Named John William Vawter at birth, Vawter was known as Will Vawter both personally and professionally. Vawter moved with his family to Greenfield, Indiana from West Virginia at age six. While living in Greenfield, Vawter developed a close working relationship with a poetJames Whitcomb Riley, another resident of Greenfield. Vawter illustrated eleven volumes of Riley poems often using local residents as models.
Vawter was married to Mary Vawter, an accomplished poet and landscape artist. The couple divorced in 1923. Vawter moved to Nashville, Indiana to join the Brown County Art Colony permanently in 1908. He had two residences in the area, one a studio in town, the other a 57 acres (230,000 m2) estate about a half mile outside of Nashville.