Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Farewell March

Before March slips away entirely, let me acknowledge Jeff A. Menges' kind mention of my blog in his blog post, March is Pyle's Month.

Jeff, of course, is the proud and enviable selector and editor of one of the surprisingly few books with "Howard Pyle" in the title. His Pirates, Patriots, and Princesses: The Art of Howard Pyleis a great survey Pyle's work - most of it is in color and much of it hasn't appeared in print in over a century - and it appeals to both the casual admirer and the timeworn and jaded fanatic.

Thanks, Jeff!

Monday, March 29, 2010

March 29, 1899

"When I look ahead, the end seems so close and I have done so little that I almost despair of accomplishing anything. I feel as though I stood only on the threshold of real art with almost nothing to show for twenty three years of effort."
Howard Pyle to Frederic Remington, March 29, 1899

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Down Fell the Fisherman, 1890

The tiny and terrific "Down fell the fisherman" from "Where to Lay the Blame" by Howard Pyle was first published in Harper's Young People for March 25, 1890, and then in Twilight Land in late 1894. It was a mere 1.5 x 4 inches in the magazine, so I've enlarged it a bit.

The American Art News on Howard Pyle, March 25, 1905

"Mr. Howard Pyle, as he said in his lecture at the Art [Students'] League on [March 18th], regards the making of compositions of extreme importance in an art student's training. This is the principal feature in the work of his class at Wilmington. He considers the main-spring of a composition to be 'mental projection,' or the power to so project one's mind into the picture as to actually live it. This power is contributed to by the multiplied experience of mature years, and by reading. 'No one,' Mr. Pyle says, 'requires as broad knowledge and wide reading as the pictorial artist of to-day.' He teaches the necessity of elimination - that is, after a composition is once created the eliminations are more important than the additions; also, to truly use black and white one must have color in mind. Mr. Pyle was especially interested in the compositions of Hugo Ballin and Remington Schuyler; their work he considers to be of great promise."
The American Art News, March 25, 1905

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Into the River, 1893

What a passion comes over us sometimes for silence and rest! - that this dreadful mechanism, unwinding the endless tapestry of time, embroidered with spectral figures of life and death, could have but one brief holiday! Who can wonder that men swing themselves off from beams in hempen lassos? - that they jump off from parapets into the swift and gurgling water beneath?

Despite the grim subject matter - a suicide - this is one of my favorite Howard Pyle pictures. It's "Into the River" from The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table by Oliver Wendell Holmes, printed by the Riverside Press in the fall of 1893. The plate is so small - only 2.9 x 4.5" - and the paper has yellowed, but the fidelity of detail is there thanks to its having been reproduced in photogravure rather than in halftone. It illustrates the passage quoted above.

Pyle painted the original in black and white oil on 8 x 12" board in mid-1893 - possibly at "Delamore," the mansion on the edge of Wilmington where he had moved his growing family between May 9th and June 10th of that year.

March 24, 1885: A Newspaper Puff

Howard Pyle's "A Newspaper Puff" appeared in Harper's Young People for March 24, 1885, and in Pepper and Salt later that year. For some reason, the verse was typeset in the magazine, but hand-lettered (by Pyle, of course) in the book version, shown here. Pyle had a little trouble with the orientation of his apostrophes, but who doesn't these days?

The original pen and ink drawing is at the Delaware Art Museum. For your convenience, here's the verse:
Twelve geese
In a row
(So these
Always go).
Down-hill
They meander,
Tail to bill;
First the gander.
So they stalked,
Bold as brass
As they walked
To the grass.

Suddenly
Stopped the throng;
Plain to see
Something's wrong
Yes; there is
Something white!
No quiz;
Clear to sight.
('Twill amuse
When you're told
'Twas a news-
Paper old.)

Gander spoke.
Braver bird
Never broke
Egg, I've heard:
"Stand here
Steadily,
Never fear,
Wait for me."

Forth he went,
Cautious, slow,
Body bent,
Head low.
All the rest
Stood fast,
Waiting for
What passed.

Wind came
With a caper,
Caught same
Daily paper.
Up it sailed
In the air;
Courage failed
Then and there.
Scared well
Out of wits;
Nearly fell
Into fits.
Off they sped,
Helter-skelter,
'Till they'd fled
Under shelter.

Poor geese!
Never mind;
Other geese
One can find,
Cut the same
Foolish caper
At empty wind
In a paper.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Howard Pyle Bookplate: March 20, 1886


Design for an unused bookplate by Howard Pyle, 1886

"It was with me very much a work of love and I certainly should not care to part with it under ordinary circumstances. I have had a photo-engraved plate made, a proof of which has been sent me only this morning."
Howard Pyle to Edward H. Wales, March 20, 1886

Friday, March 19, 2010

Howard Pyle and Teddy Roosevelt Do Lunch


Theodore Roosevelt and his four sons by Arthur Hewitt (via NYPL Digital Gallery)

On March 19, 1904, Howard Pyle took the train down from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, D.C., for a 1.30 p.m. lunch at the White House. The meal was wedged in between President Theodore Roosevelt’s 11.45 a.m. chat with Admiral Dewey and a 2.30 p.m. meeting with Booker T. Washington. (I often wonder if Pyle met either men on his way in or out - though I should note that there were three other meetings scheduled between Dewey’s and Pyle’s). First thing that same day, Arthur Hewitt took several photographs of Roosevelt and his family, including the one shown above.

The purpose of Pyle’s visit was to talk politics: a Wilmington newspaper had asked him to write what he thought of Theodore Roosevelt's then two-and-a-half-year-old administration. “I have endeavored to do so as honestly and courageously as possible,” he told Roosevelt's secretary, William Loeb, on March 16, “but, now that it is done, I feel, in view of the fact that the President stands in the relation of a personal friend, I should submit the paper to him before publishing it - that is if you think he will care to see it.” Pyle figured that other newspapers might quote him, and he planned to expand the piece (which he also sent) into a magazine article - “Hence a certain added importance to the few words I have written.”

Roosevelt objected to some of Pyle’s unintentionally, yet interpretably critical comments and warned, “Anything that you say will be apt to be taken as the best that a personal friend can say for me, and therefore any condemnation from you will be received and quoted independently of anything that you say that is favorable.” So he asked Pyle to come and talk things over - and, presumably, get “on message.”

Unfortunately, as luck would have it, I haven’t yet found the article Pyle wrote and don’t know if it ever appeared in either the Wilmington newspaper or in the magazine; Pyle mentioned that The Outlook might publish it, but, in looking at 1904 issues, it seems that they didn’t. I'll keep looking.

Below is the page from Roosevelt’s datebook for March 19, 1904 (please pardon the scratchy printout from a microfilm reel at the Library of Congress).


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Drexel Women's Basket-Ball Team of 1897



Why the Drexel Institute Women's Basket-Ball Team of 1897? Because these seven women were all art students (notice the word "Art" emblazoned on their uniforms) - and some of them were students of Howard Pyle. Maddeningly, however, they are not identified in the book from whence these photographs came - the 1897 Drexel yearbook called the Eccentric.

But there is someone I recognize. It's Pyle's pupil and future sister-in-law, Ellen Bernard Thompson. She's holding the ball in the first two shots and is in the very middle of the "action" scene. She was born November 11, 1876, in Germantown, Pennsylvania, studied with Pyle for several years and attended both the 1898 and 1899 Summer Schools at Chadd's Ford. There, she and Pyle's younger brother Walter met and fell in love. They were married in 1904. A huge show of Ellen Pyle's work was recently on display at the Delaware Art Museum (and I foolishly missed it) and some more about her can be found here. Of course, Ellen's daughter Caroline married N. C. Wyeth's son Nathaniel, thereby entwining the Pyles and Wyeths in the branches of the same gnarly family tree.

One more thing about the photos: the woman on the far left in the first shot, the far right in the second, and the far left in the third is, I think, Elfrida J. Lavino, who, as far as I know, was not a Pyle student. The fair- and frizzy-haired woman just to the left of Ellen in the first shot I believe is Paula Himmelsbach (not a Pyle student, either, but later a prominent painter and stained glass artist, and a teacher of Alice Neel). And the woman to the right of Ellen in that same photo might be Charlotte Harding (who was very much a Pyle student), but I'm not yet certain.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Howard Pyle at Yale University

Howard Pyle crossed paths with Yale University a number of times during - and after - his lifetime. In 1903 he delivered the Anniversary Address at the School of Fine Arts; his pictures were exhibited there in 1903 and 1909; in 1905 he designed the bookplate for the Yale Club's library; and his two eldest sons, Theodore and Howard, Jr., were attending the college when he died in Italy. Several of Pyle's letters reside there now, as do some original works of art - and early ones at that - which can be seen here.

And, in looking the Yale page over, I see that the works aren't very well identified. So here's more:

"At the Sign of the Griffin" was published with the title "The Press-Gang in New York" in Harper's Monthly for March 1882. It is one of three Pyle illustrations for the article "Old New York Coffee Houses" by John Austin Stevens. He painted it at the end of 1879.

"He Stops at the Sign of the Weathervane" illustrated Pyle's own poem "Tilghman's Ride from Yorktown to Pennsylvania" in Harper's Monthly for November 1881. The original probably dates from that year.

"The Dunkers - Going to Meeting," although published (without "The Dunkers" in the title) in the October 1889 issue of Harper's Monthly, was painted some nine years earlier, when Pyle initially prepared his article "A Peculiar People" following his November 1880 visit to Ephrata, Pennsylvania.

"Avary Sells His Jewels" was featured for Pyle's article "Buccaneers and Marooners of the Spanish Main" in Harper's Monthly for September 1887. I'm pretty sure Pyle painted this in early 1887 - maybe late 1886.

"An Old Government Toll Gate with Westward Bound Express" appeared in Harper's Monthly for November 1879. It was one of a dozen illustrations Pyle made for William Henry Rideing's "The Old National Pike." The two men travelled along the pike earlier in 1879 (which I mentioned in this post).

And "Isaac Walton" and "Richard de Bury Tutoring Young Edward III" are etchings made by William Henry Warren Bicknell after paintings by Howard Pyle for the Bibliophile Society in 1903.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

He Would Shout Opprobrious Words...

"He would shout opprobrious words after the other in the streets" illustrated "A True History of the Devil at New Hope" by Howard Pyle in Harper's Weekly for December 18, 1897. It appeared untitled in the magazine, but was titled thus when published (reduced and solely in black and white) in Pyle's collection of tales called Stolen Treasure (Harper and Brothers, 1907). Pyle's bibliographers named it "How the Devil Haunted the Meeting House" - but it is, more accurately, a headpiece for the chapter of that title or for the story itself.

Pyle must have painted the original (which is still out there, somewhere in the ether) in oils - probably on illustration board. The reproduction shows how much mileage his work could get from even the most rudimentary two-color printing. It also shows the strong Japanese influence on his art: the high horizon line, the flattened space, the absence of shadow, and so on. The "Japonisme" of Howard Pyle is not often acknowledged, but it certainly shows up again and again from the late 1870's onward.

I grew up a few miles from New Hope, Pennsylvania, the once-quaint village in Bucks County on the Delaware River. But, like it or not, Howard Pyle's "New Hope" is in Rhode Island.

Friday, March 12, 2010

An Invitation from Howard Pyle


How would you like to have gotten this in the mail? It's an invitation - hand-lettered and decorated by Howard Pyle himself - for an event held 106 years ago tonight at 1305 Franklin Street, in Wilmington, Delaware. For those who trip over archaic ligatures and long s's, here is a transcription:
Mr Pyle presents his Compliments and will be happy if you will attend a Bohemian Card Party at his Studio on Saturday, the twelfth day of March, Nineteen Hundred and Four, at Eight o'clock in ye Evening. (Tobacco, Etc.)
A guest list has yet to surface, but one invitee was Henry Francis du Pont, 23, who later founded Winterthur Museum, and was the only son of Pyle's friend Colonel Henry Algernon du Pont. Young Henry brought along another guest, with the host's permission: "Any friend of your father’s son shall always be welcome under my roof," Pyle had assured him.

Pyle's students came, too, after having spent (according to Allen True) "a fine afternoon making things for the evening while [Pyle] painted at his mural decoration and swapped stories." True said they played "a very funny game called Muggins" and that "there was a fine crowd of young people - cards till about eleven when chafing dishes were spread around and we had a Dutch feed and some good singing. It was delightful all the way through and had a distinctive flavor very different from most occasions of the sort."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

100 Years Ago: Ladies' Home Journal on Howard Pyle

The following, yes, fluff piece on Howard Pyle comes from the March 1910 issue of the Ladies' Home Journal. I don't know who wrote it and the part about his "vulnerable pocket" might be a stretch (more about that later), but it's entertaining nevertheless...


An Artist Without A Pose

It isn't often that one meets a successful artist devoid of affectation or the eccentricities of genius, but who is just a plain, every-day man, round-faced, jovial, with kindly eyes, a pleasant smile, and a mind absolutely abhorrent of pretense.

But that is Mr. Howard Pyle, the moving spirit of a unique and incessant colony of art workers in a studio at Wilmington, Delaware - a man who, by his own creative work and the wide influence he has exerted through his numerous pupils, is known as the founder of an American school of illustration.

He is the kindliest of men, a lover of children and loved by them, and his smooth face beams benevolence wherever he goes. There is no deception about the beam either. Every time he appears in the streets of Wilmington the youngsters are lying in wait for him, for they know his pocket is vulnerable. And he cannot resist their importunities.

For years he maintained a school for struggling artists, giving his service as critic and mentor free. Himself a painter, but chiefly renowned as a writer and illustrator of books and magazines, Mr. Pyle found his greatest pleasure during many years in imparting his knowledge to young men of promise, absolutely without remuneration.

Although he has discontinued this school, he still devotes half an hour every morning at his studio to criticism of those art works which are brought to him. His association is no longer with pupils but with brother artists, for he says, "I criticise their work as one artist criticises another."

This statement is characteristic of the intense modesty of the man. Those who bring their work to him are very far from regarding his criticism as merely that of a brother artist on an equality with themselves. He shuns all those things commonly known as theories or principles, disclaims any desire for the "uplifting of art," and avoids those high-sounding phrases which have become catch-words among artistic poseurs. Nor will he be tempted into the expression of any partisanship in favor of this or that "school."

His artistic creed is so simple and practical as to appear almost commonplace. Yet his pupils know well it is not; it is that art should represent what the people want, what they love; that the artist should base his work on simple statement of natural and psychological fact; that Americans should study at home in their own country, instead of flocking to France, where art, he thinks is "decadent," where the exhibitions, he says, are "decidedly bad in drawing and color," and where there are no longer any teaching artists who may be called "distinguished."

Then he will talk along quietly of his interest in the work of young artists, of his constant pleasure in helping them along over difficulties. He will speak of inspiration as a thing wholly normal to the normal man, and will tell you that all of his own work is done with no grandiloquent purpose, but only because he finds it natural and desirable to do it.

There is no pose about Howard Pyle: great as an illustrator, perhaps the greatest in America, he is equally as great as a man.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Where Was Howard Pyle Born?



Howard Pyle was born 157 years ago today in Wilmington, Delaware. But where in Wilmington? Readers of the Abbott or Pitz biographies might come away with the idea that he was born and raised at “Green Hill” (or “Greenhill” - and now “Goodstay”), the bucolic property on the outskirts of the city. While it's true that Pyle spent about seven years there - more time than at any of his other childhood homes - his father, William Pyle, only purchased the place when Howard was 18 months old.

The 1853 Wilmington City Directory, however, tells us that William Pyle, patent leather manufacturer, resided at 224 Market Street. Simple enough. But where was 224 Market Street? In those days, before citywide renumbering, it stood between Eighth and Ninth Streets. Market Street, then Wilmington's main thoroughfare, was busier at its commercial lower end, toward the Christiana River, but above Eighth and up to the Brandywine it was a quieter stretch lined with colonial residences and newer townhouses.

William Pyle’s older brother and business partner, Cyrus, lived across the street at No. 225 and their immediate neighbors were predominantly doctors, lawyers, and merchants. The house at 224 had been built on the grounds of the old Wilmington Academy, where the Declaration of Independence had been read in 1776, and where, in 1786, a visiting Benjamin Franklin (joined by Dr. Benjamin Rush and James Madison) performed an experiment with electricity. In 1832 the Academy was torn down and replaced with private homes. (A misplaced note of mine states that No. 224 in particular was erected in 1835.)

I don't know how long the Pyles stayed there - three years at the most. William Pyle married Margaret Churchman Painter on September 30, 1851, and I gather they set up house soon after - perhaps at No. 224. But on September 25, 1854, William bought “Green Hill” for $10,000 and the family moved on to more rural surroundings. At the start of the Civil War they left “Green Hill” and in the 1860s and ’70s wound up renting three other houses on Market Street.

As time went on, new buildings sprang up near No. 224 (or No. 826, after the renumbering), most notably the Masonic Temple or Grand Opera House, which opened in late 1871. It was separated from the Pyles’ old place by only one other townhouse. And at the turn of the century the Garrick Theatre was erected directly adjacent to the house, which had been used primarily for business since the 1880s.

So far I haven’t found too many images of the house, but here are a few...


This crude engraving comes from John Thomas Scharf’s History of Delaware (1888). The six windows on the far left presumably represent 224 (or 826) Market Street.


In this 1890s view, the house is partially obscured by a pole and a wagon, and sits to left of the place with the bright shutters.


In this photo, taken in 1906 at the latest, we see the house again partially obscured by a pole and butted up against the Garrick Theatre, which opened November 23, 1903. The sign on the wall between the second floor windows might have advertised the law practice of Benjamin and John Nields, which was located there for many years.

Later photos suggest that the building was re-sided or remodeled, but, either way, the original structure was pulled down long ago. And one of these days maybe we’ll know for sure whether or not Howard Pyle was born there on March 5, 1853.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Death of a Pyle Student, March 3, 1902


"They're After Us, John!" by John Henderson Betts (1898)

John Henderson Betts (born April 6, 1877) was one of Howard Pyle's more promising pupils at the Drexel Institute. His work was shown in the first exhibition of work done in the School of Illustration (1897) and Pyle featured one of his pictures in his article, "A Small School of Art" (Harper’s Weekly, July 17, 1897). Betts was also one of the ten students awarded scholarships to the first Summer School of Illustration at Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania, in 1898. While there he made six illustrations for The Boys of Old Monmouth by Everett T. Tomlinson (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1898), including "They're After Us, John!" He appears in these two snapshots taken that summer, on the porch of Washington's Headquarters, where the male students boarded:


Front row: William F. Weed, Clyde DeLand, Frank Schoonover. Back row: Stanley Arthurs, Winfield S. Lukens, John H. Betts (in shirt sleeves), Robert L. Mason


Top to bottom: Robert L. Mason, Stanley Arthurs, William Francis Weed, James Wood (an instructor in Drexel's Antique Class, who backed up Pyle that summer), John H. Betts, Clyde O. DeLand, Winfield S. Lukens

Coincidentally - and if my genealogical calculations are correct - John Henderson Betts was also the third cousin of his classmate Anna Whelan Betts (1873-1959) and her sister Ethel Franklin Betts (born 1878), both Pyle students. He married Mary Furman Smith on November 1, 1900.

Despite his promise, Betts is little remembered today, for on March 3, 1902, he came to a terrible end. The Germantown Guide for March 15, 1902, described what happened:

Germantown Artist's Awful Death


John Henderson Betts met a shocking death on Monday by falling down the elevator shaft from the eleventh floor of the Real Estate Trust Building, southeast corner of Broad and Chestnut streets. Mr. Betts was hurrying to keep an appointment with his father, Colonel Charles M. Betts, a wholesale lumber dealer, whose office is on the twelfth floor of the building. The only other passenger in the car was Mr. William A. Messinger, of Clayton, Pa., who alighted at the eleventh floor. He says he heard the doors of the elevator shaft behind him. Almost immediately after that he heard a noise as if the doors had been reopened, and a scream which caused him to look around in time to see Mr. Betts go headlong over the edge of the platform through the doorway and into the shaft. Albert F. Gault, the boy in charge of the elevator, said that just as he started the car Mr. Betts said something to the effect that he had passed his floor, and clutched at the doors. The lever was at once reversed and the next thing Gault knew his passenger had disappeared. The body was taken to the Morgue, where it was identified soon after, when it was removed to 2034 Spring Garden Street, the residence of the deceased's father, where the funeral services were held on Thursday morning. Mr. Betts resided with his wife, to whom he was married in 1900, on Pomona Terrace, and was in his twenty-fifth year. He was a graduate of the Friends' Central School, and four years ago finished a course under Howard Pyle, the celebrated illustrator, at the Drexel Institute. He at once established himself as an illustrator became very successful, having his studio at 430 Walnut street. Among the most conspicuous books he has illustrated are Edward Robins' "Washington and Braddock's Campaign" and "An Iron Horse Chase; or, a Boy's Adventures in the Civil War." Mr. Betts also illustrated John Habberton's "Some Boy's Doings," and had only recently completed four illustrations in color for Mr. Robin's "A Boy in Early Virginia." He also illustrated Charles Heber Clarke's "Captain Bluitt," and was engaged at the time of his death in the illustration of a magazine story by Julien Gordon (Mrs. Van Rensselaer Cruger). He had also contributed illustrations to the Century, Scribner's and other magazines.

Monday, March 1, 2010

March 1, 1887


Readers of Harper's Young People for March 1, 1887, would have seen this lovely "Bearskin" headband by Howard Pyle for the very first time. Later, Pyle changed his hand-lettering when preparing the illustration for its appearance in The Wonder Clock, as you can see below. I don't know... I kind of like the bolder, heavier style of the first incarnation, but Pyle was trying to give all the hand-lettered titles a more or less consistent "point size" and weight for the book, hence the tweaking. Rumor has it that the artist George de Forest Brush once owned the original pen and ink drawing.