Friday, August 5, 2011

A New Biography of Howard Pyle

This afternoon I received a review copy of Howard Pyle: Imagining an American School of Art by Jill P. May and Robert E. May, published by the University of Illinois Press.

It’s only the third biography to appear since Pyle’s death and, I hope, it will prove more comprehensive than the prior two.

In 1925, Howard Pyle: A Chronicle by Charles D. Abbott came out. The lucky - and rather young - Abbott (1900-1961) had been given almost unlimited access to Pyle’s letters, which subsequently went missing or were dispersed, so many of Abbott’s transcriptions are the only known copies. Since Pyle’s widow was closely involved in the project, however, certain things were excluded or excised from Abbott’s manuscript. It's an invaluable thing, yet limited in presenting a well-rounded portrait of Pyle.

Fifty years later, Howard Pyle: Writer, Illustrator, Founder of the Brandywine School by Henry Pitz (1895-1975) appeared. It’s sensitively written by an artist who had personal connections with a number of Pyle’s students, but Pitz did little original research for it and relied heavily on Abbott’s book as far as primary source material was concerned. The copy I bought when I was 14 or 15 changed my life - inasmuch as it launched my interest in Pyle and spurred me to begin accumulating anything by or about him - although it, too, covers only so much of Pyle’s life.

Now it’s been 36 years since Pitz’s book, so I welcome this new volume with - I’ll admit - a mixture of envy, trepidation, and excitement: envy, because (unlike me!) the authors were actually able to harness all their Pyle data into something cohesive, publishable, and - if the Introduction is any indication - extremely readable; trepidation, because I want it to be as accurate as possible (something I can’t say about many writings on Pyle); and excitement, because I can’t wait to dig in and see what new discoveries and fresh insights they present.

I’ll post more about it as I read. Although the official publication date is August 29th, it might be available soon after August 8th from...


Jeff A. Menges said...

Great News!
Anything additional would be most welcome. Looking forward to it!

Li-An said...

Very interesting. I did not read a lot about his life. Maybe it's the occasion :-)