Friday, July 29, 2011

H.P.S.A. Ahoy!

“The dim, shadowy forms of vessels riding at anchor in the night” by Howard Pyle (1889)

If only. In the correspondence of Howard Pyle’s students there are some intriguing hints of things that, unfortunately, never came to be. Allen Tupper True’s letter of July 29, 1902 (now at the Archives of American Art), describes a plan that was later scuttled:
What do you think is the latest thing that his brain has evolved? He is already making arrangements for having the school afloat next summer. We are going to charter a steamer - or rather a schooner and with part of the vessel for Mr. Pyle and his family and part for the school we are going to float all summer. There will be a bully chance to paint marines and if things pan out right the whole expense will be borne by this scheme. Mr. Pyle is to write an article or two which we shall illustrate and the proceeds are calculated to be enough to pay our expenses. This is the nucleus of the plan and Mr. Pyle’s plans usually go through. If next summer’s cruise is successful we will the next year go to the West Indies etc. etc. Do you wonder why we like Mr. Pyle?

[Note: The above picture comes from Part One of “Jamaica, New and Old” by Howard Pyle in Harper’s Monthly, January 1890. The original - whereabouts unknown - is in blue watercolor or ink on paper or Bristol board.]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Howard Pyle’s Palate

The 1899 Drexel Institute Summer School of Illustration dining at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania*

Howard Pyle’s taste in food has always fascinated me, and a dozen years ago I was asked to provide some information on exactly that topic for a book. Rather than draw up a simple list of his favorite dishes, I wrote a brief essay, and the compiler later asked if I’d consent to it being quoted in full. I said “Absolutely!” and by-and-by the book was published as The Artist's Palate.

It was a handsome thing, full of interesting anecdotes, illustrations, recipes, and even a foreword by Mario Batali. But I was chagrined to see that - unbeknownst to me - an editor or proofreader had made several “corrections” to my text:
  • “Chadd’s Ford” had become “Chadsford”
  • Apollinaris water” had become “Appolinaire’s water”
  • “’tis good invalid food” had become “’tis good and invalid food”
Luckily, though, they had also “corrected” my surname by leaving off the terminal “r” which lessened my embarrassment somewhat. I guess. So, for the record, here’s what I originally sent:
When Howard Pyle landed his first important commission, he rewarded himself by immediately taking a friend to Delmonico’s where they “had a lunch of all the delicacies in season and out of season.” Thereafter, as his success and circle of famous friends grew, dinners at Delmonico’s and other such eateries were regular events in Pyle’s life. He was invited to a number of lunches and dinners at the White House and attended banquets honoring the likes of Mark Twain and other luminaries. The menus at these grand feasts were nearly as remarkable as the guest-lists. Pyle’s taste for fine food had its limits, however: when served truffles in Italy he said, “They taste like sewer-gas smells.”

By and large, the food Pyle is known to have enjoyed is of the comfort variety: ice cream, roasted chestnuts, popcorn, cake, pretzels, lager beer, dried fruit, chocolates, apple cider, ginger ale, waffles, turkey, and pie. He once offered to send some terrapin to a sick friend, saying “’tis good invalid food.”

While teaching at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, Pyle occasionally invited some of his students to lunch. He liked to expose them to new dishes, but he also knew the power of food as an inducement to work or as a reward for work well done. Once, at the Hotel Bartram, he said to the waiter, “I want to introduce these boys and girls to the famous Philadelphia pepper pot. Bring them a large dish and a large quantity of this famous Philadelphia pepper pot for I want them to know it and because I expect a great deal of work from them this afternoon.” On hot days, Pyle’s penchant for lemonade spurred him to lead his summer school students on long bicycle trips from Chadd’s Ford to the one restaurant in Wilmington that made it especially with Apollinaris water.

Pyle peppered his pictures and prose with scenes of eating and drinking. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood in particular is full of jolly feasts. The activities of Robin and his men whet their appetites, and they satisfy themselves by “roasting juicy steaks of venison, pheasants, capons, and fresh fish from the river,” by devouring great pasties “compounded of juicy meats of divers kinds made savory with onions, both meat and onions being mingled with a good rich gravy,” and by washing it all down with pots of “humming ale” or a “goat-skin full of stout March beer.” In one memorable passage, Robin fantasizes about his ideal meal: “Firstly, I would have a sweet brown pie of tender larks; mark ye, not dry cooked, but with a good sop of gravy to moisten it withal. Next, I would have a pretty pullet, fairly boiled, with tender pigeons’ eggs, cunningly sliced, garnishing the platter around. With these I would have a long, slim loaf of wheaten bread that hath been baked upon the hearth; it should be warm from the fire, with glossy brown crust, the color of the hair of mine own maid, Marian, and this same crust should be as crisp and brittle as the thin white ice that lies across the furrows in the early winter’s morning. These will do for the more solid things; but with these I must have three pottles, fat and round, one full of Malmsey, one of Canary, and one brimming full of mine own dear lusty sack.”

Doubtless these delicious descriptions reflected Pyle’s own palate.

* The above photograph was probably taken by Frank Schoonover, since it otherwise shows all of the 1899 Summer School students. Maybe that’s his cap on the bench, marking his seat. Howard Pyle, is at the head of the table in the foreground. At the opposite end is his secretary, Anna W. Hoopes (at least it looks more like her than his wife, Anne). On Pyle’s left (from left to right) are Robert L. Mason, Annie L. Hailey (or Haley, a Drexel student who served as a model), Anna Whelan Betts, Emlen McConnell, and Sarah S. Stilwell (with the long braid). On Pyle’s right (from left to right) are: Philip L. Hoyt, Stanley M. Arthurs, Ellen Bernard Thompson, Clyde O. DeLand, and Bertha Corson Day (obscured by Pyle, but her hairstyle is distinctive).

NOTE of August 20, 2014: I’ve since discovered that the photo was taken not at Chadds Ford as had been noted previously, but at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on August 20, 1899.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lily Lake

“The Lily Lake” by Howard Pyle (1891)

Howard Pyle isn’t known for his landscapes, but he did quite a few over the years, mostly to illustrate his own travel articles. Shown here is a strong, simple example from “Among the Sand Hills” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for September 1892. The engraving is unsigned, but is the work of either E. H. Del’Orme or Felix Levin - and in this case it’s a little hard to see where the engraver ends and Pyle begins.

Pyle painted “The Lily Lake” in 1891, while summering in Rehoboth, Delaware. The original is lost, but, judging from two of the four known originals from this article (and Pyle’s hints in his letters), it’s full color oil on canvas and perhaps 24 to 36 inches high; much larger than most of his non-pen-and-ink work of that time, which tended to be smallish black and whites on board.

Whether Pyle painted it - or at least started it - en plein air is in question. Although he set up a portable easel and umbrella now and then (there’s even a self-portrait of him doing just that), he knew the limitations of painting outdoors: after one attempt he wrote, “The glare of the light outside is so great that it is impossible to tell exactly what you are doing.... I had my work all everyhow, and it looked like chalk when I got it into the subdued light of the studio.” There’s also a chance that he worked from photographs. But he did consider it to be “as faithful a transcript as I could make of nature.”

The location - in the dunes, pines, and ponds around Cape Henlopen - was only a hike or wagon ride away from his house on the beach. Here’s how Pyle - that “mystic naturalist” or “naturalist mystic” - described the scene:
Back of the Capes lie not only the strange white lifeless hills and valleys, and the dark skirt of pine woods with its circling shadows, hot and dry and still, but dense jungles and tangled wildernesses; and hidden gloomy swamps of stagnant water inhabited by strange wild creatures; and here and there lonely little lakes of fresh water, blooming, in the midst of all the grotesque dark surroundings, with fields of white lilies.

There is one such little lake that lies in the very clutch of the fatal sand - a round bowl of warm crystal, a perfect garden of lilies that fairly burdens the hot air with the fragrance of its sweetness. There is a bushy dingle here and a leafy tangle there, where birds nestle and sing. Tall slender bulrushes and cat-tails flick and flirt in the light wind at the edge of each little bank. A rank wet woodland leans over the water at one side, and all is cool and fresh and pleasant.

But around it circle the hot livid arms. As the sand creeps forward inch by inch, those arms close slowly but surely, strangling the lake, smothering out the teeming water life, burying the lilies, drinking up the clear warm water.

The little lake is certainly doomed by a visible and inexorable fate. But meantime it smiles in the warm sunlight; it holds an image of heaven in its bosom (and an image of death as well); its lilies bloom, the birds sing on its banks, its life teems, and its waters refresh all things near. The simile fixed in sand and water seems very pat and apt. Who is there cannot read it?

But all similes have an obverse and a reverse. To this there is a reverse also.

On the smooth face of the sand, all round the margins of the lake, are everywhere strange tracks and marks and foot-prints left by a grotesque and ugly life that has passed over it. Everywhere, crossing and recrossing in a net-work of sinuous lines, are paths where serpents and vipers, great and small, have come and gone. Everywhere dotting the sand are awkward squab footprints of frogs and toads, marks scraped by the bellies of lizards, rough misshapen tracks of mud-terrapins. Everywhere blended and commingled with these marks of reptile life are stamped the pigeon-toed footprints some big and clumsy, some little and sharp - left by awkward water-birds of all sorts and kinds that prey upon that other misshapen reptile life. For here and there a ragged scuffling mark upon the sand shows where some grotesque tragedy has happened. Perhaps all the squalor of that reptile life is even now wriggling under the smooth surface of the lake that shows upon its face only white stars of water-lilies and a mimic image of heaven.

Monday, July 25, 2011


“The art-student learns rules for doing things but all the rules in the world would never make a picture.

“A great picture can only be made through inspiration and truth, and rules are of use only for correcting.”
Howard Pyle on Monday, July 25, 1904, as recorded by Ethel Pennewill Brown and Olive Rush

Sunday, July 17, 2011

“Why am I so blue?”

“All eyes were turned to Abraham Davenport...” by Howard Pyle

It’s always interesting - interesting to me, at least - to see great minds succumb to rounds of anxiety and self-doubt. On July 17, 1883, Howard Pyle wrote to his wife, Anne, who was down at her family’s cottage in Rehoboth, Delaware with their 13-month-old son, Sellers:
I sit here this evening a right up and down blue man. Why am I so blue? That I can’t tell thee; thee knows how I get such spells upon me; one of them is upon me now. I have had a day of enforced - I might almost say - idleness through the failure of Harpers to send the Higginson MS. that they must forward. Beside this, my drawing for Butler (the Philadelphia publisher) has not turned out what I could have desired. It is too good to do over again and yet is almost too bad to send away. I want to get it out of the house for I hate the sight of it when I come into the studio. I don’t know whether it is the hot weather or whether it is thy being away that upsets me, or whether I am going backward in my work, but certainly it seems to me that I do not draw so well now as I did three months ago. I really am very much inclined to write to Mr. [Charles] Parsons [head of Harper & Brothers’ art department] and ask him to send me away somewhere on a trip so that I can get away from the jog-trot drudgery of manufacturing pictures for two or three weeks. If I have a change, perhaps I can tackle my work again with more vim and go when I come back to it again.
Pyle may well have been in a sort of post-partum depression at this point: he had recently finished writing and illustrating his Gesamtkunstwerk, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood - which would come out that fall - and he seems to have been casting about for something equally absorbing. He had just begun writing verses which would later be collected in Pepper & Salt and was doing - or trying to do - his usual bread-and-butter work.

The “Higginson MS.” was Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s manuscript for either “The Dawning of Independence” or “The Birth of a Nation” or “Our Country’s Cradle” - articles which Pyle ultimately illustrated for Harper’s Monthly.

And his “drawing for Butler” is, perhaps, the illustration shown here for Monroe's New Fifth Reader (Philadelphia: E. H. Butler & Co., 1884), which somehow missed inclusion in the 1921 bibliography of Pyle’s works (I’m not yet entirely sure if this is the one Pyle meant, though: I need to keep hunting).

Pyle’s Franklin Street studio, meanwhile, was in the process of being built, hence his statement, “I want to get it out of the house,” since between 1881 and 1883 his workspace was located in his - actually, his mother-in-law’s - home at 207 Washington Street in Wilmington.

Still blue, Pyle wrote to Anne the following day: “Bad luck today. No MS. from Harpers.… Rubbed off from my picture that which I did yesterday, and think it looks better. I shall send it away tomorrow without touching it any more - I hope.”

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pyle’s Post-Publication Changes, Part 2

Howard Pyle was not above reworking a picture after publication. “The Burial of Braddock” is one example: after it appeared in Harper’s Monthly - and after Paul Leicester Ford pointed out an error in it - Pyle turned a fancy, but historically innaccurate coffin into a crude box made of scrap wood. He did this right before shipping it to its new home at the Boston Public Library where it would, in his words, “go upon record.”

Another post-publication change can be seen in his 1889 work, "My hatred of him seemed suddenly to have taken to itself wings," for Harold Frederic’s novel In the Valley. Here’s how it looked in Scribner's Magazine for July 1890, engraved by Henry W. Peckwell:

"My hatred of him seemed suddenly to have taken to itself wings" (magazine version)

Now compare it to the halftone plate that was used in the book edition of the novel. (Granted, this is really just to show how the original picture differs from engraver Peckwell’s interpretation.)

"My hatred of him seemed suddenly to have taken to itself wings" (book version)

Fast-forward to 1892: Frank Nelson Doubleday - then a rising star at Charles Scribner’s Sons, but who hadn’t yet struck out on his own - was collecting material for a high-end, oversized “book” in portfolio form called American Illustrators. In early April, Doubleday wrote to Pyle about the project and asked him to choose one of his illustrations to be featured among the 15 finely-printed plates. Without hesitation, Pyle picked "My hatred of him seemed suddenly to have taken to itself wings" since it was “perhaps, my best work for Scribners in black and white.” Doubleday then tracked the original to Germany (I’m not sure why it was there) and had it shipped to Pyle.

But on July 16, 1892, just after receiving the picture, Pyle asked Doubleday, “if you would be willing for me to alter the drawing a little. I find, looking at it with new eyes, that the canoe is somewhat out of proportion and just a little out of drawing and I should like to make it as perfect as possible.” Doubleday acquiesced and Pyle had at it. The result can be seen here, in the photogravure plate as published in American Illustrators that October:

“The Wounded Enemy” (American Illustrators version)

Not only did Pyle reconstruct the ends of the canoe, he fiddled with the tall trees in front of the moon, softened the waterline, and toned down the reflections in the water. All of it to good, almost Dewing-esque effect. The title, too, was changed to the much less wordy “The Wounded Enemy.”

I don’t know if the original painting ever made its way back to Germany, but Scribner’s loaned it to the Trans-Mississippi and International Exhibition in Omaha, Nebraska in 1898, and in May 1913 they sold it for $150 (double, incidentally, what they had paid Pyle for it 24 or 25 years earlier) to collector William Bradhurst Osgood Field (1870-1949), and now it belongs to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. And exactly two years ago today, Joyce K. Schiller’s short essay on the picture was posted here.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Perhaps Not Without Snap and Go

"On sped the light chestnut, with the little officer bending almost to the saddle-bow"

On this date 120 years ago - July 15, 1891 - Howard Pyle shipped the picture seen here to F. B. Schell, head of the art department at Harper & Brothers. “I think myself that it is perhaps not without snap and go,” Pyle remarked in a letter of the same day.

He had only started painting it some two weeks earlier. “I suppose I had better first of all, do the Battle of Monmouth illustration for the Weekly, had I not?” he asked Schell on June 30. “And will you kindly tell me if Mr. Davis especially prefers it in ink or whether he would be as well satisfied if I made it in wash? I think I would prefer doing it in wash although I will do the best I can in any medium that you and Mr. Davis may prefer.”

“Mr. Davis” was Richard Harding Davis, writer, bon vivant, and editor of Harper’s Weekly - who Pyle admired for “putting lots of ‘blood’ and ‘grit’ into the paper”. Evidently, Davis and Schell preferred a pen and ink illustration (which would be much less expensive to reproduce than a wood-engraving), but, as Pyle explained on July 15, “I found upon consideration and trial that the subject did not admit of it and so had to use the other medium.” The “other medium” in this case was black and white oil, which often fell under Pyle’s broad term “wash”.

Pyle also apologized for having “so long delayed doing the work” since Davis had handed him the manuscript on or about June 16. But the details had taken a few weeks to hammer out and in the meantime Pyle’s studio was being altered and he had had to vacate it temporarily. “Then, beside,” he added, “I got interested in the subject and spent more time upon it than, perhaps, I should have done.”

The picture illustrated “The Two Cornets of Monmouth” by A. E. Watrous in Harper's Weekly for September 12, 1891.

A good reproduction of the original painting can be seen in Alice A. Carter’s book on Pyle students Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Jessie Willcox Smith, titled The Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An Evening with Howard Pyle in 1910

Howard Pyle photographed by J. R. Cummings in 1910

On his blog, James Gurney posted a reading he did from Henry Pitz’s The Brandywine Tradition. Take a listen.

In constructing that chapter, Pitz drew on the written and spoken reminiscences of several Pyle students. One of his main sources was an article published in the November 1919 issue of Delaware Magazine, which remains, perhaps, the most extensive description of a Pyle “Composition Lecture”.

The author was an unsung and virtually unknown Pyle student named Elizabeth Keeler Gurney (any relation, James?). According to the 1900 Census, her parents were from Maine, but she was born in India in March 1881. She was a school teacher in Saint Cloud, Minnesota in 1900, and a little later began her studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. There, she may well have heard Pyle lecture in 1903 and 1905, and her schoolmates over the years included future Pyle students George DuBuis, Harvey Dunn, Edwin Roscoe Shrader, Helen Leonard, and Frances Rogers.

I don’t know when Miss Gurney came east to Wilmington, but The Duluth News Tribune of September 2, 1907, had this to say:
Miss Bessie Guerney [sic], Artist Pupil of Howard Pyle, Now on Staff of Big Daily

Miss Bessie Guerney...a young artist of marked ability, is making an enviable record for herself under the instruction of Howard Pyle, one of the foremost artists in America. Though Mr. Pyle very seldom takes young women as students, friends of Miss Guerney succeeded in making her an exception with the artist, and after seeing some of her work she was instructed to “come on.”
It continued:
That she has made good is best evidenced by the fact that for several months past she has been a member of the staff of one of Delaware’s leading newspapers, dividing her time between studio and the newspaper.
I don’t know which newspaper she worked for, but I have an unsubstantiated hunch that she authored some Pyle-related articles that appeared in Wilmington’s Every Evening in 1910 and 1911.

Since Gurney must have attended a good number of Pyle’s lectures, her 1919 reminiscence could very well be an embellished, composite portrait. But she alludes to “an article in a current magazine” - and that turns out to have been “An Artist Without a Pose” in the Ladies’ Home Journal for March 1910. So I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say this particular lecture occurred in mid-February 1910, just after that issue of the Journal appeared.

Later in 1910, just after Pyle sailed for Italy, Gurney gave a talk about him, his class, and his philosophy. When asked why he left, she said that he had “gone stale”. But her article shows Pyle at the height of his powers - and, perhaps, as he would have liked to be remembered.


by Elizabeth Gurney

“Did you ever hear, and feel, and smell, as well as see a picture?”

This question was asked of his pupils by Howard Pyle, the famous Delaware artist, one winter night years ago. The class, together with invited guests had assembled in Mr. Pyle’s studio, on Franklin Street, in Wilmington, for the weekly evening lecture. Its members occupied a motley, yet beautiful, collection of colonial and mediaeval chairs - big chairs, little chairs, fat chairs, thin chairs - chairs as diversified as the Pied Piper’s rats. The chairs were drawn up in prayer-meeting fashion so as to face a long row of charcoal drawings, suspended like a family washing from a clothes-line. Flanking the line, painted canvases rested against convenient chair legs. Firelight played upon the polished hardwood of floor and walls, picked out shiny lights in queer jugs and bottles upon shelves; and illumined the eager, interested faces of the group of young women and men, mostly young men.

Carven ships’ figures, Venetian treasure chests, a piratical array of antique pistols and knives, bits of drapery, and easels, surrounded the group. Above them hung curious lanterns and many ropes ending in wooden balls. The ropes, when pulled, shifted skylight curtains; but how Mr. Pyle could ever tell what rope worked which curtain was a never-ending marvel to his pupils.

In the semi-darkness of an adjoining room some of the artist’s paintings could be dimly seen against the walls. Through gabled windows shone frosty, blue moonlight, accentuating the golden warmth within, and blackly silhouetting a few ivy leaves which had strayed across the windows from the mass thickly curtaining the outside brick walls.

Between pupils and drawings stood the tall figure of Mr. Pyle, massive of head. A pupil once remarked that with the addition of a powdered wig, Howard Pyle could have posed for a portrait of George Washington. The two men were not unlike in character. Great souled and kindly hearted, they possessed a personal dignity, even austerity, which did not unbend except in the presence of intimates. The artist’s pupils were greatly amused by an article in a current magazine describing the children of Wilmington as running up to Mr. Pyle, on the street to see what he had in his pockets! This Puritan dignity was marked in the artist’s paintings. His Spanish dancers were not sensuous; his oriental maidens were never voluptuous.

Mr. Pyle, his students, and his guests were surveying a sketch of salt marshes when he repeated his question.

“Do you consciously use all your senses to feel the reality, when composing or looking at a picture?” He made the class feel the dampness of the marshes upon their cheeks and the warmth of the sunshine; he made them hear the rustle of the breeze among the reeds, the songs of unseen birds, the lowing of invisible cattle; he made them fill their nostrils with the salt fragrance of the marshland; its brine was upon their lips. When he had finished, the class were not looking at a drawing, but were exploring vast stretches of moor with illimitable sky overhead.

“That is the value of pictures to make us feel life and truth!” he exclaimed. “Respect the truth,” was his most frequent admonition. He taught that an artist must have reality, not a picture, in his mind, when he put brush to canvas. He must mentally see real mountains in all their bigness if he would paint a picture that would make the beholder feel the grandeur of mountains. When the artist’s mind began to see a small painting of mountains instead of real mountains, when he began to think about his paints, or his technic, or himself, at that moment his work became artificial and without value, in the opinion of Howard Pyle.

“When I was painting this picture of a battle,” he told the class, referring to a Civil War scene now in the State Capitol of Minnesota, “I felt the reality so vividly that I had occasionally to go to the door of the studio and breathe fresh air to clear my lungs of the powder and smoke.”

Mr. Pyle passed down the line of compositions, commenting vigorously.

“These are not real trees - they are only paint. A bird could not fly through the foliage without getting tangled up in the paint. The moon could not possibly be as large when so high above the horizon, and it would not be that color at the time of year indicated by the painting. Here is a man in a blizzard. Why is there no snow on his shoulders? Why is he not huddled-up as a man would be in the cold? Here is a laborer, digging in a trench. His muscles are not straining under the effort. Although he has worked at this job for some time, his clothes are as clean and unwrinkled as if they just were new from the shop. In this colonial picture, you do not feel that these people’s clothes are their usual attire. They wear them as stiffly and the clothes are as little wrinkled as if these were people at a fancy dress ball.”

The speaker paused and surveyed his audience reproachfully.

“You all know better. Why do you put falsities into your pictures when you recognize them as such the moment I point them out? Simply because you don’t think. Anybody can learn to draw. It is ease to draw, but it is very difficult to think. You haven’t material with which to think because you are all blind. Most people are blind. They don’t really see what is around them. Mention some building they have seen a hundred times. They cannot give an accurate description of it from memory. Store your mind richly by cultivating your observation.”

Mr. Pyle pointed an eloquent finger at his pupils. “A blade of grass. When I said that, did you see anything more in your mind than a green spear of grass?”

That was exactly what the class had seen. They shifted about guiltily in the mediaeval chairs, which promptly retaliated by prodding them in the ribs with unexpected knobs and corners. Mediaeval chairs were never intended to be sat upon. Probably more than one war of the Middle Ages was due to the soreness of body and temper of some king who had been oblige to spend the morning upon a mediaeval throne while his more fortunate courtiers could stand. However, being artists, Mr. Pyle’s pupils loved to sit in the mediaeval chairs because of their beauty.

“You ought,” continued the master, “to see that grass-blade pearled with dewdrops, waving gently in the wind, and a little red lady-bug struggling up its length.”

Perhaps because most of the drawings were in black and white, Mr. Pyle’s attention was now attracted to a Biblical subject in full color. It depicted the angel descending to touch the pool, whereupon the first infirm person to be lowered into its waters would be healed.

“There is much of value in this composition,” remarked the lecturer, with an approving smile to the happy young woman who had painted it. “But I seem to feel too much darkness and discouragement about it. I feel that all these poor, sick people would be bathed in the glory of light and hope shed upon them by the great angel of their redemption.”

“Gosh!” forcibly, if not elegantly, exclaimed the young woman artist to a friend after the lecture, “I painted that composition for a class in my art school in Chicago. The teacher there said that the light and shade were not well balanced. He recommended more white paint for the upper right-hand portion. His criticism left me cold. I brought the picture tonight to see how his criticism would compare with Mr. Pyle’s. The two criticisms mean much the same thing as far as the paint is concerned, but Mr. Pyle’s criticism is the one that inspires me. I want to go right home and finish that picture tonight!”

Now came the event for which the class had been hoping and praying all evening. Mr. Pyle seized a piece of charcoal and began remodelling one of the compositions. He did not often do this. He said it was too hard to lose himself in a picture when hampered by the consciousness of other people around. Like a miracle the composition took on life, while the class held its breath and realized its rare good fortune in seeing creative genius at work. Not a pupil moved hand or foot lest the spell be broken and the artist drop his charcoal. Mentally, each member planned to hold up the owner of the composition on the way home, and steal it from him. However, Mr. Pyle smudged out his work after he had ceased drawing. This always happened, but the class invariably hoped that for once he might forget to do so. The master explained that if he left it, the pupil might copy him instead of developing his own expression. Mr. Pyle was ever anxious to preserve the originality of his students, warning them against becoming imitators of himself, or anybody else.

The last composition to be criticized was the work of a pupil already famous in the art world. Mr. Pyle usually criticized such pupils with much detail, but with a respect which showed the high esteem in which he held their work. The present sketch was an illustration to a detective story, a murder scene.

“In the first place, it is a mistake to show gruesome and horrible things plainly in a picture,” was the comment. “The mind is so repelled that it instinctively refuses further attention and thus defeats the purpose of the drawing. Then, suggestion is always more powerful than a direct telling. Here we have the dead man, the knife, and the murderer, unmistakably shown. There is no mystery, nothing to puzzle and intrigue the imagination, and we turn away. How much more powerful would be a mass of men crowding around a slightly-seen object. Then there is mystery. We want to know what happened and who did it.

“Pictures should suggest so many possibilities as to set the mind to thinking, and thus hold the attention. We have all seen wonderfully painted groups in art exhibits - perhaps a vase and a bit of drapery, marvelously executed. The artist may have spent weeks upon the painting, yet it has little interest. We turn away, saying, ‘Very clever, but in heaven’s name why did he paint it?’”

Howard Pyle’s chief abhorrences were artificiality and sentimentality - not sentiment - in pictures. He disliked the aged man gazing at the ghost of his girl-wife in the opposite chair. He loathed doll-like girl heads decorated with exaggerated flowers. He even once complained of a painted dancing-bear because it lacked individuality. It was well drawn, but it was just any bear in general, not a particular bear with well-defined likes and dislikes.

Art was for everybody, in Mr. Pyle’s opinion. He had no patience with art teachers who used grandiloquent, technical terms. He believed art was life and truth, and as such to be appreciated by everybody, and to be talked of in the simplest every-day language. With the line of drawings disposed of, he generally concluded his lecture with a little good advice.

“Young people, don’t get the idea that you have an artistic temperament which must be humored. Don’t believe you cannot do good work unless you feel in the mood for it. That is all nonsense. I frequently have to force myself to make a start in the morning; but after a short while I find I can work. Only hard and regular work will bring success.”

“I wonder if we know how lucky we are to have these lectures?” queried one pupil of another, as they went forth into the starlight, the snow crisply crunching under their feet.

“Probably we shall never realize what treasures of heart and soul, Howard Pyle has freely poured out upon us until we can no longer have the lectures. Then we shall look back and say that these were the happiest days of our lives,” answered his friend, quietly.

Monday, July 11, 2011

“It was great to see him painting”

“In the Valley of the Shadows” by Howard Pyle (1902)
Mr Pyle likes very much to have us watch him work and the other day we went up to his house & watched him work on a picture (one of four) for the Xmas Century. It was great and seeing him produce such a thing was a treat & helped to strengthen my confidence in him. He is undoubtedly the greatest in his line and oh such a fine man.
So wrote Allen Tupper True - then a probationary student of Howard Pyle at Chadd’s Ford* - to his mother back home in Colorado on July 11, 1902. He was referring to Pyle’s illustrations for “The Travels of the Soul” which came out in The Century Magazine for December 1902. But which one did True see? Well, on November 24, 1902, he wrote his father and said:
How do you like his work in this (Xmas) Century? It was great to see him painting on that third one ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Shadows’ [sic]...
And where was Pyle “painting on that third one”? At what was then known as Lafayette Hall, the house where Pyle stayed when teaching at “The Ford” from 1898 to 1903 - just across the road from the studios at Turner’s Mill. Here’s what the place looks like these days:

This photo, by the way, comes from some kind of real estate listing that states: “The Brandywine School of Art was birthed in this home and the property was immortalized by Andrew Weyth in his painting ‘Painters Folly’". Surely they mean Andrew Wythe! Just kidding. Seriously, though, I don’t know where to begin....

* Although it’s now commonly or even officially called “Chadds Ford” - sans apostrophe - Pyle always referred to the village as “Chadd’s Ford”, so I’ve been following his precedent for the sake of consistency.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

William Henry Jackson and Howard Pyle

William Henry Jackson, circa 1873

In his autobiography, Time Exposure, the celebrated photographer and artist William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) said:
After our marriage [on October 8, 1873, in Cincinnati] Emilie and I went to New York for a few days.... Following our brief whirl in the metropolis we went on to Baltimore for another few days, where I had the pleasure of meeting many of Emilie's relatives and friends. Then we proceeded to Washington and a winter of work for me.
“Emilie” was Emilie Painter (1841-1918), and since the extended Painter family was a pretty tight-knit group in those days, I take it for granted that “many of Emilie's relatives” included her aunt Margaret Churchman (Painter) Pyle (1828-1885) - and Margaret’s then 20-year-old son, Howard.

Yes, that Howard. But damned if Jackson couldn’t mention his first-cousin-in-law by name! Especially since their connection was more than tangential: in a 1906 letter to Jackson, Pyle wrote, “I often think of you and how that it was you who gave me my first knowledge of how to do practical work. You have acted an important part in establishing me in a very happy life.”

Strong words, yet Pyle didn’t acknowledge his debt to Jackson anywhere else I’ve looked, and - so far, at least - Pyle’s biographers have been silent on the topic. The same goes for Jackson’s biographers. So, after reading Pyle’s intriguing comment and realizing his genealogical connection to Jackson - but otherwise making no real headway in putting the two men together - I tracked down one of Jackson’s great-granddaughters. In a 1995 letter to me she said:
I thought I would write and tell you the story of how Howard Pyle asked his Uncle [sic] - my great-grandfather - if it would be wise for him (Howard Pyle) to take a course in life that would lead to art. He asked that of my great-grandfather because he was older and although my great-grandfather did not take up painting and illustration so much until he was in his 90s still he was an excellent illustrator and famous for his photographs.

My great-grandfather, William Henry Jackson, sent him a reply in the affirmative. He did not see why Howard would not do well in this line of work. My Father told me this story many times...
That’s pretty vague, as were some follow-ups with her. Recently, however, I noticed this news item from the Detroit Free Press of November 13, 1911:

Howard Pyle, the American illustrator whose death occurred in Florence, Italy, last Thursday, was one of the country’s greatest magazine artists, and it was largely due to the encouragement given him as a young man by a Detroiter, W. H. Jackson, 55 Alger avenue, that Pyle decided to embark upon an artistic career, which later brought him fame and large financial returns.

Mrs. Jackson, who was a daughter of the late Dr. Painter, of Baltimore, Md., was first cousin to the dead artist, who was a son of her father’s sister. In 1873, Mrs. Jackson’s husband was connected with a well known government geological survey and his duties brought him to Wilmington, Delaware, the home of Pyle, on many occasions. Pyle at that time was 20 years old, and was seriously contemplating an artistic career.

“One day he brought a drawing to me and asked me what I thought of it,” said Mr. Jackson, who himself is an artist of ability, “I saw that young Pyle had great possibilities, and told him to continue his studies. I advised him to send the drawing to the Harpers in New York. He did so, but the drawing was not accepted. I continued to encourage him, however, and later his talent found for him a regular position on the Harpers’ staff....”
Still, Pyle stated that Jackson “gave” him “knowledge” - not mere “encouragement” - which would imply that Jackson had actually taught Pyle something. (Although it’s an obvious choice, I doubt Pyle meant “photography” - though he did take photos and use them in his work later on.) And as for the confounding term “practical work”, in a 1903 interview, Pyle tried to explain:
The hardest thing for a student to do after leaving an art school, is to adapt the knowledge there gained to practical use - to do creative work, for the work at an art school is imitative. That is why so many go into portrait painting. When I left the art school [c.1872] I discovered, like many others, that I could not easily train myself to creative work, which was the only practical way of earning a livelihood in art. Nor was there anything like the present field. Not discouraged, but being offered a position by my father in his leather business in Wilmington I availed myself of it and during my spare time created illustrations, stimulated my imagination and worked assiduously on drawings I never submitted.
He goes on to mention his Chincoteague article and that “on its publication I felt my art was of some practical use”. So while “practical work” has a dry, kind of technical ring, Pyle connoted “practical” with “creative”, and other uses or variants of the term in his (and his students’) writings indicate that it had more to do with illustration, or, to put it broadly, with making “useful” pictures that a publisher would pay for and “that shall interest the great world beyond [the artist’s] narrow ken” - i.e. fellow artists stuck in their insular studio-worlds, who know only art, not Nature, and who are wowed by artificial “tricks of technical facility”, etc.. (I’ll append below some other examples of what “practical” meant in Pylean vernacular which may help clarify things - or not!)

So maybe Jackson critiqued Pyle’s pictures, suggesting “practical” ways to make them more appealing to publishers and the general public, and more easily reproduced by the as-yet crude methods employed by printers. Or maybe his role was more like Pyle’s to his own students - and that it was not so much about technical instruction (which Pyle had already received, anyway), but about “encouraging” him to open up to and connect with the pictorial possibilities all around him. As Pyle described his course in “Practical Illustration” in 1895, “I can tell little or nothing as to how to do the work technically. That which I try to teach relates more to the qualities of imagination, of observation and of realization.” Or, as he put it more poetically a few years later, he tried “to show the student how to throw his mind and soul into the beauties of nature that surround him; how to understand and to sense and to sympathize with human passion”. I gather it was some kind of hybrid.

At any rate, the two had plenty of time to get to know each other. From about 1872 to 1876, Pyle was working for his father in Wilmington. Jackson, meanwhile, as photographer for the Hayden Survey, spent only his summer months out west, but was based in Washington from November 1873 to July 1874 and from October 1874 to July 1875. He was in Wilmington itself on October 17, 1874: the Wilmington Daily Tribune noted that he had “paid a short visit to this city on Saturday, returning to Washington on the midnight train, in the course of which he communicated many interesting particulars of the adventurous survey from which his party is the first to return.” In the fall of 1875 Jackson was east again, working throughout the winter on the Survey’s dioramas and displays to be shown at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, which opened in May 1876. And he was on duty at the Centennial during its run and returned to Washington when it closed that fall - by which time Pyle had embarked on his career in New York.

But when and where and how frequently and for how long young Pyle met and talked with Jackson is an open question. I once dreamt of finding evidence that Pyle had tagged along on one of Jackson’s westward journeys, or that Jackson had hired Pyle to help him construct the Centennial dioramas, but after rooting through various papers and archives, I came up short. And so we’re left with murky anecdotes and rumors of lost conversations. But maybe some new, hard data will come to light, soon.

Some Notes on “Practical Work”
The very name of Pyle’s first class at the Drexel Institute in 1894 was “A Course in Practical Illustration in Black and White” in which his lectures would be “followed by systematic lessons in Compositon and Practical Illustration, including Technique, Drawing from the Costumed Model, the Elaboration of Groups, treatment of Historical and other subjects with reference to their use of Illustrations.” Indeed, at the very first lecture, the very first thing Bertha Corson Day recorded Pyle as saying was, “Accuracy of drawing must be learned in schools - freedom in practical work.”
“I think my lectures are useful, but I think they only give in theory that which I want here to render practical to all. There are in Europe classes similar to this that I suggest, but none, I think, that devote the attention of the students to accomplish such really practical results as those at which I aim.” (Pyle to Dr. James MacAlister, April 7, 1896)
“Without meaning to criticise Mr Hammitt’s methods, I do not think they are of a sort to advance you in any real or practical knowledge of illustrative art.” (Pyle to Stanley Arthurs, September 11, 1896)
“...being an illustrator, and dealing with a more practical side of art, I stand, as it were, with only one foot planted in the Israel of academic art, the other leg being implanted in the Philistia of the outside world.” (from “A Small School of Art” by Howard Pyle, 1897)
“In this Class [in Illustration] I choose some special composition, trying to make it as practical as possible, submitting it to some illustrated magazine or newspaper, obtaining for it an order and then setting my students to paint this composition into a picture. The best one of these pictures I find sells with never-failing success; and so the student learns not only how to render nature in full color, but also what are the points that make a picture practical and useful. ...whenever I see a composition that strikes me as practical I explain why it is practical and advise my student to submit it to this or that paper.... I find that even so far as I have gone that our students are the best, and that the Academic students from elsewhere have an enormous mass to unlearn before they can begin to learn real and practical methods of work.” (Pyle to Eric Pape, May 26, 1898)
“My first object shall be to teach them to paint the draped and costumed model so that it shall possess the essentials of a practical picture.... My experience is that within a year of such teaching the pupil will be sufficiently grounded in a practical knowledge of painting to be able to embark upon illustrative work.” (Pyle to Edward Penfield, March 17, 1900)
“From the standpoint of a practical worker, it would seem to be a very plain statement of fact, that, if a cobbler does not sell his shoes, it is because they do not fit the feet of other men, and it would seem an equally natural inference to suppose that the very general failure to sell American pictures is because they do not fit the ideals of American men and women.” (from “The Present Aspect of American Art from the Point of View of an Illustrator” by Howard Pyle - a paper read before the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, April 25, 1902)
“Not long ago we said good bye to one of the boys [Francis Newton] who is going to New York to start in on practical work.” (Allen Tupper True to his sister, June 27, 1902)
“He said he was very sorry that I did not come earlier for my work was very practical and looked promising...” (N. C. Wyeth to his mother, October 27, 1902)
Pyle “congratulated me upon my summer's work and told me that mine was the strongest - most practical and on the whole the best of all.” (N. C. Wyeth to his mother, October 19, 1903)
“...that which art students most need is the cultivation of their imagination and its direction into practical and useful channels of creation...” (Pyle to W. M. R. French, April 13, 1905)
“Cleverness seems to be substituted for exactitude, and the result is very unsatisfactory so far as any real and practical results are concerned. It is very discouraging to one who holds in view a real, material, and vital advancement in the practical uses of art to meet so many young artists, who, having passed from the schools, seek in vain for opportunities whereby they may earn a modest living...” (Pyle to James Hulme Canfield, April 17, 1905)
“It has been unfortunate that the fees charged for attendance at the League should have been so large as to have deterred many artists in practical lines of work from coming to me for help and advice.” (Pyle to Hugo Ballin, May 8, 1905)
“...the education given by the academies to the young artists who come to me for instruction has to be unlearned before I can impart the facts that are necessary to make their art of practical use in the world...” (Pyle to W. M. R. French, June 22, 1905)
“I am trying to push my work thro to a finish and get into practical work.” (Edwin Roscoe Shrader to Thomas Wood Stevens, February 11, 1906)