Saturday, December 31, 2011

New-Year’s Hymn to St. Nicholas

My blogging slowed drastically due to a book project that proved more time consuming than I expected. But maybe I can balance or juggle more in 2012. Until then, take a look at Howard Pyle’s “New-Year’s Hymn to St. Nicholas” which he painted in May 1880 for “A Glimpse of an Old Dutch Town” by Mrs. M. P. Ferris (Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, March 1881).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The First Christmas Tree

“The First Christmas Tree” by Howard Pyle illustrated “The Oak of Geismar” by Henry Van Dyke in Scribner’s Magazine for December 1891. It was engraved on wood by Walter Montieth Aikman.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Howard Pyle Slept Here, Part 3

Manhattan: Broadway - 10th Str... Digital ID: 717313F. New York Public Library

Yes, Howard Pyle slept here. He also worked here, about ten years before this photograph was taken.

The address is (well, was) 788 Broadway at Tenth Street in New York City, right next to James Renwick’s Grace Church. Fleischmann’s Vienna Model Bakery was on the street level, and, as Pyle’s friend James Edward Kelly recalled: “The upper floors of the building were full of little artist studios, like tiny cocoons, in which young artists tried to work out their daydreams.”

Pyle moved from 1267 Broadway (at 32nd Street) and into Room 31 of 788 Broadway on or about November 1, 1878. He wrote to his mother two days later:
I have looked all over New York and have seen all the studios that are to be seen and am sure that I have one of the nicest, pleasantest rooms in the city. It has a fine north light and two side lights looking out on Broadway. It is only two blocks above Scribners’ office and I can now go down to Harpers’ and return in half an hour, instead of its taking me a half day to complete the journey and its business as formerly. There is steam heat in the room and running water and altogether it is very satisfactory. The rent asked for it last year was thirty-five dollars a month. I have got it for twenty-three, and an allowance for fixing it up, calcimining the walls, etc.
Another friend, artist William Henry Shelton, remembered in his 1918 history of the Salmagundi Club (which met on Friday nights at Science Hall on Eighth Street, opposite the Mercantile Library, from February 1878 to October 1879):
Howard Pyle was one of the popular members of that period when a member’s popularity depended largely on the quality of his work. He was usually too busy to attend the meetings, but it was only a step from Eighth Street to the studio building adjoining Grace Church, and a committee of one was frequently appointed to bring him down. Sometimes he would be found writing, but more often with a sheet of Whatman’s paper on his easel moving backward and forward before a wet drawing by the light of a student-lamp, and not to be disturbed or enticed from his work by threat or persuasion.
(In his 1927 history of the club, Shelton presented this slightly variant picture: “There was a tarrying place at Science Hall in Eighth Street when it was usually my job to entice Howard Pyle to the meeting from his studio next to Grace Church. He would be found with a kerosene lamp on the floor, stretching a sheet of Whatman paper, or otherwise engaged, and not to be enticed.”)

But Pyle didn’t remain there long: it seems that he only took out a six-month lease on place - from November 1, 1878, to May 1, 1879 - and left the city when it was up. At any rate, the New York Herald of May 12, 1879, reported that “Howard Pyle has gone to Wilmington, Del., we regret to hear, to stay.”

It’s interesting to note that Pyle’s posthumously-published short story, “Huntford’s Fair Nihilist” (Harper’s Monthly, June 1913), centers on a young artist, based on Pyle himself:
He had come to New York from a provincial city two years before, with a great deal of talent and some excellent letters of introduction.

His talents found him plenty of work, his letters of introduction admitted him into pleasant homes, and his poverty spurred him on to those vehement efforts that were afterward crowned with so great a success.

Huntford used to breakfast and lunch at the old Budapest Bakery, where they had the best coffee and rolls in New York.
It’s a short leap from the Vienna Bakery to the “Budapest Bakery.” And another character in the story, Frederick Vollmer, an old German “Heraldic Designer,” was likely an amalgam of Joseph Vollmering (1810-1887), the German-born painter, and one “Rudolph B. Irontraut,” heraldic artist (also German-born, c.1822), who were both at 788 Broadway when the 1880 U.S. Census was taken, just over a year after Pyle had left.

The building, of course, is long gone, but Grace Church is still very much there. Some more details can be found here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A “Thanksgiving-Time Fancy” from Howard Pyle

“The Enemy at the Door” by Howard Pyle, from “Some Thanksgiving-Time Fancies” in Scribner’s Magazine for November 1895.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Howard Pyle on Ford Madox Brown

“Lear and Cordelia” (1849-54) by Ford Madox Brown

Despite his self-described “hermit-like” existence, Howard Pyle didn’t live in a vacuum, and one of the major points of the the new exhibit and book, Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered, is that his work was informed by myriad sources: from Winslow Homer to Japanese art to James Tissot to Walter Crane.

From his childhood, Pyle was also exposed to the Pre-Raphaelites: among other things, a print of William Holman Hunt’s “Light of the World” hung in the Pyle home as early as 1861 (and one is featured in the show, next to Pyle’s similar “The Closed Door”) and books illustrated by John Everett Millais were in the family’s library. And he often discussed them in his lectures. On November 21, 1904, for instance, he mentioned Ford Madox Brown’s “Lear and Cordelia” to his students:
I would like you to see Ford Madox Brown’s picture of Lear and Cordelia. Lear is half-lying back on his throne, looking like an old lion with his white beard and around are gathered all the courtiers. Some of them are in front of the others so that, perhaps, a part of a face is hidden but it looks right, as it is that way in a crowd. The faces and parts of faces are so strong in character that they might be faithful portraits of people.

That group of painters, Ford Madox Brown, Millais and Rossetti did their work with great simplicity and truth.
As it happens, the Delaware Art Museum also houses the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the United States, so take a look after you wander through the Pyle show (not to mention the Pyle galleries) and note the many similarities.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Two Howard Pyle Exhibits

A little over a week ago, I finally visited the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and saw their Howard Pyle exhibit, which just closed. It was absolutely worth seeing, especially since they put the bulk of their extensive Pyle holdings on view. A couple of things I’d never heard of or seen in person: sketches, studies, drawings, paintings, photos - a real cornucopia of Pylean goodies. And the show was supplemented by a fair number of works by his students, including pictures made under Pyle’s supervision: drawings of plaster casts, paintings of costumed models, and more finished illustrations. Scores of things. I only wish I could have seen it all more than once!

Luckily, the Delaware Art Museum is commemorating the centenary of Pyle’s death (and the subsequent founding of the Delaware Art and Library Society, which became The Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, and, finally, the DAM) with a new exhibit.

OK, I admit I had fantasized of a show hung Louvre-style, with every bit of wall space covered with the hundreds of Pyles the museum has accumulated over the last 100 years. Only a relative fraction of them are on display, however.

But the presentation of Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered is unusually - surprisingly - fresh and sophisticated. Stepping down into the hushed yet huge gallery is like entering a cathedral, or at least a “Church of Pyle”: the overall lighting is low, but the spotlit paintings shine like jeweled reliquaries, or panels any “Old Master” would be justly proud of. I can’t help but echo what Pyle himself said after he first visited the galleries of Florence: I stood among the pictures, I felt that there was a great glow of warm yellow light emanating from them and surrounding everything. They are a great lesson to any artist, and I hope and think I shall learn much from them.
Go look, bask, and learn.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Howard Pyle in Salon

Salon features an interview with Margaretta Frederick, Chief Curator of the Delaware Art Museum, where the new Howard Pyle exhibit just opened. The piece also includes a slideshow.

One minor correction to the slideshow: the photograph of Pyle in his studio (pretending to paint the already-finished “The Evacuation of Charlestown”) was taken by C. P. M. Rumford (not “Runeford”), most likely in January 1899.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Friend Remembers Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle grinning in Italy, a few months before his death in 1911

Almost immediately after Howard Pyle died - 100 years ago today - his friends and acquaintances began to record their thoughts about him. I’ve always been fond of one particular reminiscence written and published on the very day of Pyle’s death in the Boston Evening Transcript. The author was the journalist Edward Noble Vallandigham, who worked at the Wilmington newspaper Every Evening, The Day of Baltimore, the New York Mail & Express, etc., and who was a fellow member (with Pyle) of the Quill and Grill Club and Pyle’s “esteemed friend of many years standing”. He later wrote the book Delaware and the Eastern Shore: Some Aspects of a Peninsula Pleasant and Well Beloved (1922). A few of Vallandigham’s details aren’t quite right, but, overall, his portrait of Pyle captures something a little different than we see in, say, the reminiscences of Pyle’s students...


When I first made the acquaintance of Howard Pyle, back in the middle seventies of the last century, he was a full-faced young man three or four years under thirty, and already, after a period of apprenticeship to severe economy, in New York, married, living at Wilmington, and earning $5000 a year as illustrator and writer. He was a simple and extremely attractive young man, six feet tall, full chested, broad shouldered, and well featured, with a fine cranium, frank blue eyes and a ready smile. His home was in a big old house in a part of the city once fashionable, if anything in Quaker Wilmington deserved that description, but then beginning to be deserted for suburban and semi-urban quarters.


It was my good fortune soon after making Pyle’s acquaintance to set up house keeping with two college mates, both struggling young lawyers, one, Lewis C. Vandegrift, afterward highly successful and greatly beloved, but unhappily now dead more than ten years, and Charles M. Curtis of New England ancestry, who has since become chancellor of Delaware. To our extremely modest menage came a group of very good fellows of whom Pyle was one, and his house was a place of resort for our little household and some of our guests, notably Leighton Howe, a brother of M. A. DeW. Howe of this city, and a most delightful companion with whom one could have the liveliest kind of quarrel upon any topic under heaven.

As Pyle prospered in his work he built a studio in the upper part of the city, just off Delaware avenue, an agreeable residence street, and to this studio we were all invited from time to time for picnic suppers and the like. Pyle had as manservant about the studio an extremely black and altogether idle Negro boy named Ferdinand, and for thirty years he was accustomed to quote as an exquisite witticism my foolish inquiry as to whether Ferdinand were worth two in the bush. We were all rather young then.

For reasons not explicable upon any theory of social comfort Pyle then summered at Rehoboth, Del., a resort as hot as Tophet and infested with mosquitoes. Its sole attraction was a good bathing beach and a startlingly realistic mirage. The cottage, which he shared with his mother-in-law, the sweetest imaginable old lady, whose Quaker bringing up did not prevent her from offering welcome liquid refreshment after the bath, was the scene of a hospitality almost recklessly prodigal. Later Pyle abandoned Rehoboth and summered at Chadds Ford on the Brandywine, where he established a summer school of design, and still later he removed his place of residence to Delaware avenue, and enlarged his studio so as to provide room for his pupils, who had increased in number and would have overwhelmed him had he chosen to accept all comers.

The establishment of his school of illustration grew out of a long cherished plan to aid young men of promise toward realizing their artistic ideals. To this school nobody was admitted who did not give promise of real talent, and who was unwilling to devote himself solely to the work in hand. Pyle made no charge for his services as teacher, but permitted pupils to pay for the use of the studio and materials. The man who failed of industry was ruthlessly sent away, but the worker with real talent got as much of the teacher’s time as he chose to ask. Gradually Pyle gathered about him at Wilmington a little group of illustrators who earned their living by the art he had done so much to teach them, and who were privileged to claim his continued advice and criticism.


When Thomas F. Bayard went abroad as ambassador to the Court of St. James, he rented to Pyle his big, queer old mansion on the outskirts of Wilmington, the house in which Myra Clark Gaines, the New Orleans claimant, was born. Here, as in all his other homes, Pyle exercised a generous hospitality, and the place with its wide porches, big airy rooms, ample grounds and wide prospect was well suited to such a purpose. Pyle found it, however, a most expensive place of residence, as the terms of his rental bound him to necessary repairs which required a considerable outlay. A few years ago, by which time Pyle was earning a large income by his indefatigable work of various kinds, he was tempted by an extravagant offer for S. S. McClure to become art editor of McClure’s Magazine. He passed nearly half his time in New York looking after his work for the magazine, and on meeting him at the City Club soon after his employment began, I found him full of enthusiasm in his undertaking, and of ardent admiration for Mr. McClure. Not long after, however, news came that the arrangement had been discontinued. I fancy Pyle had become too firmly set in his own views of artistic propriety, to work well for another, and the exile from home, which he dearly loved, must have gone hard with a man of his temperament.

It was characteristic of Pyle to become greatly absorbed in ideas, projects and somewhat in persons. In religion he was a convinced Swedenborgian, and consequently much of a mystic. At one time he became deeply interested in the Single Tax, but he long ago ceased to care for Mr. George’s ideas. Private theatricals were one of his passions, and he gave himself to this amusement with something like abandon. He became some years ago an enthusiastic admirer of Mr. Roosevelt, and was several times entertained at the White House. Upon one of these occasions he met Mr. Taft, then of the cabinet, heard him talk of the Panama Canal, and came away deeply impressed with his easy mastery of a great subject. “He seemed,” said Pyle, “as familiar with that vast undertaking as I should be with the laying of a drain in my back yard.”


The years dealt most kindly with Pyle, and in his middle fifties he was one of the most delightful looking of men. His head, indeed, was gray where it was not bald, but his face was rosy, his carriage erect, and his expression one of ripe benevolence and delightful openness. When I last saw him I sat by as he worked at a picture in colors, and we talked as he painted, a double occupation not unusual with him. It was on this occasion that he laid down the axiom, “If your art cannot be great, make it useful.” This, I think, gave a hint of his real ambition, which was to be a creative painter in oils. His visit to Italy was with a view to the study of Italian art at first hand, and had he been spared a dozen years we might have seen a fruitful harvest from that new undertaking. His death leaves a great gap in the ranks of American illustrators, and he is a loss as well to American letters that will be especially felt by thousands of his youthful admirers. Pyle was a most interesting personality, a man of singular sweetness, purity and sanity, the relentless pursuer of his own best ideals, and a worker of prodigious and tireless energy.

Behind the Scenes at the Delaware Art Museum

A behind the scenes look at the Pyle exhibit opening this Saturday, November 12th, at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.

What Did Howard Pyle Die Of?

What did Howard Pyle die of? Most contemporary newspapers reported that it was “heart failure” or “heart disease”. The more common notion - via those closer to the Pyle family - is that it was “kidney trouble” or Bright’s Disease - and his known symptoms are consistent with that diagnosis.

And still another, also kidney-related cause of death can be found in the “Report of the Death of an American Citizen” sent by the American Consular Service at Florence, Italy, to the U.S. State Department. This document - signed, by the way, by Leo J. Keena (1878-1967), the American Consul, and an acquaintance of the Pyles - said it was “uric acid poisoning”.

Coincidentally, Pyle’s brother Clifford died at 53 of “a kidney affliction” in 1910 and his brother Walter died at 59 of Bright’s Disease in 1919. So perhaps a genetic component was involved.

Howard Pyle on Death

“To me Death is a most interesting change to look forward to and the other life is as certain a thing to me as the passing from one room to another room - except that it means just such a vital and radical change as that of a seed that quits its dead casing of earth to become a tree in the sunshine and air of the area.”
- Howard Pyle to Richard Watson Gilder, October 5, 1892

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

100 Years Ago... Today?

Howard Pyle died on November 9, 1911, in Italy at 4.30 a.m. - so it was still November 8th in Wilmington, Delaware, no?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered

I just received a copy of Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered - the brand new book which complements the exhibition of the same name at the Delaware Art Museum.

It’s pretty gorgeous: lots of pictures - as well as essays on different aspects of Pyle’s work.

Get one from:

Howard Pyle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Title-page drawing for The Wonder Clock (“1887” was changed to “1888” in the first edition of book)

No, you won’t find a major exhibition of Howard Pyle’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York - for that you’ll have to go to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania (RIGHT NOW!), Wilmington, Delaware (starting November 12!), and Stockbridge, Massachusetts (next year!), where his work is genuinely appreciated.

Trapped somewhere in the bowels of the Met, however, are a couple of Pyles from The Wonder Clock, acquired in 1926, when his stock was still pretty high. The drawings are rarely - if ever - seen by the general public, but the museum has done something good with six of them: they’ve posted high resolution scans on their website, so we can really inspect them, instead of relying on the just-OK reproductions in various editions of the book.

I would’ve liked the drawings to have been scanned in color to better see Pyle’s alterations, but it’s possible to detect some here and there. I’ve posted scans of a few of the illustrations as they initially appeared in Harper’s Young People to show the extent of the changes. Some are quite radical since Pyle began illustrating the stories in his Pepper and Salt style - more “vignette-y” with floating banners - but eventually switched to a square format with blackletter titles. And when he began preparing the pictures for the book he made them all uniform.

I’ve already pointed out that Pyle altered the title of “Master Jacob” - but here you can see that he pasted his new lettering onto the original drawing.

Three of the Met’s originals come from the “The Clever Student and the Master of Black Arts” which initially appeared (with “Black Arts” hyphenated) in Harper’s Young People for February 23, 1886. Pyle must have drawn them in late 1885, then altered them for use in The Wonder Clock in early 1887. A memorandum book in the Harper and Brothers Archive shows that he delivered these revisions to art editor Charles Parsons on March 5, 1887.

“The Princess walking beside the Sea” (above) in Harper’s Young People became “A Princess walks beside ye water, into whose basket leaps ye ring” in The Wonder Clock (below). Apart from the title, note what Pyle did to the princess’ crown.


“The Master of Black-Arts with a Hen” in Harper’s Young People became “The Master of Black Arts bringeth a curious little Black Hen to the King” in The Wonder Clock. Who knows where the blackletter title with an illustrated initial went to.


And “What happened to the Master” in Harper’s Young People became “What happened to the Master of Black Arts after all his tricks” in The Wonder Clock.


Finally, “The Princess and the Pigeons” (above) from Pyle’s story “Mother Hildegarde” in Harper’s Young People for May 25, 1886, became “The Princess dwells in the oak tree where ye wild pigeons come to feed her” in The Wonder Clock. As far as I can tell, Pyle only altered his initials - and the title - in this one.

Friday, October 21, 2011

“Deianeira and the Dying Centaur Nessus”

“Deianeira and the Dying Centaur Nessus” by Howard Pyle (1887)

Isn’t this picture lovely? I never really gave it much attention before. Howard Pyle painted it in 1887 for A Story of The Golden Age by James Baldwin, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons. Even the small (3.7 x 4.6"), early halftone reproduction is pretty good. The original is still out there, somewhere, but it almost certainly is black and white watercolor (or ink) on paper and about 10 x 12 inches, give or take an inch or so. It illustrates a passage in which Deianeira, wife of Heracles, says:
I have been thinking of what I can do to keep my husband’s love. I had almost forgotten that I have a charm which will help me, or I might not have been so sadly troubled. Years and years ago, when we were fleeing from my dear old home at Calydon, we came to the river Evenus. The water was very deep, and the current very swift; but there lived on the banks of the stream an old Centaur, named Nessus, whose business it was to ferry travellers across to the other shore. He first took my husband safely over, and then myself and our little son Hyllus. But he was so rude, and withal so savage in his manners, that Heracles was greatly angered at him; and he drew his bow, and shot the brutish fellow with one of his poisoned arrows. Then my woman’s heart was filled with pity for the dying Centaur, wicked though he was; and I felt loath to leave him suffering alone upon the banks of Evenus. And he, seeing me look back, beckoned me to him. “Woman,” he said, “I am dying; but first I would give thee a precious gift. Fill a vial with the blood that flows from this wound, and it shall come to pass that if ever thy husband's affections grow cold, it will serve as a charm to make him love thee as before. It needs only that thou shouldst smear the blood upon a garment, and then cause him to wear the garment so that the heat of the sun or of a fire shall strike upon it.” I quickly filled the vial, as he directed, and hastened to follow my husband.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

William Pyle Dies in Boston

It’s the anniversary of the death of William Pyle - Howard’s father. He suffered a stroke while on a business trip and died in a Boston hospital on October 15, 1892. The date of his death seems to be in some dispute, but this date has been corroborated by Massachusetts and Delaware records.

He is seen here in a photo taken in 1883 (or maybe 1884). On his knee is his grandson, Sellers.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Cafe Howard Pyle

Don’t let the introductory graphics set to a disco beat throw you: this new video is a good, succinct announcement for the BIG Howard Pyle exhibition that opens at the Delaware Art Museum on November 12.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Howard Pyle’s Reading List

Headband for A History of New York (The Grolier Club, 1886) by Howard Pyle

“I asked Mr. Pyle for a list of books he would recommend to me to read this winter and he gave me the following saying that when I had read these to come for more.”

So wrote Allen Tupper True to his mother on October 13, 1902. Pyle’s reading list included these titles, which are all still readily available:
By Nathaniel Hawthorne...
By Washington Irving...
By William Dean Howells...
Not really hifalutin stuff, but True later explained, “Mr. Pyle’s list of books is rather queer but he seemed to think I would like and need light literature in connection with the grind I shall have at the studio.”

Of course, Pyle knew Howells personally and they collaborated on Stops of Various Quills, published in 1895.

Pyle also knew Hawthorne’s son, Julian, who interviewed him for an article in 1907. And his first (or second) known book illustration - in McGuffey's Fifth Eclectic Reader (1879) - was for an excerpt from “A Rill from the Town Pump” from Twice-Told Tales. The Brandywine River Museum now owns the original art (but I could have, if I hadn’t chickened out when it was offered to me. I still kick myself.). Also, in 1900, Pyle supervised the illustration of Twice-Told Tales by his students for Complete Writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co..

And the illustration shown above is one of three Pyle made for the Grolier Club’s 1886 edition of The History of New York.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Young Folks’ Favorite Authors

This is one of four playing cards featuring Howard Pyle in The Fireside Game Company’s Young Folks’ Favorite Authors, which was manufactured and sold by The United States Playing Card Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, starting in 1897.

Young Folks’ Favorite Authors was one of many “author” card games, but the first to include Pyle. An advertisement in The American Stationer for November 11, 1897, said:
The Fireside Game Company’s


Educational Games.

This new line of enameled card games is the finest ever issued.

Handsomely put up in bright-colored boxes, printed in bronzes or stamped with gold leaf.

These games are educational and instructive as well as entertaining, and afford endless amusement for young and old, at the same time unconsciously imparting much valuable information.
Young Folks’ Favorite Authors - the ad also said - featured “Portraits of writers dear to our young people. Such favorites as Pansy, Louisa M. Alcott, Oliver Optic, Eugene Field, etc. The game is played by the conventional Author's rules.”

And, speaking of the rules, here they are...

Friday, September 30, 2011

“I am glad I am not dead”

Today is the 108th birthday of Miss Mary Asenath Ball, who sent a fan letter to Howard Pyle when she was seven years old. Her letter is lost, but we can glean what she wrote by reading Pyle’s reply:

In case Pyle’s writing is difficult to decipher, he said:
My Dear Mary Ball

I like your letter. I am glad you like my books. I wish I had written an Indian story. I did not write one. I am glad I am not dead.

I am yours truly

Howard Pyle
Pyle received Mary’s letter when he was in Florence, Italy, and he sent his reply sometime in April 1911 (I haven’t yet figured out if, on the postmark, the “1” refers to the day and the “17” to the hour, or vice versa). This is (so far) the last known letter in Pyle’s own hand - in fact, all the others sent from Italy were written or typed by his secretary, Gertrude Brincklé. And, of course, there’s a certain poignancy to it since Pyle died some seven months later.

Mary was the only child of Bertrand Emery Ball and the sculptor Caroline Cheever (Peddle) Ball (1869-1938), who studied under Pyle’s friends Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Kenyon Cox.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Good Gifts and Harper’s Fool Folly

Decorated title for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly”- Harper’s Young People version (1890)

Decorated title for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly” - Twilight Land version (1894)

Sometimes Howard Pyle would alter his pictures after they were published. And in a few instances he would redo them entirely, like two for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly.” These, however, he redid not out of choice, but of necessity.

In early 1892, Pyle was assembling his latest crop of fairy tales from Harper’s Young People into a children’s book, which - he hoped - would be on sale by the following Christmas. At his request, Harper & Brothers returned his original pen and ink drawings, but in a letter of March 6 Pyle noted that he hadn’t yet received the seven for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly,” which appeared in the September 9, 1890, issue of the magazine.

Art editor Arthur B. Turnure tersely replied that they were gone.

Pyle, of course, was not happy. On March 10, 1892, he wrote:
If I may make bold to say so it impressed me as seeming just a little “cool” to tell me, without offering any explanation or remark or expression of regret, that my drawings for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly” “were not preserved”. However, it occurred to me that perhaps the many calls upon your official correspondence did not allow the use of such formal expressions and also precluded your telling me why and how the drawings were not preserved.
Pyle added that perhaps Turnure - who had only taken charge of the Art Department in November 1891 - didn’t realize that the plan all along had been to publish the stories in book form - and that, with that understanding, he had charged less than usual for the illustrations. Pyle also expressed doubts that the plates used to print the magazine could be re-used for the book, because some of the pictures had “been so reduced as to have much of the artistic quality eliminated.” And he concluded, again somewhat pissily:
I do not, of course, know just where the responsibility for the loss of the drawings belongs, but, taking for granted that the Art Department should have seen to it that they were preserved, will you kindly let me know what you propose as an alternative in the event of the photo-reproductions not being found available for the book and failing the originals being recovered?
Then it was Turnure’s turn to take offense (his reply to Pyle is missing, unfortunately). But Pyle had calmed down by March 12, and he apologized, explaining, “that I have been, perhaps, somewhat over worked of late and I am sure that you will know that overwork is somewhat apt to disturb ones poise - I know it makes me irritable.” He sheepishly figured that if he could “give up several magazine illustrations, I may find time to do my work more quietly and not be so quick to take offense for small things.”

He also pointed out that the loss of the pictures wasn’t what annoyed him so much as what - “doubtless in my haste” - he saw as Turnure’s “slighting and indifferent regard of the fact.” He went on:
You see that the matter of making up this proposed book is of considerable importance to me. I want it to be as perfect as possible and to not have any make-shift about it if it can be avoided.
However, after this uncomfortable back-and-forth - and having realized that he still needed to write and illustrate more fairy tales to flesh out the book - Pyle put the project on hold for two years. In the meantime, Turnure (by the way, a founder of The Grolier Club, of which Pyle was an early member), had left the Art Department and had gone on to found Vogue.

In a July 18, 1894, letter to Harper & Brothers, Pyle wrote that - with two exceptions - the Harper’s Young People plates for “Good Gifts and a Fool’s Folly” could be re-used in printing the book (by then called Twilight Land), after all: “The first drawing is the decorated title, which I have re-drawn, and the other is the one which is to be used either as a tail-piece or as a final illustration - the man sitting among the rocks.”

And although those seven particular originals “were not preserved” at the Harper offices, two of them have since turned up, so perhaps they weren’t thrown out, pulped, or burned, but (as Pyle himself had theorized) they went home with an admiring member of the art staff.

“He lay there sighing and groaning” - Harper’s Young People version (1890)

“He lay there sighing and groaning” - Twilight Land version (1894)

NOTE: The original copies of the letters quoted above belong to the Morgan Library. I assume, however, that since Pyle, who died in 1911, wrote them in 1892 and 1894, I am justified in quoting them at length. But I hope that someone will alert me if my assumption is incorrect.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

“I am conquered! I am conquered!”

I was just looking through Howard Pyle’s under-appreciated book of fairy tales, Twilight Land, and came across this picture: the untitled tailpiece for “Woman’s Wit” - which originally appeared in Harper’s Young People for July 29, 1890. It shows a despairing Demon howling, “I am conquered! I am conquered!” and “bellowing so dreadfully that all the world trembled.”

It’s hard to see much “classic” Pyle in this scratchy, vigorous (and beautiful) pen and ink - it’s a world away from his deliberate, Düreresque drawings for Otto of the Silver Hand, which he made only two years earlier. It reminds me more of... Heinrich Kley?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Lost and Found Pyle

With the exception of sketches, doodles, and embellished inscriptions in books, the bulk of Howard Pyle’s pictures have been published at one time or another, so “lost” ones of any importance are exceedingly rare. But I just found one.

After my Cass Gilbert post, I was looking around for information about his house in Ridgefield, Connecticut. In a letter of August 28, 1907, to Pyle, Gilbert wrote that he had just bought the property. “It was an old tavern in the revolutionary time and is really a charming little place,” he said, adding that he didn’t plan to alter it, only repair it and restore the garden to the way it had been in the 1700s. “It is just the sort of thing that you would like, and we have said again and again that if we can get you, we want you to come there and visit us just as soon as we can give decent accommodations to a guest.”

I don’t yet know if Pyle took up Gilbert’s offer, but the place has since become the Keeler Tavern Museum & Garden House. And on one of the pages of their website I was surprised to see this tiny reproduction of a picture of Cass’s wife, Julia Finch Gilbert.

Portrait of Julia Finch Gilbert by Howard Pyle (c.1908-10)

Some years ago, the Gilberts’ granddaughter gave the 28.5 x 34.5" portrait to the museum, where it now hangs in the Cass Gilbert Dining Room. The museum informed me that “We were told Mrs. Gilbert did not like the way her hands looked in the painting so the lower part of the portrait was cut off along with the artist's signature.” But surely this is Howard Pyle’s work.

Fortunately, there’s documentation to prove it. That which I’ve been able to read (so far) suggests that Pyle started the painting sometime in 1908, when, perhaps, the Pyle-Gilbert friendship was at its most intimate. Cass Gilbert said in a December 22nd letter of that year:
I am tremendously interested in the outcome of the portrait. Mrs. Gilbert tells me that you expect her to come down again for a day some time in the near future, just when I do not know, and that after that my curiosity may be satisfied but not until then.
But Pyle seems to have let it slide: in a letter of March 22, 1910, Gilbert begged, “I do wish you would send me the portrait just as it is and some time when you can come and visit us for a week or two you can touch it up. It must not be allowed to interfere with your work...” He pointed out that the “limitations of Mrs. Gilbert’s wardrobe are such that I think she feels the lack of a hat and gown which she left in Wilmington” - and he asked Pyle to return them.

Drawing from letters I haven’t yet looked at, the new Pyle biography also discusses the portrait and indicates that the plan was for Pyle to paint it “for a commission determined by [Mrs. Pyle and Mrs. Gilbert]”:
Ever generous, Pyle said he preferred doing the work for free. Insecure about his abilities at portraiture, Pyle complained that he was unaccustomed to the genre. Once the portrait was completed, Pyle felt he might not have captured Mrs. Gilbert’s likeness, telling her husband she was “really a very difficult subject to paint.” Self-effacingly, Pyle suggested Gilbert destroy it if it was unsatisfactory and “get some better fellow” to undertake another painting.
Needless to say, I’d been wondering where the picture was since first reading about it in Gilbert’s letters some 15 or so years ago. But I had no luck in trying to track it down. I also had no clue as to what it would look like: Pyle really wasn’t a portrait painter, and his self-portrait of 1906 (at the National Academy of Design) isn’t particularly notable. This painting, however, is great. It’s so much better, stronger, and more interesting than I thought it would be. And even if it was, indeed, cut down, it still works. Pyle’s ever-inventive placement of bold colors and lights and darks is just terrific. I can’t wait to see it in person.

Incidentally, I showed it to one of Pyle’s great-granddaughters and her husband remarked that “Mrs Gilbert looks like a pirate!” She does bear a resemblance to this one - among others...

“The Buccaneer Was a Picturesque Fellow” by Howard Pyle (1905)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Howard Pyle Slept Here, Part 2

On September 9, 1911, Howard Pyle’s sons Theodore (22) and Howard Jr. (20) sailed on the S. S. Canopic from Genoa, Italy, bound for Boston and, ultimately, their fall semester at Yale. The next day, apparently, his sons Godfrey (15) and Wilfrid (13) took the train up to their school near Lausanne, Switzerland. “We shall be cut down then to the feminine skeleton of our family,” Pyle had said colorfully, if not a little morbidly, in anticipation of their departure.

A few days later - perhaps even one hundred years ago today! - Pyle and his wife, Anne, and their daughters Phoebe (24) and Eleanor (17), and his secretary, Gertrude Brincklé, went to Siena for a two-week stay at the Pensione Chiusarelli - seen here in a postcard of that vintage. (The place, by the way, is now the newly restored, three-star Hotel Chiusarelli - in case you’d like to sleep there, too.)

It was a welcome change for Pyle, who had grown to despise his summer residence, the Villa Torricella, in the hills above Florence. “It was more nasty than I can make you understand,” he said in a letter to Stanley Arthurs, after itemizing the “great high walls” surrounding it and the “very rough and very steep” roads to it that “were so filthy that you had to keep your eyes straight before you so as to see where you stepped,” as well as the long stretch of hot, dry weather and his own bouts of “sickness and blues.” In fact, Pyle confided, “I would rather have ever so sharp an illness than such dreadful mental depression as overwhelmed me.” In escaping to Siena, however, the family “all became prosperous and happy again.”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Another Look In and Around the Pyle Studios

Still more video showing the insides and outsides of Howard Pyle’s studio buildings at 1305 Franklin Street in Wilmington, Delaware.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Video Tour of Howard Pyle’s Studio

I just noticed this video on Howard Pyle. Not all of it is accurate, but there are lots of images and much footage taken in and around his Wilmington studio. Makes for a good vicarious visit.

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:


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.

[drawing of man, 7/8 x 3/4" - 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 and 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.