Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Staff and The Fiddle and Hints of Parrish

Howard Pyle’s headpiece for “The Staff and The Fiddle” in Harper’s Young People for August 31, 1886. It was later included - with some slight variations to the hand-lettering - in The Wonder Clock. It anticipates the work of Maxfield Parrish, no?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building Confession

Ever since he finished “The Landing of Carteret” for Cass Gilbert’s Essex County Court House, Howard Pyle hoped to get another mural commission for one of the architect’s buildings. It never happened. Despite their personal friendship - and the strings Gilbert pulled - their professional connection effectively ended when the painting went up in Newark in March 1907.

While idling in Italy some four years later, Pyle sent Gilbert the occasional, gloomy missive about his health and his prospects as a muralist. “If only some one of the libraries which you are building wanted decoration, I really think I could now make something of some account in the world,” he wrote on April 4, 1911. “But I have not yet been asked to do anything.”

Gilbert had bigger - or taller - fish to fry. “For the last year my time has been very much taken up by the skyscraper problem,” he wrote to Pyle on August 29, 1911. The skyscraper in question was the Woolworth Building, which, at that point, had “not yet risen above the sidewalk level.” The contractors, however, promised to have 55 stories up by January 1, 1912...
It will be a miracle if they do. The whole thing has been handled in such a way that we have been in a perpetual series of rushes for over a year and not until we had nearly completed three different sets of designs, each larger and higher than the one before it, did we finally get really under way and then in not less than ninety days we had to make the plans of a structure which will be, for the time at least, as advertised, the highest in the world. It is too bad I could not have had all the time that was spent on preliminary work to develop the final design and make the best of it, however, we have got a fine plan and I think a very interesting exterior. I do not like to put down in writing what I think about doing work so rapidly, for not only antiquity but posterity would stand aghast at the extraordinary proposition.
Unluckily for Gilbert, his words live on in his own copy of his letter to Pyle, now at the New-York Historical Society.

Luckily, though, the building lives on, too.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

“I saw a many ‘gruesome’ sights”


“The stout little old gentleman who ate four fish-balls for breakfast on Sunday”

How better to charm a woman than by drawing an old man about to vomit? That was Howard Pyle’s tactic, at least, in a letter he wrote to Miss Alice Hannum Cresson on August 19, 1875:

Wilmington

Aug 19th 1875

Dear Miss Alice:

Now ma am the question is am I or am I not to be forgiven for my appearant neglect of your kind permission to write to you. Before the court decides let me be heard in a little excuse “iv it be plazen to yus mum [?]”. Now the fact is that immediately upon my return home I received orders to prepare myself ‘instanter’ for a business trip to the north so you can easily imagen that I must have been much hurried to get off in reasonable time.

I arrived home on Monday or rather Tuesday last at half past one o’clock at night, rather fagged out to tell the truth; having travelled about thirteen hundred miles (and all at night at that) the foregoing week. However I am now as you perceive in my normal state of vavicious brilliancy - “Richard’s himself again!” in fact.

Boston was the last city I visited before I returned home and from there I came to Philadelphia by ocean. Ah Miss Alice in two days of ocean travel I saw a many “gruesome” sights - old gentleman that would ever and anon dash frantically to the edge of the boat where they would stand with bodies that heaved and swayed with the force of some internal conflict between breakfast and stomach. The wail of little children and cries of suffering women whilst the stewardess ran hither and thither with a baisin in one hand and a glass of whiskey in the other - no ma am I was not sea-sick.

This little sketch represents the stout little old gentleman who ate four fish-balls for breakfast on Sunday.

[3/4 x 7/8" drawing: see above]

But enough of this “fal-lal.”

I saw Spencer this evening. He tells me that he has received a letter from Miss Sallie inviting us both up to Consho. next Saturday. Most unfortunately I have sundry little engagements for that day; while Saturday week Spencer is engaged; however on Saturday two weeks weather permitting and provided it suits you we shall do ourselves the pleasure of visiting you.

I suppose Spencer has told you all about our departure from Maryland. How I scarcely had time to buy my segars and ticket and to dash off a few agonized lines of parting to Miss Smith and at the last moment to post your letters almost forgetting my valise in my hurry. We were both upon the platform of course to catch a last lingering look at our lady friends at Mansion Farm and were duly gratified.

I enclose an illustration of Shakspeare - “a poor thing but mine own” - applicable to this peach and watermelon season [enclosure missing]. Please give my respects to your father and mother and the rest of my Consho. friends and believe me as ever -

Very Respectfully Yours

Howard Pyle

May I hope to hear from you soon in answer to this my first letter since my return from Maryland?

I should note that although Pyle dated the letter “Aug 19th” sometimes he got his dates wrong, plus the envelope (see below) was postmarked 10 p.m. August 20th, so it’s possible he wrote it on that day.

I’ve posted a couple of things regarding “Miss Alice” already, but here’s a quick review:

When the 22-year-old Pyle wrote to Alice Hannum Cresson, 26, she was living with her parents, Walter and Alice (Hannum) Cresson, and sisters, Anna and Sarah (or Sallie), in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. She and Pyle were cousins by marriage - Alice’s maternal aunt, Hannah Hannum (1817-1896), was the widow of Pyle’s maternal uncle, John Painter (1824-1865) - so they may have known each other since childhood.

First, regarding “iv it be plazen to yus mum”: I’ve been squinting at that phrase for the last fifteen years. “It be” and “to” were clear, but the other parts I thought, at various times, were “played to your music” or “muse” and “plague to your name” and so on. All nonsense. But I think I’m on the right track now. It really can’t be anything but “plazen” - that’s Pyle’s “p” and “z,” etc. - and if we say it with an “Irish” accent, it translates to “it be pleasing to.” Since Pyle was familiar with Irish character songs and plays, this seems likely. I might be misreading the first word “iv” (or “if”), but Pyle also was apt to add extra bits to his letterforms and not dot his “i”s consistently. “To yus mum” - i.e. “to you, ma’am” - is iffy (or ivvy), but I don’t know what else it could be. Any takers?

But what else does this letter show us, apart from Pyle’s earthy sense of humor - and that he sometimes smoked “segars”?

Well, we see that Pyle was a mediocre speller, but he knew that: “I was never a good hand at spelling,” he admitted years later. He also knew his “Shakspeare” - sort of: “a poor thing but mine own” is a common misquotation of “an ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own” from As You Like It (Act 5, Scene 4). Incidentally, Pyle also used the phrase to “modestly” describe his fairy-tales in an 1889 letter: “But you know what Touchstone says - ‘A poor thing, a poor thing, but mine own!’” Meanwhile, “Richard’s himself again!” comes from Act 5, Scene 3 of Colley Cibber’s Richard III.

“Spencer,” it turns out, was Willard Spenser, born July 7, 1852 (or later), in Cooperstown, New York. He moved to Wilmington in 1873 and in 1875 was living at 1229 Tatnall Street with his mother, Mary, and brother, Claude. All three taught music. Spenser had early musical talent and composed his first waltz at age 7. In 1886, “The Little Tycoon” - for which he wrote both the music and the libretto - premiered in Philadelphia and became the first successful light opera by an American composer. By then it seems that he and Pyle had drifted apart, though later they were fellow members of the Franklin Inn Club.

“Mansion Farm,” as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, was the Owings Mills, Maryland home of Pyle’s (and Alice’s) aunt and uncle, Sarah and Milton Painter. I recently learned, though, that the place - also known as ULM and built by Samuel Owings himself - was the focus of controversy some 15 years ago, when a developer sneakily demolished it. A more full, interesting, and illustrated history of it can be found here.

But perhaps the most intriguing thing about this letter is what it reveals about Pyle’s otherwise murky involvement in his father’s leather business. The 1875-76 Wilmington city directory (published in June 1875) lists William Pyle as a “leather dealer” and Howard Pyle as an “artist.” The latter description may have been wishful thinking at that point, but it’s plain that Howard’s duties went beyond clerking in an office and that he acted - well, once - as a sort of traveling salesman, going by train - and boat - to visit scattered customers. This is, at least, exactly what his father did, especially in the 1880s, after his younger sons, Clifford and Walter, had taken the reins of the family enterprise.

One more thing: chief among the Pyles’ products (eventually, but quite possibly in the 1870s, too) was leather for bookbinding. Their clients, naturally, would have included publishers. In fact, according to Alpheus Sherwin Cody - who interviewed Pyle in 1894 - Roswell Smith, President of Scribner & Company, “was a friend of [Pyle’s] father.” Why would a Delawarean leather dealer become friendly with a New York publisher?

I wonder, therefore, if this as-yet hypothetical connection to the publishing world was an “in” - or the “in” - that Pyle successfully exploited in 1876, after writing up his Chincoteague experiences...







Friday, August 19, 2011

Howard Pyle Slept Here, Part 1


Southwest corner of Seventh and West Streets, Wilmington, Delaware (1994)

Okay, Howard Pyle may have slept here.

I was going through some old files and came across this photo. It was taken by Paul Preston Davis one day in July 1994 when we were tracking down Pyle’s different residences in around Wilmington, Delaware. Many - most - were gone, pulled down years earlier, but a couple still stood.

The poor old building shown here might be one of the survivors. That is, if it was erected more than 140 years ago: it looks it, to me, despite the more recent portico and newer structure added to the back. It may also have been a one-family dwelling divided into two, at some point. It sits (provided it hasn’t since been destroyed) on the southwest corner of Seventh and West Streets in Wilmington.

The Pyle family moved to this location from their second house in the country, called “Evergreen” or “Evergreens” on the Philadelphia Pike, in the late 1860s. Actually, the exact year may have been 1869, if we can trust Howard Pyle’s statement, “Nearly all of my life up to sixteen years was spent in the country.”

The Pyles’ time here corresponded with the three years that Howard spent studying art under F. A. Van der Wielen in Philadelphia. They may even have chosen to return to Wilmington proper to make Howard’s commute easier - unless, of course, he lived in Philadelphia when classes were in session, since he also said:
At the age of 16 I left home to be a student at a private art school in Philadelphia. The school was kept by a man who won a gold medal at Antwerp, the center, perhaps, of the most technical art in Europe. I remained three years in Philadelphia... [emphasis mine]
But young Howard would still have spent long periods at his parents’ place. In fact, we know for sure that he was there on July 11, 1870, when the Ninth U.S. Federal Census was taken. On that day, the household included the immediate Pyle family (William, Margaret, Howard, Clifford, Walter, and Katharine) plus some others:
  • Frances Augustine Eyre (born 1848), Howard Pyle’s first cousin
  • Hannah James Churchman (born 1794), Howard Pyle’s great-aunt
  • Edward Churchman Painter (born 1846), another first cousin
  • Catherine Ragan [sic], an Irish-born housemaid, aged 28
And it was probably here that the 18-year-old Howard drew the masthead for Every Evening, which first appeared in print on September 4, 1871.

In 1872, however, the family packed up and relocated yet again, to yet another house on Market Street - their third of four - and the sixth home Howard Pyle lived in before the age of 20.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Some Thoughts on Howard Pyle: Imagining an American School of Art

My once-pristine copy of Howard Pyle: Imagining an American School of Art by Jill P. May and Robert E. May is now full of grubby scribbles and marginalia. So... what do I think?

Frankly, I was hoping for something, well, fatter: more thorough, more comprehensive. Then again, I’m a glutton for Pyle data, and that wasn’t necessarily the authors’ aim. Still, at 206 pages (plus notes and index) it’s a relatively slim book - plus the price is high and the illustrations are few.

Also, I would have preferred a more rigidly chronological structure, if only to better capture the arc of Pyle’s multifaceted life. The authors’ transitions often feel too abrupt or arbitrary to me, the arrangement of details and events sometimes seems jumbled, and there are notable gaps and omissions. But no doubt the “Pylean timeline” in my head holds too much sway: I have too many preconceived notions of where things “ought to be” and how much attention they should get.

That being said, the authors - drawing from countless previously untapped sources - do bring many new things about Pyle to light - and they put them into broader historical context than has been the norm. They also confront issues which Charles D. Abbott’s and Henry C. Pitz’s hagiographies avoid...

Like Pyle’s seemingly contradictory attitudes toward his female students. The authors go far in dismantling the accusation that Pyle was a just cold-hearted sexist when he chose to bar women from his school. Rather, they explain that he consistently (and not so typically for that era) nurtured and championed talent in whomever he saw it; yet, time and again, he noticed his female trainees’ talents - and his investment in developing them - stifled by “marriage possibilities and domestic responsibilities.” Thus, since the ever-practical Pyle “did not want to expend great effort teaching students who might drop out of the field,” he came to focus his teaching energies on men.

The authors are also unafraid to tackle Pyle’s views on race. To a Pyle enthusiast, this topic is troubling: he was, after all, a privileged, paternalistic white man from a border state, and his writings contain some insensitive, unreconstructed, and - yes - racist things. But the authors show that, despite his unfortunate comments, Pyle was usually (though not always) “color-blind” when depicting black people in his illustrations. They also bring up the surprising point that Pyle essentially made an “endorsement of racial equality in heaven” in his most personal and emotionally-charged book, The Garden Behind the Moon. Well, equal rights “in heaven” are one thing, in real life they’re another, and while the authors are not apologists for Pyle’s prejudices, they at least add useful new twists to the conversation.

They also put Pyle’s often inscrutable Swedenborgianism - and how it influenced his life and work - into sharper, yet nuanced focus. And - as the title of the book promises - they deal at considerable length with Pyle’s messianic, if quixotic, quest to generate a staunchly “American” school of art. Indeed, this is the book’s overarching theme. And even though Pyle’s mission pretty much failed, the authors devote a chapter to demonstrate how, in myriad ways, his legacy has lived on.

Of course, as with any ambitious project borne out of fugitive data culled from far-flung archives and forgotten publications, a number of factual errors are present. And while these may only be noticeable to, say, a pedantic Pyle zealot, I feel obliged to highlight some in an ersatz “errata slip”:
  • Page x: Richard Wayne Lykes wrote “Howard Pyle, Teacher of Illustration” in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, not William W. Hummel (who wrote the article immediately preceding Lykes’s in that same issue)
  • Page 3: Pyle only said that he lived in the “quaint old house of the colonial period” (known as “Green Hill”), not that he was born there. In fact, his father only purchased the property in August or September 1854. (See more on Pyle’s place of birth)
  • Page 5: Pyle “confided to his friend” Edmund Clarence Stedman, not Richard Watson Gilder
  • Page 9: Pyle actually “began his magazine career” with an illustration for his mother’s poem “The Reformer” in St. Nicholas (November 1875), not with “The Magic Pill” in Scribner’s Monthly (July 1876)
  • Page 10: In 1876, Pyle roomed in the same building as The Misses Marshall’s School for Young Ladies at 250 West 38th Street in New York, not “Forty-eighth Street.” Granted, Pyle himself made this mistake in his scrapbook and in a 1903 interview, and then Abbott and Pitz took it on faith
  • Page 17: Pyle brought a letter of introduction to the illustrator Frederick Stuart Church, not to “the renowned landscape painter Frederic Edwin Church
  • Page 26: “The Soldiering of Beniah Stidham” appeared in St. Nicholas for December 1892, not 1882
  • Page 35: Library of Universal Adventure by Sea and Land, edited by William Dean Howells and Thomas Sergeant Perry (not “Thomas Sargeant”), merely reused a Pyle illustration from 1880. And in Pyle’s April 13, 1890, letter to Howells, he says, “now that I have the pleasure of your acquaintance” - which indicates that they hadn’t known each other long. Further evidence suggests that they may only have met in January 1890
  • Page 47 and 120: Art editor Alexander W. Drake was not affiliated with any Scribner publications after 1881
  • Page 49: Pyle did not create “a pamphlet of his own” in reaction to Henry Mills Alden’s God in His World, An Interpretation: some years after Pyle’s death, Merle Johnson made a transcription (which contains significant errors) of Pyle’s March 30, 1890, letter to Alden and published it in booklet form as “Sabbath Thoughts”
  • Page 50: Pyle’s pen-and-ink drawings were for The One Hoss Shay (1891) and Dorothy Q (1892) by Oliver Wendell Holmes, not “a two-volume edition of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poems” (although Pyle did contribute two illustrations to a set of Whittier’s works published at about the same time)
  • Pages 115-6 and 172: Pyle’s correspondent here is Henry Howard Harper of the Bibliophile Society, not J. Henry Harper of Harper & Brothers. Also, on page 125, it was Henry Howard Harper who asked the Pyles to dine at the hotel
  • Page 122: Samuel L. Clemens wrote his laudatory letter to Pyle on January 1, 1903, after reading no more than three installments of the serialized Story of King Arthur in St. Nicholas, not “after receiving a complimentary copy” of the book, published the following November
  • Page 157: Pyle could not have “produced a startling 20 percent of all the color illustrations appearing in Harper’s, Century and Scribner’s magazines between 1906 and 1910” because none of his work appeared in the latter two magazines during those years (but maybe I’ve misinterpreted the equation)
  • Page 175 (and Note 68): Pyle did not work “on a mural, despite lacking any commission” in Italy: the “major ‘decoration’” valued at $15,000 which Pyle “had hoped to place” in the St. Louis Public Library was the one he had painted for his Wilmington home in 1903-05
  • The color reproduction of “The Landing of Carteret” is of not of the mural itself, but of Pyle’s smaller, much less finished study
    Regarding some of the letters quoted - and here Pyle’s “dreadful chirography” is much to blame:
    • Page 39: Not drawl, but “crawl out from underneath the load”
    • Page 49: Not pitching, but “fetching a pocket full of religion”
    • Page 105: Pyle’s students did not give him “a chain made of real clam feet” but an “old claw-foot chair”
    I also don’t understand the rationale of referring to women by their middle and last names - i.e. Bertha Corson Day is called “Corson Day” (not simply “Day”) and Ellen Bernard Thompson is “Bernard Thompson” - especially when it causes more confusion than, I guess, it’s meant to prevent. Take this oddly constructed passage on page 94:
    Eventually, Bernard Thompson and Walter Pyle were married, and while he was alive, she became inactive, returning to her art career after his death. Corson Day would continue to exhibit at the Plastic Club for the next few years, but once she and Bates were married, her career goals ebbed. Corson Day and Bernard Thompson had romantic relationships and put their art careers aside to get married, though Corson Day would continue to exhibit at the Plastic Club for the next few years and Thompson would return to art career after her husband’s death.
    But these are the extreme examples, and although I could identify other “misdatings” and misspellings and so on, I’ll stop here. Again, they are, I suppose, relatively insignificant - and irritating only to the lunatic fringe of Pyle fandom.

    If it sounds like I’m being unduly hard on this book... I guess I am. My know-it-allness gets the better of me when I see inaccuracies perpetuated in print, and I’m probably too close to the subject to be truly objective. But, after stepping back a bit, I see the enormity of what the authors have accomplished.

    Howard Pyle called himself a “plain man”; others described him as “simple.” Well, maybe. If anything, I’ve found him to be an extraordinarily complex person, and the astonishing breadth of his acquaintance and interests and creative output - together with the sad fact that the bulk of his personal papers have been scattered or lost - make boiling down his life into a manageable 200 pages a nearly impossible task. The authors have succeeded, however, in harnessing a lot of ornery material - and presenting it admirably.

    Critical, perceptive, and well-researched writings about Pyle are rare: they would barely fill out a foot’s-worth of shelf-space. This book deserves a place among them. My nitpicking aside, Howard Pyle: Imagining an American School of Art is a huge leap forward in helping us understand who Pyle was, what inspired and motivated him, and where he fits into the history of art in America.

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    “Delaware, the land of peaches!”


    “A Farm ‘Pluck’” by Howard Pyle (1878)

    “There are few more beautiful sights than a peach orchard in full bearing, the vistas between the parallel rows of trees over-arched with dark green foliage, the verdant roof studded with ripe and ripening fruit, suggesting the gems of Aladdin’s cavern. Every where throughout the orchard are seen the figures of the ‘plucks,’ mounted on high step-ladders, drawing down the heavily laden branches of luscious fruit. Every where the air is burdened with the all-prevading [sic] fragrance of peaches.”
    Howard Pyle on “The Peach Crop in Delaware” (Harper’s Weekly, September 14, 1878)

    Howard Pyle enjoyed peaches, and he went to great lengths to ensure that his friends would enjoy them, too. A little over 114 years ago, during the height of Delaware’s peach season, he wrote this letter to Christopher L. Ward:
    Rehoboth, Del., Aug. 9th., 1897.

    Dear Chris:

    I am sending to Carrie by tomorrow (Tuesday) morning’s train a basket of specially picked peaches, gathered as nearly perfectly ripe as possible, so that you will have to get them without loss of time and spread them out so they may keep. They will not, I think, last more than twenty-four hours, but some of them may not be so perfectly ripe as that. I shall try to send them in care of the Baggage Master so that there will be no delay in your getting them. If I cannot do that, they will have to go by Adam’s Express, in which case you must get them from the express office as soon as may be. I think you had better have some one meet the morning train.

    You still linger with us in odds and ends of conversation and in continual recollection, for your visit was a great pleasure to us.

    Very truly yours

    Howard Pyle

    “Carrie” was Caroline Tatnall Bush Ward, Pyle’s onetime neighbor and model, who married “Chris” on May 5, 1897. As Pyle said in the same 1878 article quoted above:
    The Delaware peaches are not an exotic growth, like the grapes of the same name, but a strictly local production, excelled by no other fruit of the kind in the world. The quantity of peaches raised in the peninsula is still constantly on the increase, as facilities for transportation and the increase of canning establishments open ever wider markets for their sale. The latest statistics number the peach-trees of the peninsula at about five millions, covering fifty thousand acres of the best and most productive land, and representing in money an invested capital of nearly three million dollars.

    Of the fresh fruit shipped to the markets of New York, Philadelphia, and other cities of the Middle States, there passed over the Delaware Railroad, in 1877, 4248 car-loads - over two million baskets - while at least an equal quantity would find its way to market by water. This year's crop is much less in quantity, probably not more than half an average crop, owing to the untimely frosts of late spring - a fact that has probably already unpleasantly impressed itself upon peach-lovers by the comparative scarcity this season of this most delicious and satisfying fruit.

    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...

    Tuesday, August 2, 2011

    “Out of a Gray Chaos”

    “Paint your picture by means of the lights - imagine that you are bringing moving beings out of a gray chaos and not that you are drawing men with black paint.”
    Howard Pyle as recorded by Ethel Pennewill Brown and Olive Rush, August 2, 1904.

    Monday, August 1, 2011

    Edwin Austin Abbey Died 100 Years Ago Today

    “He is a comical little fellow, but quite the gentleman; he wears glasses, and being troubled with dyspepsia, has a habit of grinning in rather a ferocious manner.”

    So wrote Howard Pyle about Edwin Austin Abbey in 1878. Pyle and Abbey became friends around that time and although Abbey moved more or less permanently to England the following December, they stayed in touch over the years. Pyle later said that the news of Abbey’s death on August 1, 1911, “came to me with a great shock of surprise, for I had not even known that he was sick.”

    An article titled “Harper in Other Days,” which appeared in the New-York Tribune of December 3, 1899, included this anecdote-rich passage - which may not be entirely accurate - about the two illustrators when they first got to know each other:
    EDWIN ABBEY AND HOWARD PYLE

    Edwin Abbey, by all accounts, must have been the “Little Billee" of the lot [of staff artists at Harper & Brothers]; tradition says that the others used to gaze at his work, seeking hints from it in return for their admiration. Long after he removed his bodily presence to other scenes - his artistic presence is still in Franklin Square - those he left behind could point to the table where he had worked, and a great find among the lumber of the office was a portfolio full of clippings of Charles Keene’s work in “Punch” which Abbey had left there. But success and admiration never spoiled him, as witness the tradition of the enlistment of Howard Pyle. A tradition may not exactly reproduce facts, but it must be consistent with the character of its subject, if it lives. This one says that Howard Pyle used to bring sketches and ideas to the office, but for some time no particular notice was taken of him or of them. Some of the ideas were used, but the sketches always had to be redrawn. In those days Mr. Pyle could not draw. At last he was surprised to see one of his things engraved just as he had sent it in. While he was waiting with a properly dignified show of indifference for the check in payment to be mailed to his address, Mr. Pyle’s attention was one evening attracted by strange rhythmical hammerings on the lid of a coal box that stood on the landing outside the door of his address. In going out to see what these sounds might mean, he found another young man drawing. “Is this Mr. Pyle?" said the visitor. "My name is Abbey. I came to ask you to come up to the office and make one of us."

    All these "great boys," as they may properly be called, since they have developed into great men, were among the objects of interest which were shown to country visitors in Franklin Square. They worked in separate boxes with the light, which was not a north light, by the way, coming in from the Pearl-st. windows, long before the days of Roebling's bridge or the elevated road, and, no doubt, they in their humble degree impressed the visitors even as the great editors impressed them. But they did not like this kind of glory; and that was how the system of "personally conducted tours" through the Harpers' building was brought to an end. The illustrators, instigated, instructed and led - so the story goes - by Mr. Abbey, made a plot by which, whenever they should ascertain from their scouts that tourists were approaching, each illustrator should simulate some specified wild beast. It would have been interesting to know what beast each played, whether Abbey took the lion’s part himself and made a monkey of A. B. Frost, and whether Thulstrup or Pyle acted like a bear, but these details could not be gathered in time for the present article. The effect, however, was that as soon as the regular show boy brought his party to that part of the building, saying, "There are the rooms where our artists work," the air was rent with growls, squeaks, grunts and roarings, and the visitors, peeping in, saw men on all fours. The visitors thought that the artists at Harper’s “acted very strangely,” and the report that those periodicals were Illustrated by a corps of lunatics might have spread and wrought harm had not Mr. Parsons interfered and induced the powers to put a stop to the institution of "showing around."

    An Interrupted Performance


    “An Interrupted Performance” by Howard Pyle (1878), engraved by Frederick Juengling (1880)

    Most of Howard Pyle’s works appeared in print just months or even weeks after he finished them. But a fable he wrote in 1876 only showed up in St. Nicholas in 1885. And his 1880 article called “A Peculiar People” was kept on the shelf almost nine years before Harper’s Monthly published it.

    “An Interrupted Performance” didn’t have quite that long to wait, but there’s an interesting explanation for the lag.

    Pyle painted it in 1878 and showed it at an Art Students’ League exhibition in early November. The New York Herald for November 6, 1878, said: “The north wall was hung with sketch class drawings...and other black and white work. Among this we note...an excellent Howard Pyle ‘An Accident in the Circus.’”

    The original was likely in gouache, but it hasn’t surfaced yet - unless it was burned or pulped, an unfortunate fate of many “leftover” works in Harper’s art department. So, for now, we only get to see Frederick Juengling’s 19.4 x 12.7" wood-engraving of it from Harper’s Weekly of July 31, 1880. It was accompanied by a lengthy editorial on the hazards connected with circuses:
    THE CIRCUS

    There is something terribly incongruous about an accident in the “ring.” The scene is one of amusement and festivity, and when a disaster occurs, the spectators are struck with a horror and bewilderment far greater than would be caused by a parallel event in the ordinary ways of life. Especially is the multitude stirred when the victim is a child, like the poor little acrobat in Mr. Pyle's admirable engraving on our double page. It seems then nothing less than shocking cruelty to train children for these exercises, and to force them to endanger life and limb for the entertainment of a curious and indifferent crowd. There are certain feats invented by overzealous managers that should be put a stop to, by law if necessary; but so much of it is only an attractive display of legitimately developed human strength and able horsemanship that we should hate to do without it.... [and so on...]
    But why the two-year delay from finish to print? The Chicago Daily Inter Ocean of May 11, 1890, had this to say:
    Charles M. Kurtz tells an interesting little incident about Howard Pyle in the New York Star: “Pyle is a tall, robust, solid-looking man, without any of that traditional expression which is supposed to belong to the conventional literary or artistic character. Pyle is a nephew, by the way, of the late Bayard Taylor [sic]. I never see him that I am not reminded of an incident of a dozen or, perhaps, fifteen years ago. Pyle then had a studio away up in Broadway near Thirty-second street, and was intent upon following a purely artistic career. He attended the Art Students’ League, and drew from models in his studio. One time he wrote a pathetic little story, entitled, if I remember rightly, “Death in the Circus,” and illustrated it by a large drawing in black and white. He hoped to sell the story and the drawing to one of the magazines, and sent it all around, with the usual result that follows when a writer is unknown. The day it came back from one of the publishers he said: “Never mind; I’ll lay it aside, and after awhile, when these people know me, I’ll sell it for a good deal more than I could get for it today.” Three or four years afterward I picked up a copy of Harper’s Weekly, and here was Pyle’s story and a full-page reproduction of his drawing. Both were exactly the same as when I had seen them originally. There is a lesson in this for a good many young literary and artistic aspirants.
    Kurtz’s yarn is intriguing, but he may have been mistaken about the “pathetic little story.” Although Pyle supplied some of his own explanatory texts for his Harper’s Weekly pictures, the editorial on “The Circus” doesn’t sound like Pyle - and, besides, it’s not a story at all. He probably assumed that his picture could - and should - stand on its own.

    The New York Times, however, couldn’t help itself and provided something of a story (or at least something pathetic) when it praised the handiwork of both Pyle and Juengling on November 7, 1880:
    There is another picture of Mr. Howard Pyle, engraved by Juengling, fully worthy of extended comment. It is called “An Interrupted Performance.” Only some poor little devil of an acrobat who did not do his trick, and smashed his ribs, or broke his spine. The two ballerinas, with extended skirts and flesh tights, approach the fallen lad. Sleery, the clown, holds a bottle, and he and a group of circus people surround the fallen boy. There is the ring master, keeping out the crowd, assuring them “that it is of no consequence,” but back in the canvas, you see the mother of the lad, in tears, while along side of her is the monkey. You need not look for the daintiness of touch here, or copper-plate platitudes. Engraver has followed the sentiment of the artist, and worked with all his heart and soul to follow the touch, the method of the pencil and brush. “Poor Billy, a promising kid, was a-going to be a sawdust star some of these fine days, and there he lies limp and dying,” everybody in the pictures says that, and even the horse that looks on seems to know all about it. An artist bred to his calling could understand the ability shown in the special work of this print, and the street-corner arab would find out the sentiment in it.
    Now, compare this 1878 circus scene to the one Pyle did in 1898.

    (Amusing to note: in reporting on “The Ruin Wrought by the Recent Storm at Manhattan Beach,” the Detroit Free Press of December 31, 1880, “borrowed” the Harper’s Weekly lead: “There is something terribly incongruous about an accident on Christmas Day. The occasion is one of amusement and festivity and when a disaster occurs...”)