member of various societies of etchers.
In 1927 he visited Morocco and in 1929 relocated to Mexico. Two years later traveled to China where he stayed until 1937. It was in China where he developed his skills with lithography. From China, he went to Southeast Asia (then Indo-China) and returned to the United States at the approach of World War II. He returned to service in the Army and after his release returned to Tacoma in 1944 and again in 1945 to make portraits of his many former hometown friends. Handforth is best known for his children's book "Mai Li", published in 1938, for which he won the Caldecott Medal for illustration in 1939. The other books he illustrated include Sidonie, Totou in Bondage, and Tranquilinas Paradise. Handforth died at McCornak General Hospital in Pasadena. His death was attributed to acute coronary thrombosis.