Howard Pyle: Imagining an American School of Art

Howard Pyle: Imagining an American School of Art

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Best remembered as an influential illustrator and teacher, Howard Pyle (1853-1911) produced magnificent artwork and engrossing books and magazine stories about King Arthur, Robin Hood, swashbuckling pirates, and the American Revolution. He also completed public murals and trained many famous artists and illustrators at the turn of the twentieth century, including N. C. Wyeth and Jessie Willcox Smith. This engaging portrait of the influential American artist, teacher, author, and muralist is the first fully documented treatment of Pyle's life and career.

Drawing on numerous archival sources including Pyle's own letters to provide new perspectives on his life, Jill P. May and Robert E. May reveal Pyle to be a passionate believer that art should be understood and appreciated by the general public. His genteel values and artistic tastes shaped not only his own creative output but his influential work as a teacher, first at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry in Philadelphia and later at his own school in Delaware's Brandywine River Valley. May and May also show him to be far more supportive of women artists than is generally believed, explaining how he deployed club memberships and relationships with publishers and politicians to advance the prospects of his students. Duly measuring his influence on later artists, May and May detail his quest to lead a distinctively American school of art freed from European models.

Amply illustrated with evocative photographs and color reproductions of his own and his students' work, this exceptional volume presents Howard Pyle's creative career and legacy for American popular culture as it has never been seen before.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780252036262
Publisher: University of Illinois Press
Publication date: 08/03/2011
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 854,772
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Jill P. May is a professor of literacy and language at Purdue University. Robert E. May is a professor of history at Purdue University.

Read an Excerpt

Howard Pyle

By Jill P. May Robert E. May

University of Illinois Press

Copyright © 2011 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-252-03626-2

Chapter One

Making Manhattan

Norman Rockwell would never forget the moment when he learned that Howard Pyle had died. He heard the news in late 1911, while he was attending the Art Students League in New York City, slaving on his drawings, as he later put it, in Pyle's shadow. Rockwell recalled how his illustration instructor would share reproductions of Pyle's and of other leading illustrators during class, highlighting how their pictures mastered a story's tone. Rockwell came to appreciate that Pyle was the kind of artist who, if assigned a Spanish galleon to illustrate, would pillage old books until he perfected the image. A master "historian with a brush," Pyle rendered drawings of colonial times, pirates, and the American Revolution that amounted to "authentic re-creations, backed by years of study and research." According to Rockwell, he and his League peers became so obsessed with Pyle that they debated whether Pyle or his illustrious contemporary and friend Edwin Abbey would have compromised their professionalism by taking advertising work. When a model with experience posing for Pyle turned up at the League lunchroom, Rockwell's group interrogated him intensely. How did Pyle start a painting? What paints did he choose? Did Pyle customarily sketch his subjects before painting them?

Everything changed, though, on "the day Howard Pyle died." On that occasion, George Bridgeman, who taught the League's class in academic drawing, entered the room with the news, "tipsy and with tears in his eyes." A giant in the field of American illustrative art had passed away. No one since that day, Rockwell believed, had ever filled his shoes, not even Pyle's highly regarded pupils. N. C. Wyeth, the most famous of them, became "a darn good one" and could paint an impressively romantic scene, but Rockwell felt that Wyeth had never quite internalized Pyle's quest for authenticity.

Wyeth, in fact, had experienced his share of differences with his imposing mentor. Yet he was even more shocked than Rockwell by the news. In a letter to his parents on November 14, five days after Pyle's death in Italy, Wyeth described the report as "an awful blow" that affected him far more than he would ever have anticipated. When a representative from the Associated Press telephoned him with the story, he suddenly felt himself "face-to-face" again "with the man in all his power, goodness and glory, shorn entirely of the many petty matters which I had held against him." Pyle's death was so traumatic for Wyeth that he told his parents he had a "profoundly deep sense of gratitude" for the training he received under Pyle's "masterly influence," so much so that he felt compelled to perpetuate Pyle's tradition. He was already pursuing Pyle's "underlying principles" according to "the path he had planned out for me the two years I was in his class." Now he would "cling more faithfully and reverently than ever to the grand and noble Howard Pyle."

Fittingly, Wyeth mailed his letter from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Not many years earlier, in buildings sitting virtually astride the site of the Revolutionary War battle of Brandywine, and in studios in nearby Wilmington, Delaware, Wyeth and many of America's finest book and magazine artists had received their training in illustration from Pyle. There, at the turn of the twentieth century, Howard Pyle founded a school of American illustration and staked his claim as one of the leading art educators in his country's history. At a time when the United States was emerging on the world scene as a great power with imperialistic stirrings, Pyle's patriotic art and teaching became a tool of nationalistic self-expression.

Growing up in Delaware, the first state to ratify the U.S. Constitution and one of four slave states that remained in the Union during the Civil War, helped to foster Pyle's patriotism. So did his family, which strongly backed the North's cause during that bloody carnage.


Excerpted from Howard Pyle by Jill P. May Robert E. May Copyright © 2011 by Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Excerpted by permission of University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction ix


1 Making Manhattan 1

2 Patriotic Stirrings 23

3 Beyond the Academy 51

4 That Magician, Howard Pyle 64

5 Easels on the Brandywine 95

6 Camelot 115

7 Among the Masters 145

8 Legacies 177

Notes 207

Index 247

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