Friday, August 27, 2010

August 26, 1876: Part Two

Here’s some more about Howard Pyle’s letter of August 26, 1876...

First off, Pyle used fugitive ink to write this one, or else the ink was pale or diluted to begin with. Also, although the letter is dated August 26 - a Saturday - the envelope is postmarked 10 p.m. August 28. So there’s a chance he got the date wrong (not unusual for him), or he missed Saturday’s mail and couldn’t mail it Sunday, then forgot to post it until late Monday, or some such scenario. Pyle was 23 years old, then, and living with his parents at 917 Market Street in Wilmington; presumably he wrote the letter there.

The addressees are the Misses Alice and Sallie Cresson. Alice Hannum Cresson was born December 24, 1848, in Philadelphia. In 1876 she was living with her parents, Walter and Alice (Hannum) Cresson, and sisters, Anna and Sarah, in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. Alice’s maternal aunt, Hannah Hannum (1817-1896), had married Pyle’s uncle, John Painter (1824-1865), in 1845, so the “cousins” probably met as children. Sarah (Sallie) Cresson was born June 16, 1852, and closer in age to Pyle, but Alice seems to have interested him more: five of the six letters from this series are addressed solely to her. It’s not clear, though, if Pyle’s interest was romantic: his tone tends to be playful, sometimes flirty, but never ardent - except in jest.

In summertime, Pyle and various relatives and friends would often escape the confines of Wilmington for “Mansion Farm” in Owings Mills, Maryland. The four hundred acre estate on the Reisterstown Turnpike belonged to Pyle’s uncle, Milton Painter (1815-1888), and for many years it was the site of sundry family gatherings. The Delaware Historical Society has a great photograph taken on one of these summer outings of Pyle standing amongst - and towering over - a crowd of young folk (perhaps including the Cresson sisters) in the nearby woods.

The “Cameron” Pyle mentions was James H. Cameron, who lived with his father Dr. John Cameron, at 819 West 4th Street, Wilmington. Like Pyle, Cameron was a tenor, a Swedenborgian, and a member of the Friends’ Social Lyceum. He also took part in events organized by Pyle’s mother, including poetry readings and tableaux.

So here’s my transcription:

Wilmington Aug 26th / 76

Miss Alice & Sallie:

Dear Ladies:

“We note the passage of our life by its losses and neglects”; says a certain author, so do I recollect with real regret, my failure to meet you on your way home from Maryland.

Very possibly, - probably; perhaps it may be to you a matter of the utmost indifference; unfortunately for myself, I cannot look at it in that light; and I assure you frequently breathe words, I hope you never use, against that miserable engagement that detained me at the Newspaper Office, until half past one on that Tuesday when you passed through Wilmington.

I am in regard to the sentiments of my regret, very similar to the old fellow who when his wife died; with tears in his eyes thus expressed himself. “I have had many losses! I have lost crops; I have lost chickens; I have lost pigs; but I never had a loss like Maria!”

There is something rather comfortable in performing ones duty, and there is something decidedly comfortable in taking ones pleasure; but when they come upon one in conjunction, and opposed to each other; they produce an effect metaphorically speaking like good salt, and good coffee; which try and you will appreciate!

So was I situated when duty called me to make a visit to Chincoteague, and pleasure to Maryland, and many times when the mosquitoes were particularly troublesome, and the weather uncommonly hot; and when I contrasted my uncomfortable lot with the pleasant times I might have enjoyed in Maryland, I vowed to myself never in future to give duty the priority of position with pleasure.

You can believe; my dear ladies, that my cheerfulness was not at all heightened, when I, whilst desperately fighting mosquitoes, pictured to myself Cameron, sitting radiently on the gate-post; or when plowing hot, cross, and perspiring, through the shifting sand of Chincoteague, I saw in my imagenation all of you sitting, cosily chatting over your ice cream, on the shady breezy poarch [sic] of Mansion Farm. I was like starving Tantalus, whose misery was heightened by seeing the fruit he could not reach.

And so I have meandered dolefully to the close of my complaining letter; - pity ladies my disappointments of this summer! and believe me as ever

Yours Most Respectfully

Howard Pyle

“Disappointments,” indeed! Although Pyle disparages his Chincoteague trip, the article born out of it was key to his transitioning from clerk (or salesman, or whatever he was) in his father’s leather business to professional artist-author. At this very time, his “Chincoteague, Island of Ponies” was accepted for publication in Scribner’s Monthly and, as some of his illustrated fables had also been accepted by St. Nicholas, Pyle finally “felt my art was of some practical use. This was confirmed by Mr. Roswell Smith, who advised me through my father...to come to New York.”

All well and good. But what about “that miserable engagement that detained me at the Newspaper Office, until half past one on that Tuesday”? I’ll answer that in my next post.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August 26, 1876: Part One

I doggedly pursue Howard Pyle’s correspondence because even seemingly slight or unimportant letters can shed light on his life. Sometimes, too, they can create a snowball effect: a passing reference to a name or an event can open up vast new lines of research.

A little over fifteen years ago I came across a cache of seven letters by Pyle, written when he was 22 and 23 years old. Deciphering his quirky handwriting and occasional misspellings and then following up on the people and places and goings-on mentioned kept me busy for weeks - months, in fact - and I still find myself filling in persistent gaps now and then.

I’ll touch on all of these curious epistles in future posts, but here’s one, written on this day in 1876. See if you can figure out what it says. I’ll present my transcription and more details about it soon...



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Pyle-Parrish Connection

Did Maxfield Parrish actually study with Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute in the winter of 1894-95? The topic has been debated over the years and James Gurney presents some evidence sort of against the notion, via Frank Schoonover. But Schoonover, who entered Pyle’s class at Drexel in Fall 1896, is not always a reliable witness. So, here is some opposing evidence from the horses’ mouths, as it were...

The Delaware Historical Society owns a draft of a letter Pyle wrote in December 1905, while negotiating with S. S. McClure about taking over the art editorship of McClure’s Magazine (as well as a larger scheme that never took off). In it, Pyle states:
It so happens that for years I have been teaching my pupils that that which really counts in the work of a true artist is not so much the ability to draw well and to paint well as it is to say something from the heart concerning Nature and humanity and in saying that thing so strongly that it shall make a vital appeal to other men and women, even if they do not know much about the technical excellencies of art.

The result of this plan of education has been that my pupils have been almost unusually successful in their work. For I have been able to train such artists as Mr Parrish, Miss Green, Miss Smith, Miss Oakley, Mr Aylward, Mr Schoonover, Mr Wyeth, Mr Arthurs, Mr Oakley, etc etc. so that their work has made a distinct impression upon the world of American Art - at least of American Magazine Art.
So much for Pyle’s point of view. But Parrish, too, touched on the subject three different times in letters (now at the Delaware Art Museum) to Richard Wayne Lykes, author of the invaluable thesis, “Howard Pyle, Teacher of Illustration”:
I was in his class at the Drexel Institute for only a winter and did not have the chance to know him as well as members of his class which was formed afterwards.... It was not so much the actual things he taught us as contact with his personality that really counted. Somehow after a talk with him you felt inspired to go out and do great things, and wondered afterwards by what magic he did it... [March 28, 1945]
You see, I knew him impersonally for one winter in a rather large class, whereas those thirty members of his class at Chadds Ford had a chance during the five summers to get thoroughly acquainted with him.... I really could not say just what part of my training could be attributed to H.P. Inspiration perhaps more than anything... [April 9, 1945]
I wish I could tell you more of my association with H.P. - anecdotes and the like, I saw far less of him than the other students, and hardly had a chance to get acquainted. I’ve an idea I dropped out of that first class at the Drexel Institute before the end, no doubt to work on soap advertisements and worse, dreadful stuff, but wasn’t I glad to get them! I had one grand day with him when he invited me down to Wilmington, and we drove around the countryside. He was living then in the fine old house of Ambassador Byard (?) [sic: Bayard] After that I never saw him again. [January 15, 1948]
Incidentally, Pyle moved out of the Bayard house, “Delamore,” in (I think) April 1896, so the visit occurred sometime in 1895 or ’96. Parrish also noted in a January 10, 1951, letter to Thornton Oakley: “Yes, I was in Howard Pyle’s class at Drexel for a while.”

So there you go.

And it’s interesting to point out that - I’m pretty sure - Parrish and Pyle’s wife, Anne Poole Pyle, were blood relatives: first cousins twice removed, to be exact: Anne’s grandparents, William Poole and Sarah Sharples, were Parrish’s great-great grandparents.

Howard Pyle Meets Woodrow Wilson, August 25, 1895


On this day 115 years ago, Howard Pyle traveled from Delaware to New Jersey and met Woodrow Wilson (for the very first time!) to discuss his illustrations for the professor’s serialized biography of George Washington. The next day Wilson wrote to Henry Mills Alden, editor of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine:
…Mr. Pyle came to Princeton yesterday. His train was late in arriving and so he had to hurry away, so that we had very little time together; but I think we came to a perfect and very satisfactory understanding about the illustrations.…
Like this lovely interior scene: “Even Sir William Berkeley, the redoubtable Cavalier Governor, saw he must yield” (published in the January 1896 Harper’s). You can see the original oil (15.25 x 23.5") at the Boston Public Library (that is, if they let you - I think an appointment is necessary) and you can see the unusual chair on the right at the Delaware Art Museum (sometimes, but maybe not all of the time). And you can see the boots on the gentleman in the foreground here, here, here, and here, among other places.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

August 5, 1883

“On Saturday I resumed work upon the illustrated verse. It progresses much more slowly than I had hoped. The printing of the letters of the text takes a long time and I had several setbacks through mistakes.”

So said Howard Pyle in a letter to his wife, Anne (then at her family's “cottage” in Rehoboth, Delaware), on Sunday, August 5, 1883. The “illustrated verse” to which he refers was, I assume, “Ye Romantic Adventures of Three Tailors,” the first in a series ultimately collected in Pepper and Salt in 1885. (The “mistakes” didn’t include reversed apostrophes, apparently. But that's my issue.)

The idea for the series had come to Pyle a few weeks before: on July 8 he told Anne:
I wrote a verse for Harper’s Young People which I propose making into a full page. If Harpers should take to it, as I hope they will, I propose writing a number of similar bits (say fifty) and turning them into a child’s gift book next Christmas a year, first publishing them in Young People.
He updated her on August 3:
This morning I started drawing that series of full-page pictures with verses that I hope to do for Young People, to be published ultimately in book form. I told you yesterday how I hammered away at the verses and only hit one late in the afternoon. I hope that they may be successful: I did hard conscientious work today but got only a very little done.… This afternoon I had a sort of discouraged fit, for the work I was doing seemed so puerile and childish but I feel differently now, for after all no work conscientiously done is “childish”…
As Pyle had already started the illustration, he was probably “hammering away” at subsequent verses (for “Two Opinions,” say, or “A Victim to Science,” the next to be published). “Ye Romantic Adventures of Three Tailors” appeared in Harper’s Young People for August 28, 1883, which actually came out about a week earlier, say August 21 or 22, so only about two weeks would have been allowed for production: photo-engraving the plate, printing, stitch-binding the covers, packing, and shipping the magazine. An awfully tight schedule, but entirely possible.

Monday, August 2, 2010

August 2, 1898

While the 1898 Drexel Institute Summer School of Illustration dominated Howard Pyle's time, he had still commissions to fill. In addition to work for Harper and Brothers (and, quite likely, Collier's Weekly), Pyle needed to press on with his ambitious series of paintings for “The Story of the Revolution” by Henry Cabot Lodge, then running in Scribner's Magazine. He made twelve pictures in all and although they were printed in black and white he painted them somewhat larger than usual and in full-color. Some of the set are well known, some not so much. “Arnold Tells his Wife of the Discovery of his Treason” is one of the latter category, unjustly, perhaps, but understandably, compared to the dynamically sweeping likes of “The Battle of Bunker Hill” and “The Battle of Germantown” (a.k.a. “The Attack Upon Chew House”). On August 2, 1898, Pyle wrote to Joseph Hawley Chapin, then Scribner’s relatively new art editor:
…After many delays and a great deal of worry on my part, I am sending you today my picture of Benedict Arnold. I trust you may find it to your mind, for I have expended much thought and great care upon it. I think it has some dramatic intent.

It represents the scene where Arnold, having received the letter acquainting him with the capture of André, tells his wife of his discovered treason and of the necessity of his immediate escape. She sinks fainting at his feet and he stands over her contemplating the ruin of his own life. In this moment of despair and ruin the supreme egotism of the man was very apparent. The account says he stopped only a moment to raise his unconscious wife and to lay her upon the bed, then without calling for assistance or giving any further aid to her he went down stairs, bade adieu to his guests at the breakfast table, mounted a horse belonging to one of his guests and rode away to where his boat was waiting to carry him to the English sloop-of-war, Vulture.

I have tried to represent in his face his own supreme self-concentration…
I'm under the impression that Pyle's brother Walter's owned this, but now the original (36 x 23.75") belongs to the Brandywine River Museum, just down the road from where it was painted.