Tuesday, December 11, 2012

An Interview About Howard Pyle

Last month, PCNTV aired an hour-long interview with Heather Campbell Coyle about Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered. And now you can watch it online. Ms. Coyle is Curator of American Art at the Delaware Art Museum and she knows and understands Pyle like few others do, so by all means watch this in-depth conversation.

The Good, Aged Doctor

“The Good, Aged Doctor” by Howard Pyle (1899)

“The Good, Aged Doctor” - or, more precisely, “The good, aged Doctor, the appearance of whose rotund figure on the streets was the signal for the Parisians to doff their hats” - was one of four illustrations Howard Pyle made for James Barnes’s “The Man for the Hour” in McClure’s Magazine for December 1899.

Benjamin Franklin is, of course, “the good, aged doctor”; the street in Paris is most likely a particular one, but I haven’t yet figured out which.

Pyle probably painted this (and its three companions) in mid-1899, while conducting the Drexel Institute’s second Summer School of Illustration at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. I assume this only because his student and future sister-in-law, Ellen Bernard Thompson, made two pictures for this same article at that time. Pyle also probably showed his and Thompson’s pictures at an exhibition of work made by Pyle and by his class for various Christmas 1899 periodicals at the Drexel Institute January 15-26, 1900, and subsequently at Earle’s Galleries in Philadelphia.

I never really thought much of this image, perhaps because the black and white magazine reproduction (see below) flattens and sucks much of the life out of the complex composition. But the original 18.25 x 12.5" oil on board - which is primarily in black, white, and red (and maybe yellow, unless that’s old varnish), yet seems almost full-color - is quite lovely. It’s also for sale: after over a century in the hands of one family - which obtained it from Pyle himself, apparently - it’s going on the block Wednesday, December 12, 2012, at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago. That’s tomorrow!

P.S. The painting sold for $29,375.00 (including buyer’s premium).

“The Good, Aged Doctor” in McClure’s Magazine for December 1899

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ticket to Pyle

On December 4, 1903, Howard Pyle and his wife, Anne, traveled from Chicago to Indianapolis via the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway. They arrived at 2:40 p.m. and were met by Will David Howe, a professor of English at Butler College (and later an editor and publisher in New York). Howe had tried to get Pyle to come lecture in Indianapolis in 1902, but the ever-busy Pyle begged off, explaining:
I am not only writing a book [The Story of King Arthur and His Knights] and conducting a class and building a house, but I have so many other engagements ahead of me that I hardly know how I shall carry them. Besides I shall be able next season to give you a much better thought out discourse than I could possible build together this year.
So the plan went on hold until 1903, when Pyle was able to coordinate well-paying visits to both Indianapolis and Chicago in one week-long trip. At the Art Institute of Chicago, he lectured on “The Art of the Age,” met more informally with the instructors and students (including a 19-year-old Harvey Dunn, who would join Pyle’s school the following November), and attended the opening of a one-man-show of some 110 of his pictures.

“As my lecture in Chicago will be more directly addressed to artists it will probably have many practical suggestions which will be well to omit in your lecture,” Pyle informed Howe. “Accordingly I will both concentrate and condense my Chicago words for Indianapolis.”

Unfortunately, no manuscript or transcript “The Art of the Age” has yet turned up, but in describing an earlier version of it Pyle said that he had “endeavored...to explain my understanding of the difference between the Art of the past and the Art that is demanded by the present age.... [and] stated very clearly and concisely my opinion that our age and our times require an art that, if not distinctly different from the Art of the past, is, at least, an adaptation and completion of the art of the past to fit our present needs.”

At any rate, at 8:00 p.m. on December 4th, Pyle “spoke to a large audience in chapel hall at Butler College” - reported the Indianapolis Morning Star - under the auspices of (and, perhaps, restricted to members and guests of) the Irvington Athenaeum. The paper also noted that “Classes were dispensed with and a reception was given Mr. Pyle at the college residence.”

The next evening, Mr. and Mrs. Pyle left Indianapolis on a 6:50 p.m. train. “Our trip home was most comfortable and the six children welcomed us with open arms,” said Anne in a thank-you letter to Howe. And Pyle’s students may have been equally welcoming: “Mr. Pyle is in Chicago,” wrote N. C. Wyeth to his mother, right after the Pyles had embarked on their trip, “and we are left for a whole week to battle alone with our troubles, and when we feel blue we’ll have no kind and powerful guardian to come in and cheer us up.”

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Sad Story of a Little Boy That Cried

Today is the 149th birthday of Katharine Pyle, Howard Pyle’s sister.

These two siblings seem to have had a conflicted relationship over the years: Howard (who was ten years older) often tried to encourage or push Katharine into a more “practical” career path, but she was too much of an independent spirit, who did things when and where and how she wanted to. At least that’s the sense one might get from reading her unpublished recollections. Katharine may even have gotten a certain glee out of exasperating her much more “controlled” brother.

Yet, for all the focus on his career, Howard Pyle couldn’t recall when his work first appeared in print. He said - more than once - that it was “The Magic Pill” in Scribner’s Monthly for July 1876. But a drawing he made for his mother’s poem “The Reformer” had appeared eight months earlier - and five years before that he made the masthead drawing for the Wilmington newspaper Every Evening. Maybe, however, Pyle was only concerned with his first published words, not his pictures. At any rate, although he may not have remembered his first time in print, his sister remembered hers:
My first finished attempt at verse was one that was taken by the St. Nicholas, and published in the department of children’s writings. Howard made a picture to go with it, and was paid for it but I, of course, was not paid for the verses as they were just a child’s contribution and I was very much disappointed that I wasn’t. They were about a child who was always crying until in the end his mouth had stretched till -
One Morning no Jackie was anywheres found,
But only a great mouth that lay on the ground;

And so that was all that was left, alack!
A great big mouth with a border of Jack.
Katharine neglected to provide a date, but searching through the pages of St. Nicholas - and page 78 of “The Letter-Box” of the November 1880 issue, in particular - one will find:

Once, a little boy, Jack, was, oh! ever so good,
Till he took a strange notion to cry all he could.

So he cried all the day, and he cried all the night,
He cried in the morning and in the twilight;

He cried till his voice was as hoarse as a crow,
And his mouth grew so large it looked like a great O.

It grew at the bottom, and grew at the top;
It grew till they thought that it never would stop.

Each day his great mouth grew taller and taller,
And his dear little self grew smaller and smaller.

At last, that same mouth grew so big that - alack! -
It was only a mouth with a border of Jack.

And so this was all that was left of poor Jack:
The great gaping mouth, like a wide-open sack!

P.K. [sic]
It should be noted, however, that no picture by Katharine’s brother - or anyone - accompanies the verse. Maybe Howard made one (and got paid, unlike his sister), or maybe he didn’t; it’s still a mystery.

But the real injury to Katharine was that somebody - the publisher, the typesetter, or the editors (who included Mary Mapes Dodge and Frank Stockton at the time) - reversed her initials from “K.P.” to “P.K.”, so she didn’t even get proper credit at the time - or maybe ever. That must have hurt. (Howard, by the way, suffered a similar indignity when his fable “The Fox and the Tablet” in St. Nicholas for April 1877 was credited to “P. Howard”.) So as a 149th birthday present I thought I’d finally give Katharine the credit she deserves.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Typical Yankee Named Hoyt

“Jack Frost’s Harvest” by Philip L. Hoyt in Harper’s Weekly for December 6, 1902

In an article N. C. Wyeth wrote about Howard Pyle - published in the Christian Science Monitor one hundred years ago today - he discussed an unnamed Pyle student:
Mr. Pyle's inordinate ability as a teacher lay primarily in his sense of penetration; to read beneath the crude lines on paper the true purpose, to detect therein our real inclinations and impulses. In short, to unlock our personalities. This power was in no wise a superficial method handed out to those who would receive. We received in proportion to that which was fundamentally within us.

I recall an instance as an illustration. One member, an ungainly lad from the back country of northern New England, found his way into Pyle classes. He had dreamed, in his remote village, of becoming an artist; of picturing his visions of cities he had never seen, and of the lives of the people therein.

He had come into the composition class week after week, with sketches of society folk and kindred subjects. They were, naturally, unconvincing and poor, but Mr. Pyle’s interest in them did not flag. Meanwhile he assiduously gathered from the fellow accounts of his life in the woods, of breaking snow roads, of gathering maple sap, of log driving, of corn huskings, and a myriad things. It began to dawn upon the Vermonter that his own life at home, the incidents of his own north country which he knew and loved were interesting, yes, intensely interesting. His pictures at once gained in vitality and importance. With Mr. Pyle's trenchant help, he had found himself. I doubt if Howard Pyle ever had a student that did not at some time or other experience some such awakening as this while under his direction.
This “ungainly lad” was Philip Langly Hoyt, born November 2, 1873, in Wentworth, New Hampshire, a few miles from the Vermont border. The son of a farmer, Hoyt studied with Pyle at the Drexel Institute, won a scholarship to the 1899 Summer School of Illustration at Chadds Ford, and was selected by Pyle to join the nucleus of his own art school when he founded it in 1900.

Hoyt seems to have taken fellow New Englander Wyeth under his wing when the latter arrived in Wilmington in 1902. In an error-ridden letter home, Wyeth wrote of him:
The fellow is a typical Yankee named Hoyt. He’s from Vermont [sic]. Perfect Habits. Shrewd and as economical as possible.

I had to get an easle of course and Pyle could get a $25 one for 12.60. Hoyt says Don’t ye dew it! Make it. He made a slendid one for himself, lumber (hard pine), iron fixings and all cost four dollars or a little less. Now it’s quite a piece of mechanism and needs a cabinetmaker’s skill to make one so I bought his for five dollars and he’s making himself a new one making a few improvments (which is to his great delight).
Hoyt remained in Wilmington until about 1904 or so, when he moved to Boston. Eventually he abandoned illustration and although he may not have actually lived in Vermont prior to meeting Wyeth, Hoyt did wind up there later: on the 1930 Census he is listed as a construction contractor in Hartford in Windsor County. He died in Vermont at the age of 90 in March 1964.

Photograph taken in Chadds Ford, PA, showing Pyle and his students seeing off Philip Hoyt, on or about September 1, 1899, at the close of the second Summer School of Illustration. From left to right: Robert L. Mason, Emlem McConnell, Frank Schoonover, Howard Pyle, Annie Hailey, Sarah Stilwell, Ellen Bernard Thompson, Anna Whelan Betts, Stanley Arthurs, Philip Hoyt (in straw boater), Bertha Corson Day.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Howard Pyle, An Appreciation

by Henry M. Alden

Howard Pyle, whose sudden death at Florence, Italy, November 9th, it is our painful office to record, had been for more than thirty years intimately associated, both as author and artist, with the periodical publications of Harper & Brothers - in later years more especially with their Magazine, though his earliest triumphs were won in Harper’s Weekly. The news of his death will bring sorrow to the hearts of all our readers. He has passed away at the very height of his career and in the prime of his manhood, while absorbed in the prosecution of a work which engaged his most ardent enthusiasm and the most distinctive qualities of his genius. He had been abroad since the summer [sic fall] of 1910. It was his first visit to Europe. And he was in Italy - the home of poetry and song, the treasure-house of all the arts! But his quest was not for the old masters. He sought for something older than any art-gallery or academic haunt could yield, something more native and elemental, lodged in the hearts and forever embodied in the idiomatic speech of the people.

Before he went abroad Pyle had sought this kind of treasure at home, in out-of-the-way places, in the Peninsular Canaan of the Eastern Shore, in old Dunkard and Quaker settlements, in the haunts and legends of pirates and buccaneers; and when the contemporary environment failed him he had recourse to history, reverting to Colonial annals, to the England of the Roundheads, and even back to those Arthurian legends upon which he loved to dwell.

This peculiarity set Pyle apart from all the other eminent artists of his time, and it was this mainly that made him an author. He loved to tell a quaint and antique tale as well as to picture it. Abbey found delight in knightly legend, but nothing could have persuaded him even to associate it with literature. Nothing could have kept Pyle from bringing speech into company with his colors. Thus the whole form and scheme of art was conceived differently by these men.

We see then clearly why Pyle, after his technical art-training, did not look to London or Paris for his inspiration. For his purpose he did not need them. He achieved rare technical distinction. His color-sense was a native possession, but it was, in the course of his career, developed to exquisite perfection. No artist has surpassed him in the application of this sense to the process of color-reproduction in magazine illustration.

Creative imagination of a peculiarly original sort characterized all of Pyle’s work, both as artist and as writer. He was not literary in his writing any more than he was academic in his art. But there was always the subjective prompting, however clear and bold the projection. He was spiritually allied to Swedenborg. No adventure attracted him unless it was an adventure of the soul - never subtle, always elemental, and according to a man’s nature, and therefore often evil. This was as apparent in his early stories as in his current Italian folk-lore tales. Perhaps his subjective disposition, in this peculiarity of it, is disclosed best by contrast with artists who, like Remington, loved adventure for its own sake - tough fighting, military combats, pioneer roughing, bronco-busting, and the like - the wholly external thing. We could hardly think of Pyle as an expert war correspondent.

We have lost not only a great artist and a great imaginative writer, but a great soul.

[First published in Harper’s Weekly for November 18, 1911]

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How Are We Going to Vote This Year?

“Whither?” by Howard Pyle (1904)

...Now the fate of the nation lies with us voters to determine.

It does not lie with the Republican Candidate nor with the Democratic Candidate. They are our servants and only do our bidding when we elect them to office.

The VOTER must decide which of these two parties to put in power, and he alone.

He is the sovereign, and upon him lies the entire responsibility of that decision. So we had better take care what we are about when we cast our ballot. Don’t let us be too quick about it; let us take time to think!...

So how are we going to vote this year? THAT is the question!
—From “How Are We Going To Vote This Year?” by Howard Pyle, published anonymously in Collier’s Weekly for November 5, 1904 (and subsequently reprinted in various newspapers). Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “I think it is as good a thing as we have had in this campaign, and I want to thank you for it with all my heart.” And journalist Richard Victor Oulahan later remarked, “I have been told that the cartoon entitled ‘Whither?’ with the accompanying reading matter entitled ‘How Are We Going to Vote This Year?’ was more effective as a campaign advertisement than anything else put out in behalf of President Roosevelt by the Literary Bureau of the National Committee.”

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Howard Pyle’s Sphynx

Howard Pyle made the illustration shown here for William Dean Howells’ “Stops of Various Quills” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for December 1894; it appeared in the book of the same name, which Harper & Brothers published - and which Pyle illustrated in full - the following fall. On October 30, 1895, Pyle wrote to Howells:
I am very proud of our book, a half dozen copies of which Harpers have just sent me. I arranged with them to return the picture of the Sphynx. I remember you expressed yourself as liking it rather much, and so, I think, as you inspired the picture, it should be yours. Accordingly I shall have it framed tomorrow and send it on to you as some token of the pleasure I had in illustrating your poems.
Then on November 3, 1895, Pyle wrote again:
I sent you yesterday, by express, my picture of the Sphynx which I want you to keep for my sake.
It seemed to me that, in your poems, the piping Pan of your soul went up into just such twilight altitudes as I have tried to depict; and hearing the sudden dim rustle of wings, turned so to see his Sphynx crouching where she had not been before. 
I want you to have the picture for that reason too.
Howells later mentioned the painting in a July 9, 1903, letter to Pyle: “I have turned a barn into a library here” - in Kittery Point, Maine - “and I wish you could see how I have placed that rich gift of yours...”

I doubt Pyle ever saw it, though. And I’ve been trying to find a photo of the painting hanging on the wall there, but so far I’ve come up short. However, I did find a snippet from the Mark Twain Quarterly (or Journal) of 1936, which says of Howells:
He stood benignly before a painting by his friend, Howard Pyle, who had given him the original of a famous book-illustration. He was as proud as a child to have on his study wall a painting by this artist.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

N. C. Wyeth Meets Howard Pyle

Howard Pyle, photographed  by Arthur Ernst Becher in 1902

According to David Michaelis’ N. C. Wyeth: A Biography  it was 110 years ago today - October 25, 1902 - that Wyeth met Howard Pyle for the first time. Although Wyeth later convinced himself that the meeting happened on his 20th birthday (October 19th), his memory of it stuck with him. In an article he wrote for Christian Science Monitor of November 13, 1912 - just a year after Pyle's death - he described it this way:
A great stick of hickory is smoldering and gleaming fitfully in the fireplace before me. Its pungent fragrance scents the room. My pulse quickens to the magic aroma, and my thought flies back to a day in October 12 [sic 10] years ago when I first set eyes on Howard Pyle. He was standing, tall, broad and impressive, legs apart, hands clasped behind him, backed against another such open fire in his studio. The smell of burning hickory was in the air!

I had come to him, as many had before me, for his help and guidance, and his first words to me will forever ring in my ears as a vital symbol of his teaching and an unceasing appeal to my conscience.

“My boy, you have come here for help. If so, you are here to live your best, and to work hard!” His broad, kindly face looked solemn behind those words, and from that moment I knew that he meant infinitely more to me than a mere teacher of illustration. It was this commanding spirit of earnestness, and of love, that made his leadership distinctive, and which has perpetuated in the hearts of all his pupils a deep affection kindred to that which one holds toward his own parents....
In subsequent years, when asked to write about his teacher, Wyeth returned to this particular memory several times. Compare, for instance, the 1912 passage with this one from his introduction to Howard Pyle: A Chronicle of 1925:
A great stick of hickory is smoldering and gleaming in the fireplace before me. Its pungent fragrance scents the room. My pulse quickens to the magic aroma and my thought flies back to a day in October, eighteen [sic 23] years ago, when I first saw Howard Pyle. He was standing, tall, broad and impressive, legs apart, hands clasped behind him, backed against another such open fire in his studio. The smell of burning hickory was in the air.

I had come to him, as many had before me, for his help and guidance, and his first words to me will forever ring in my ears as an unceasing appeal to my conscience: “My boy, you have come here for help. Then you must live your best and work hard!” His broad, kindly face looked solemn as he spoke these words, and from that moment I knew that he meant infinitely more to me than a mere teacher of illustration. It was this commanding spirit of earnestness and of love that made his leadership distinctive, and which has perpetuated in the hearts of all his pupils a deep affection akin to that which one holds toward his own parents....
It’s remarkably similar, as are two other known variants of 1921 and 1925. But when Wyeth was asked to contribute an introduction (and a color frontispiece) to the “Brandywine Edition” of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood in 1933 (which also featured illustrations by his teenaged son Andy) he expanded on his earlier reminiscences, infusing them with much more myth and magic. In many ways Wyeth’s words reflect the best of Pyle’s own prose, so here’s the bulk of them, in honor of the 110th anniversary:
My most vivid recollection of Howard Pyle was gained during the first five minutes I knew him. He stood with his back to the blazing and crackling logs in his studio fireplace, his legs spaced apart, his arms akimbo. His towering figure seemed to lift to greater heights with the swiftly ascending smoke and sparks from the hearth behind him.

It happened on one of those blue and gold days in October. The air was sharp and keen. Moreover, it was my birthday [sic]. I was young, ambitious and impressionable. For years, it seemed, I had dreamed of this meeting. Success in winning this master’s interest and sympathy to the cause of my own artistic advancement seemed so much to ask, so remote, such a vain hope. But here I was at last, seated before him in the very room in which were born so many of the pictures I had breathlessly admired from boyhood. Paintings and drawings that had long since become a living and indispensable part of my own life.

And as Howard Pyle stood there, talking gently but with unmistakable emphasis, his large and genial countenance hypnotized me. The mobile mask of his face became more than individual. My rapid reflections were swept beyond the actual man. It was bewildering. I heard every modulation of his voice and I took note of his every word. Occasionally I would answer a question. I remember all this clearly. But a searching beyond his countenance persisted.

The soft top-light from the glass roof high above us poured down like a magical and illuminated mist over his magnificent head. The forehead was broad, spatial, and not too high, the frontal processes accented the shadowed caverns of the large and wide-set eyes. The well-defined brows were tremulously sensitive. Lifting toward the centre they would become ineffably wistful, then quickly dropping to a level line across the eyes the entire countenance became majestically severe, forceful, unrelenting. The recollection of the masks of Beethoven, Washington, Goethe, Keats, passed in swift succession before my vision and in a sudden grasp of the truth I realized that the artist’s face before me was actually a living composite of the men of history and romance which he had so magically and dramatically perpetuated on canvas. It was as though there existed a definite and precise genealogical tie between this living, pulsating countenance before me and the thrilling pictures of the men he had created whether of General Washington, Captain Kidd, Aaron Burr, Robin Hood, Sir Launcelot or numberless others. In a sudden relaxation of expression, certain curves and areas of the face would vividly suggest the soft mobility of Washington's features or the wise serenity of Franklin, or, perhaps, the nervous shrewdness of Jefferson.

In retrospect, and consequently with a better understanding of the processes of creative art, I have come to realize that power and conviction in dramatic expression (which is so salient a virtue in illustrative painting) lie fundamentally in its autobiographical nature - that, in each of us is something of everybody; if we but know, as artists, how to uncover and use it. Howard Pyle accomplished just this to startling degree as a phenomenal pictorial record he left testifies....

N. C. Wyeth, c.1903-04, via http://www.ncwyeth.org

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Howard Pyle at the Art Students League

Just opened: Celebrating the Line: Outstanding Illustrators, Designers and Cartoonists of The Art Students League of New York which brings together the work of 60 prominent alumni, including Howard Pyle (and my father, John Schoenherr, too!). Pyle attended the League back in the 1870s when it was located downtown, but from 1904 to 1906 he lectured at its present home on 57th Street.

Go see the show (it's free!) and walk the hallowed halls where so many great artists walked - and drew and painted - before. It's up till November 7th. Gallery hours are Monday thru Friday, 9am to 8:30pm; Saturday and Sunday, 9am to 4pm.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"The Old Violin" and a "New" Pyle Student

"The Old Violin" by Howard Pyle (1893)

Next week, one of my favorite Howard Pyle paintings will be sold by Heritage Auctions. It's "The Old Violin" in black and white oil on board. Although it's said to measure 11 x 7 inches, it's probably closer to 12 x 8 inches.

Heritage dates it 1894, but as a matter of fact Pyle painted it in the spring or summer of 1893 for Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes' The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, which was issued by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., in the fall of that year. Pyle seems to have been particularly fond of this picture, because he presented it to his close friend Winthrop Saltonstall Scudder (1847-1929), longtime head of the publisher's art department.

The painting was later made available as a "Copley Print" by Curtis & Cameron. A long time ago, I found a much-faded example of one, which had been signed in pencil by Pyle.

It's really just a photograph of the painting - and the edges of the original board are visible at the margins. It was crudely mounted on cardboard on which was glued a tantalizing typed statement.

Interesting! But who wrote it? Well, on lifting the print from the cardboard, I discovered this, scrawled on the back:

"This print was autographed / for me by the artist, Howard / Pyle, while I was studying / art under him at Wilmington / Del., in October 1910. / Louis D. Gowing"

Somehow, until this print came to light, Louis Daniel Gowing (1884-1967) had successfully avoided inclusion on lists of Pyle's students. Granted, he spent only a few weeks under Pyle’s tutelage, but those with even less exposure to Pyle claimed him as their teacher. Even before joining the "art colony" in Wilmington, Gowing's work had a distinctly Pylean flavor, so it's no wonder he sought the help of the master.

It's quite possible that Gowing was among the 20 or so students who gathered at Pyle's studio to wish him bon voyage - and present him with a pair of binoculars - on the morning of November 21, 1910, the day before he sailed to Italy. (And, incidentally, Winthrop Scudder also saw the Pyles off when their ship stopped in Boston on November 23rd.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Haunted House

“The Haunted House” was built, as it were, by Howard Pyle for Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s story “The Gold” in the December 1904 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine. There, however, it was titled “Catherine Duke quickened her steps.” Pyle subsequently rechristened it and included it in various exhibitions of his work. So, among other places, it traveled to Boston in 1906 and to Minneapolis in 1907. In between those two shows, it sat in Pyle’s studio for a bit, as can be seen in the corner of this photo taken in the late spring or summer of 1906. (“The Suicide” is its neighbor, by the way.)

Pyle, then, was painting - or, more likely, pretending to paint - “The Battle of Nashville” for the Minnesota Capitol building and preparing to begin “The Landing of Carteret” for the Essex County Court House.
Both of these structures were designed by architect Cass Gilbert, to whom Pyle wrote on September 4, 1907:
I am going to send you a black and white picture of an old house which I call “The Haunted House.” The picture has been rather a favorite with me, and I think that you, as an artist, will appreciate the decorative scheme of black and white - say in a dining room. Anyway, I want you to have the picture, partly because I like it myself, and largely because I hope you may like it. So if you will accept it with my affectionate regards you will add another bond to our friendship.
Pyle inscribed the 24.75 x 16" black and white oil on canvas in red paint and shipped it off. I don’t know if Gilbert ever hung it in his dining room, but the original eventually landed back with Pyle’s grandson and its present and permanent address is now the Brandywine River Museum.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Thread Without a Knot

I couldn’t let Labor Day and “official” summer pass by without posting this delicate and relatively unknown pen-and-ink gem by Howard Pyle. It’s the headpiece for his story, “A Thread Without a Knot,” published in Harper’s Weekly for September 3, 1892. It shows the hero of the story, Jack Sylvester, and his temporary love interest, Miss Lannon, at an unidentified seashore...
Then she raised her parasol, and they went slowly down to the beach together. They sat just behind a little bank of sand that half hid them from the board walk. Sylvester lay beside her, stretched at length in the hot sand. “What are you reading?” said he; and he took up the book that she had brought with her. It was Howells’s Lady of the Aroostook. “Oh yes!” said he, without awaiting her reply.

“Have you ever read it?” said she.

Sylvester laughed. “Well, rather,” he said. “Lovely, isn’t it? Wonderful how he holds the interest centred in just those few characters and bounded by the narrow rails of the sailing ship!”

She did not make an instant response. “I don’t know,” said she, presently. “I haven’t got that far in the book. Yes, I think it’s a very nice story. Mamma brought a lot of books down with her, and I just began reading this this morning.”

Sylvester looked up quickly. Then he looked down again and began idly turning over the pages. “Did you ever read Silas Lapham?” said he, after a little while.

“No,” said she. “Who was it wrote it?”

“Howells wrote that too,” said he, a little dryly; and then he closed the book and gave it back to Miss Lannon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pyle on Barye

“Greyhound and Hare” by Antoine-Louis Barye
During his August 29, 1904, composition lecture, Howard Pyle said:
Barye is one of the very few who have rightly expressed the animal nature.

I recall a thing by him of greyhounds killing hares. One of the hounds had a hare in its strong jaws and was crunching it in a cold-blooded way - absolutely without any feeling or passion.

A wild beast devouring another takes its food in a way natural to it, as a tree absorbs moisture, rather than as a creature bent on revenge.

When you throw your own self into the animal you make him human. You should consider him a being different from yourself.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pyle Talk Today

Well, I’ve cobbled together 118 slides and will somehow squeeze them into 40 minutes to an hour of Howard Pyle talk tonight at 5.30pm at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

My two main topics are the “befores” and “afters” of Pyle’s work: what went into his pictures (sketches, studies, appropriations, photos, etc.) and things he did to his pictures after they’d already been published (which I’ve talked about now and then on this blog).

On to Stockbridge!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Me Talk Pyle One Day

It’s official: next Thursday, August 16th, at 5.30pm, I’ll be talking about Howard Pyle at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Here are some details. It’ll be my first time speaking on the topic to a (willing) audience of more than a handful of people, so be gentle.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What Will the Author Think?

“Appreciative praise is always delightful, especially so from an author whom one has been called upon to illustrate. I always wonder what effect my crude materialistic rendering of his airy fancyings will have upon the poet; will he be indignant or will he be amused? Will he grind his teeth or will he grin? Pegasus flies well with quills to his wings; convert the feathers to lead pencils and the poor nag must perforce stumble along the rocky way as best he can.”
Howard Pyle to Edmund Clarence Stedman, July 26, 1888.

Monday, July 9, 2012

“Reading the Declaration before Washington’s Army, New York, July 9, 1776”

“Reading the Declaration before Washington’s Army, New York, July 9, 1776” by Howard Pyle (1892)

According to George Washington’s General Orders of July 9, 1776:
The Hon. The Continental Congress, impelled by the dictates of duty, policy and necessity, having been pleased to dissolve the Connection which subsisted between this Country, and Great Britain, and to declare the United Colonies of North America, free and independent States: The several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades, at Six OClock, when the declaration of Congress, shewing the grounds and reasons of this measure, is to be read with an audible voice.
The General hopes this important Event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms: And that he is now in the service of a State, possessed of sufficient power to reward his merit, and advance him to the highest Honors of a free Country.
One hundred and fifteen years later, illustrator Howard Pyle was commissioned to commemorate the event for an article, “How the Declaration Was Received in the Old Thirteen,” by Charles D. Deshler in the July 1892 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

Letters from Pyle (now at the Morgan Library in New York City) help to pin-point the creation of picture shown here: Pyle wrote to Arthur B. Turnure, then the art editor of Harper’s Monthly, on December 12, 1891, “I have not yet had an opportunity of looking over the MS of ‘How the Declaration was Received.’ I will read it, however, at the earliest opportunity and report to you as you desire.”

Then, on January 3, 1892, Pyle informed Turnure, “Your letter is received and I will give the very earliest attention possible to ‘How the Declaration was Received.’”

Three days later, Pyle said, “I hope, if all goes well and I complete the work I am now upon that I shall be in New York on Friday, I shall then bring you a plan of...‘How the Declaration was Received.’”

So, unless Pyle’s plans went awry, on Friday, January 8, he visited Turnure at Franklin Square in lower Manhattan and talked over his ideas. But whatever was discussed and whenever it was discussed, on January 29, Pyle wrote, “I send you to day by Express, two pictures. One of them is illustrative of ‘How the Declaration Was Received’ - Washington having the Declaration read to the troops.”

Subsequently, Pyle’s black and white oil on illustration board - measuring some 23.5 x 17.5 inches - was engraved on a 6.5 x 4.8" block of wood by Albert Munford Lindsay (who later studied with Pyle at the Drexel Institute).

Looking out the window on this July evening in New York, Pyle and Lindsay seem to have nailed the light just right. I like that.

Eventually, the painting wound up in the hands of Harold S. Schutt, who gave it to the Brandywine River Museum in 1980.

(On personal note, this engraving was reproduced in Jean Fritz’s Alexander Hamilton, The Outsider, to which I added some illustrations of my own.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

“He lay awhile conscious of great comfort”

It’s a beautiful day, so here’s a beautiful Howard Pyle painting of a beautiful day. The reproduction is dodgy and the original painting is missing, so who knows what the colors really are, but they’re still effective and the composition is unusual and interesting.

Pyle painted “He lay awhile conscious of great comfort" for Justus Miles Forman’s “The Island of Enchantment” in the October 1905 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine. It later appeared in the book of the same title. So far, I’ve found no record of it being exhibited; maybe Pyle sold it soon after it was published.

It’s always useful to compare Pyle’s results with the text, so here is Foreman’s description of the scene:
That his eyes opened upon blue sky instead of upon painted or carved ceiling roused in him no astonishment. In service against the Turks and against the Genoese he had often slept in the open, waking when the morning light became strong enough to force its way through his eyelids. He lay awhile, conscious of great comfort and bodily well-being, coming slowly and lazily into full possession of his faculties. The air was fresh and warm, with a scent of thyme in it, and from somewhere in the near distance sea-birds mewed plaintively, after their kind. He dropped his eyes from the pale-blue sky and saw that though he lay upon turf - a hill it would seem, or the crest of a cliff - there was a stretch of tranquil sea before him, a narrow stretch, and beyond this a mountain range looming sheer and barren from the water's edge.

The sun must be rising behind it, he said to himself, for the tips of the serrated peaks glowed golden, momentarily brighter, so that it hurt his eyes to watch them. He wondered what mountains these could be, and then, all in a flash, it came upon him where he was - that this was Arbe, and that ridge the Velebic mountains of the main-land....

The woman who had saved his life half knelt, half sat behind him, and upon her knees his head had lain. At this moment she was leaning back a little, with her head and shoulders against a small tree which stood there, and her eyes were closed as if she were asleep.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

“Serious Advice” - Seriously?

I remember when I first saw this illustrated verse by Howard Pyle: I thought, “Wait a second - THIS isn’t in Pepper & Salt!”

No, it isn’t. It almost seems like a weird-alternate universe-racist parody of Pyle. But, unfortunately, it is, indeed, his handiwork, and one that shows an ugly side of him and the world he lived in.

Yes, for some reason, Pyle made it and Harper’s Young People printed it in their June 24, 1884, issue. But somebody had a change of heart, and it was the only piece of its kind that didn’t make it into Pepper & Salt when it was published sixteen months later. A good thing, too - I mean, that it was suppressed and didn’t live on in book-form. For better or worse, though, I wanted to show it and air some of Pyle’s dirty laundry. There’s not a lot, but the little there is is still cringe-inducing and unforgivable.

And, of course, Pyle also had to immortalize himself in the illustration: the mutton-chopped jester and adviser to the “Little Ethiopian” is Pyle himself. In fact, the two images are his earliest known self-portraits. Compare them with a photo taken at about the same time:

By the way, Pyle-as-jester turns up again in another illustrated verse, “Venturesome Boldness” (Harper’s Young People for August 26, 1884), and later in Pepper & Salt itself - in the frontispiece and the headpieces for the Preface and Table of Contents.

The original pen-and-ink for “Serious Advice” resides at the Delaware Art Museum, but I don’t know how often it sees the light of day.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is This Young Howard Pyle?

Figure 1. Young man photographed by Emily Webb, Wilmington, Delaware, 1870s

Is this young Howard Pyle?

I don’t know. But I really, really wish I did - and I’m 99 percent convinced that it is Howard Pyle, somewhere in his early 20s. What throws me is the size of his hands, which seem too big (Pyle had smallish hands, apparently), and the shape of his ears. But these could be optical illusions. Also, I don’t know what color hair young Pyle had, or what his hairline was like before he started balding.

His eyes, though, look right, as does his nose, brows, and especially the shape and smallness of his mouth. In 1909, a reporter noted that Pyle had “eyes blue as a fog, a small mouth, bland, but massive and singularly youthful face.” And artist James Edward Kelly remembered that when Pyle arrived in New York in 1876, “he had a high, smooth forehead; a long, smooth nose; light blue eyes; long flat jaws; rosy cheeks; a long smooth chin; small pursed mouth.”

Fortunately, there is a bona fide early photo of Pyle - Figure 2 - taken about 1875 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Here he has longish, darkish hair, and a face very much in keeping with Kelly’s description. The slope and shape of the shoulders, nose, chin, mouth, etc., etc., are also very similar to Figure 1’s.

Figure 2. Howard Pyle at Owings Mills, Maryland, c.1875

Then again, the youngish Pyle in another early photo (Figure 3) appears to have brown or maybe even reddish hair, or at least something lighter than what we see in Figure 1 - but the darker tone there could be an illusion or from Macassar oil, or something...

Figure 3. Howard Pyle, by a Philadelphia photographer, c.1880-85

Still, there is indeed something reminiscent of Figure 1 in Figure 3. Not to mention in Frances Benjamin Johnston photos of Pyle, taken when he was in his early 40s. Pyle’s face has become rounder in Figure 4 and Figure 6, but his demeanor is similar, as are his mouth and eyes.

Figure 4. Howard Pyle photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1896

Curiously and coincidentally, the photographer of Figure 1, Emily Webb, was Howard Pyle’s first-cousin-once-removed: she had grandparents in common with Pyle’s father. Emily was born on February 23, 1830, died on April 24, 1914, and somewhere along the line - and at a time when female photographers were quite rare - she set up her “Union Gallery” on Market Street in Wilmington. Her sister Sarah, meanwhile, was the wife of the Saturday Evening Post’s Henry Peterson, who was also Pyle’s mother’s first publisher.

Perhaps another, identified copy of Webb’s photo - or the use of a facial recognition system of some kind - will solve the mystery. (Though, in laying out all these things, I think I'm now 99.9 percent sure.)

Figure 5. Closeup of young man photographed by Emily Webb, Wilmington, Delaware, 1870s

Figure 6. Closeup of Howard Pyle photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1896

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Semi-Lost Howard Pyle Student

Portrait of Elisabeth Moore Hallowell by Violet Oakley (via Pook and Pook)

In 1872, Howard Pyle, 19 and fresh out of art school, rented a room in the Grand Opera House in Wilmington and advertised that he would teach “drawing, sketching, and painting in oils.” Whether anyone took him up on the offer is still in question, however. Not long after his mother’s death in 1885, Pyle took his sister Katharine under his wing and into his studio and helped establish her career as an illustrator. And then in May 1894 he accepted a teaching position at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. But even before Pyle began his course on “Practical Illustration” that October, he agreed to help another artist.

Her name was Elisabeth Moore Hallowell (1861-1910) and today is the 118th anniversary of her first lesson with Pyle. She initially approached Pyle by letter on June 14, 1894, and he replied the next day:
I do not know just how much assistance I could be to you in the matter of pen drawing. It is a medium which I use but very little, except for the lighter and more decorative kind of illustrative work. If I can help you I shall be glad to do so.
He added that “if you could bring your work to me every week, say, on Saturday afternoons, I would be very glad to criticize it for you and to give you such suggestions as I can - I shall not charge you anything for such criticism.” Then - on 19th - Pyle told her to meet him on Saturday, June 21st at his then-residence, “Delamore Place,” an airy old mansion at the corner of Clayton and Maple Streets. I gather he didn’t have her come to his studio either for propriety, or because he only worked till midday on Saturdays, or because he was doing a lot of work at home at that time (a number of his illustrations from 1893-96 are indeed set at Delamore).

Whether Miss Hallowell did in fact see Pyle every Saturday that summer is in doubt: he went on a whirlwind trip, for instance, to Onteora, New York, in late June or early July 1894, and also spent days and maybe weeks at a time at his family’s cottage in Rehoboth, Delaware. Evidently, however, she did make periodic visits: on September 20th, for example, Pyle wrote that he could probably see her on the 29th, but that “I should like you that time to come to my studio instead of my house. You will find me there between the hours of three and five. The address is 1305 Franklin Street.”

Subsequently, Hallowell continued to seek Pyle’s help both informally and at Drexel, where she attended his classes: in a January 1896 letter, for example, Pyle said, “I will try, unless I miss my train, to be at your room at nine o’clock, and will give you an hour’s criticism between then and ten o’clock.” And although primarily a botanical artist, she made at least one Pylesque illustration - “Betsy Ross Making the First American Flag” - for Leslie’s Weekly in 1896.

Surely, this was produced under Pyle’s influence - if not his direct supervision. But it’s not clear how long their association continued. In 1897 the Macmillan Company announced the publication of Hallowell’s Elementary Drawing: A Series of Practical Papers for Beginners and touted it as “a very practical interesting book, with suggestions as to the best methods of grouping, management of light and shade, and other essentials of composition, all intended to give reliable help to students who are filling their first sketch-books.” I haven’t seen the book, or her articles in The Art Amateur which composed it, but perhaps some of it came out of what she learned from Pyle.

Hallowell later taught pen and ink drawing and was “Instructor in Charge of the Class in Illustration” at the Philadelphia Museum and School of Industrial Art. In 1902, she married author-naturalist-traveler-botanist-historian (etc.!) Charles Francis Saunders (1859-1942) and the two collaborated on a number of projects. In 1906, for the sake of for Elisabeth’s health they moved to California, where she died at age 49.

Incidentally, the portrait of Hallowell shown above was drawn by Violet Oakley, one of Pyle’s most celebrated Drexel students and, it seems, Hallowell’s friend.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Marginal Greatness from “A Puppet of Fate”

Relatively primitive - and slightly off-register - color printing, but still a fine marginal illustration by Howard Pyle. It’s untitled and was only reproduced once, in Pyle’s short story - or “Extravaganza for the Christmas Season” - titled “A Puppet of Fate” in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine for December 1899. The as-yet missing original is probably oil on board.

 In keeping with the “Oriental” aspect of the story, Pyle pushed the flatness of his design to excellent effect. Actually, here’s a case where a Pyle reminds me more of his students’ work than the other way around - particularly of his female students, like Sarah S. Stilwell, who Pyle was guiding quite closely at this time. Perhaps there was some cross-pollination going on.

The picture illustrates the moment when the hero, the Reverend Enoch Miller, a clergyman from a small Pennsylvania town, who has been thrown into a series of weird adventures in Philadelphia (during which he tears his trousers and is “given a pair of yellow silk drawers, also of an Oriental pattern, to be worn until his accustomed garments could be mended and restored to him”), is ushered
into a room whose Oriental magnificence and splendor exceeded the possibility of his wildest imaginings. Upon the walls hung tapestries of heavy and Oriental damask, whilst a multitude of Eastern rugs of infinite magnificence and beauty were spread thickly upon the floor. The splendors of this apartment were brilliantly illuminated by the light of a score of perfumed waxen tapers burning in as many candlesticks, apparently of silver and of exquisite workmanship, and the furniture and appointments were of ebony inlaid with silver.

Upon a cushioned couch at the farther side of the room reclined a female figure clad in an exquisite négligé of yellow silk, and presenting so ravishing a beauty that had she been a houri from Paradise she could not more have dazzled the sight of the Rev. Enoch Miller. Near to her lay a lute inlaid with ebony and mother-of-pearl, which she had apparently only just the moment before allowed to slip from her indolent grasp. The hand that had perhaps just struck its silver strings now lightly held a cigarette, from which arose a thread of blue smoke perfuming the warm and fragrant air with the aroma of Turkish tobacco.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On “The Story of Adhelmar”

“He found Mélite alone” by Howard Pyle (1904)

“I am most pleased that my illustrations for your Story of Adhelmar should have met with your approval,” wrote Howard Pyle to James Branch Cabell on June 12, 1904. “A good story is always a great inspiration for an illustrator, and I hope I may have the pleasure of illustrating many more of yours.”

It’s funny, though: Pyle’s three pictures for “The Story of Adhelmar” weren’t so inspired. John K. Hoyt’s criticism of Pyle (which I’ve reprinted in full) zeros in on two of them. Of “He found Mélite alone” Hoyt wrote:
Here we have a wooden image sitting, garbed in the habiliments of a woman, with a heavy mat of jute, in lieu of hair, falling from her head to her waist. The figure is devoid of any lines indicative of feminine grace; it might be the figure of a boy - a wooden boy. The arms in those sleeves are not made of flesh and bones and muscle, but of good solid oak. The expression of the face betokens intense, sullen stupidity. A knight clad in armor stands in the doorway, leaning against the jamb for support, evidently bereft of strength - as well he may be - at the ugliness of the thing.
Meanwhile, “He sang for her as they sat in the gardens”...
...represents a woman with a faded, washed-out face; a silly, simpering face; and whose right side has been developed at the expense of the left. And then, while gazing, one is stricken with deep compassion, as he perceives that this poor creature has curvature of the spine, and he wonders how, under the circumstances, she can even simper. In this figure also there are no lines to indicate the sex.

“He sang for her as they sat in the gardens” by Howard Pyle (1904)

“These two compositions are enough to drive the luckless author of ‘The Story of Adhelmar’ frantic,” Hoyt went on. “And if he has survived the sight of them, he is doubtless now going about in quest of the artist and thirsting for his gore.” Cruel assessments, perhaps, but he makes some good points.

Even so, the “luckless” Cabell was pleased with the set of illustrations and had written to Pyle on March 27, 1904: “I wish that I could properly express my admiration for the magnificent pictures you have made for the ‘Story of Adhelmar.’ But as I cannot, will you not take the word for the deed?” Pyle’s letter of June 12th (quoted above) was in response to this praise.

That same June, however, Pyle wrote to editor Thomas Bucklin Wells of Harper’s Monthly Magazine, “Again let me urge you not to send me too much medieval work.” But Wells seems to have ignored the request (or Pyle didn’t stand firm) and after another three years of illustrating Cabell and many other seemingly middling authors, Pyle complained to Wells on April 23, 1907:
I am in great danger of grinding out conventional magazine illustrations for conventional magazine stories. I feel myself now to be at the height of my powers, and in the next ten or twelve years I should look to do the best work of my life. I do not think that it is right for me to spend so great a part of my time in manufacturing drawings for magazine stories which I cannot regard as having any really solid or permanent literary value. Mr. Cabell’s stories, for instance, are very clever, and far above the average of magazine literature, but they are neither exactly true to history nor exactly fanciful, and, whilst I have made the very best illustrations for them which I am capable of making, I feel that they are not true to medieval life, and that they lack a really permanent value such as I should now endeavor to present to the world.
Of course, when Pyle wrote that letter, he only had four and a half years to live - not ten or twelve - and - despite his protestations - he and Harper’s Monthly continued on a similar path until his death.

“He climbed the stairs slowly, for he was growing feeble” by Howard Pyle (1904)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Howard Pyle at the Norman Rockwell Museum

The Rush from the New York Stock Exchange on September 18, 1873, 1895 Howard Pyle (1853-1911) 
Oil on panel, 18 x 11 7/8 inches Delaware Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 1915

What's the rush? Why, Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered opens today at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Yes, the show - previously on view at the Delaware Art Museum - has been reassembled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Tonight’s festivities include a “Swagger and Dagger” party and special events will be held throughout its satisfyingly long run till October 28th. Even I’ll be up there on August 16th to have a conversation about Pyle.

On to Stockbridge! Hurry, hurry!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Abbey and Pyle Entangled

Entangled - Drawn by E. A. Abbey, from a Sketch by H. Pyle (Harper’s Weekly, January 19, 1878)

In his memoir, A World Worth While: A Record of “Auld Acquaintance”, illustrator W. A. Rogers said:
In looking over an old file of Harper’s Weekly the other day I came across a picture of Colonial life under which was printed, “Drawn by E. A. Abbey from a sketch by Howard Pyle.” That was before Pyle’s wings were strong enough to enable him to fly alone. It was in the days when most of the work was drawn on wood, and Pyle never was successful in working on the block.
“Entangled” is the picture Rogers mentions. “This was redrawn by Abbey from my original drawing,” Pyle noted in his scrapbook. “My drawing was made before I left Wilmington and was accepted as an ‘idea’. I got, I think, twenty dollars for it.” After Edwin Austin Abbey tightened it up, Victor Bernstrom engraved it for the January 19, 1878, issue of Harper’s Weekly. An accompanying paragraph explained:
The costumes and accessories in our engraving on page 52 show that the artist designed to represent a scene in an American country house of the last century; but the story suggested suits all times and countries. The tell-tale chairs placed cozily side by side, the evident embarrassment of the young gentleman, in spite of his effort to look cool and unconcerned, and as if he had been leaning all the morning against the mantel-piece, are quite perceptible to the keen glance of the maiden’s father as he comes into the room. Likely enough he is a loyalist, while the suitor for his daughter’s heart and hand may be the son of a patriot. Out of this hint every reader may weave a romance for himself.
“Entangled” was published just when Pyle’s early career was turning a corner, when publishers - and fellow illustrators, like Abbey - were beginning to take him seriously.

And in looking at this picture again, I feel more and more convinced that in redrawing Pyle’s picture, Abbey used Pyle himself as the model for “the young gentleman.” There’s something about the height and body language and the shape of head and brow, the texture of the hair, the sideburns, the way the hands are tucked in the pockets... Not many photographs of a twenty-something Pyle have turned up, but take a look at these two - maybe you’ll see what I mean.

Photograph of Howard Pyle, c.1875

Photograph of Howard Pyle, c.1880-83

Friday, June 1, 2012

Taking Pyle for Granted?

It seems strange to me that all these years people have apparently taken Howard Pyle for granted, and yet scarcely written a word about him as one of the biggest men of his calibre, or of any calibre, that we have in this country.
 So said Homer Saint-Gaudens, son of the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, on June 1, 1911. He was addressing Robert Underwood Johnson, then editor of The Century Magazine. “So I thought that I would start on a pilgrimage to find whether or no some magazine would not care for an article upon him by me, and I am beginning with you,” Saint-Gaudens added.

Johnson didn’t take the bait. Nor - as far as I can tell - did any other editor. Granted, Pyle wasn’t particularly newsworthy at that time, but I wonder if there wasn’t a subtle prejudice against him. Sometimes I think he wasn’t European enough for America - or at least for the American taste-makers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Howard Pyle’s Speech

Detail of a photograph of Howard Pyle by Frances Benjamin Johnston (1896)

Usually, when imagining Howard Pyle, the Movie, I cast Tom Wilkinson in the title role - though he might be too old for it at this point. And I’d definitely want to hear David Ogden Stiers recite Pyle’s words or narrate a Pyle documentary à la Ric Burns or Ken Burns on, maybe, PBS’s American Experience. (Stiers could have easily been cast as Pyle, too, once upon a time.) But did Pyle sound like either of these two men? It’s impossible to say, barring the discovery of a wax cylinder recording of Pyle’s voice. I dream of finding one; I doubt, though, that one exists.

So, how did Pyle sound and speak?

In a 1903 letter, Pyle told John Ferguson Weir that his voice had “a somewhat dominant and carrying quality.”  Fellow illustrator (and alleged student) Ernest Clifford Peixotto recalled Pyle’s “manly voice.” Pyle pupil Harvey Dunn remembered his teacher’s “far carrying voice” and his “deep and compelling laugh.” A 1909 interviewer said Pyle spoke “easily and swiftly...in curt sentences and jerky pauses.” Biographer Charles D. Abbott said, “Howard Pyle had a rich tenor voice, and considerable facility in using it, that made him very popular in musical circles.” Indeed, Pyle sang in public quite often, particularly in the choir of his church and in the chorus of the Tuesday Club. He also - in his twenties, at least - performed in amateur theatricals.

In my mind’s ear, I hear a clear, confident, steady stream of words issuing from Pyle’s mouth.

But artist James Edward Kelly remembered that when he met the young Howard Pyle in 1876, he “talked with a slight lisp.” And Pyle’s longtime friend, journalist Edward Noble Vallandigham, who befriended Pyle in the early 1880s, recalled that he had “a slight impediment of speech.”

Pyle himself echoed Vallandigham’s unfortunately vague description at least twice: in 1895, when invited to do a reading of his works, Pyle begged off, blaming “somewhat of an impediment in my speech that would perhaps make it unpleasant and awkward both for myself and my hearers.” Refusing a similar invitation that same year, he confessed, “I have unfortunately at times a slight impediment in my speech that might in such a public reading be unpleasant, both to you and to myself.”

So was it - like Kelly said - merely a “slight lisp”? Perhaps, but when asked in a 1982 tape-recorded interview if her father read aloud from books, Eleanor Pyle Crichton (1894-1984) said, “No, he never read. He stuttered.”

Whatever it was, though, the “impediment” didn’t always stop Pyle from singing, acting, teaching, or, for that matter, from more formal speaking engagements. At the same time that he was turning down the above mentioned offers, he was finding his way as a teacher, starting with lectures on “Practical Illustration” to students at the Drexel Institute in the fall of 1894. And it wasn’t long before Pyle did begin to accept invitations to speak: in 1897 he delivered the commencement address at Delaware College, and in the first decade of the 20th Century he spoke before the Society of Arts and Crafts of Boston, the School of Fine Arts of Yale University, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Franklin Inn Club in Philadelphia, Milwaukee-Downer College, the Irvington Athenaeum (in Indianapolis), the Art Students’ League of New York, the National Academy of Design, the American Institute of Architects - and so on - not to mention his ten years’ worth of almost weekly “composition lectures” to students and guests at Wilmington and Chadd’s Ford.

Somewhere along the line, it seems that Pyle overcame his “impediment,” or at least he became less self-conscious about it. Perhaps his conviction to the cause of raising illustration from what he described as a “discredited handicraft” to a distinctly American school of art had something to do with it.