Thursday, March 22, 2012

Howard Pyle’s Birthplace: A Crack in the Case

Two years ago I talked about why I believed that Howard Pyle was born in a house on Market Street, between Eighth and Ninth Streets, in Wilmington, Delaware. You can read about it and see some pictures here. Yesterday, a new piece of evidence - which seems to support my theory - caught my eye:
The most intriguing thing about this is that it was written by Pyle’s sister, Katharine. It appeared in her syndicated history, “The Story of Delaware,” in the magazine section of The Sunday Morning Star - a.k.a. The Delmarva Star - on November 9, 1924.

Although there are some problems with the piece (particularly with some of the dates), I’m inclined to take her statement - “Howard Pyle was born in an old house on Market street in Wilmington” - at its word. And, despite its flaws, this brief biography of her brother - with whom she had a somewhat conflicted relationship - is worth reading, so I’ve quoted it in full, below.

Of course, Katharine Pyle was no mean artist and writer herself, and she’s presently the focus of an extensive exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum.

by Katharine Pyle

Conclusion of Chapter on “Famous Men”

1853-1912 [sic 1911]

Howard Pyle was born in an old house on Market street in Wilmington, and it was in Wilmington the greater part of his life was spent.

Even as a child he showed a talent for drawing. The blank places and margins in his school books were filled with sketches, the most of them made in hours when he was supposed to be studying.

At eighteen [sic sixteen] he was sent to an art school in Philadelphia and a few years later he set off for New York to seek his fortune.

He was ambitious to support himself, and after he once began to earn money he made up his mind that he would not ask his father for further help. At times he had scarcely enough money to buy art materials or pay for his models, but he held to his determination, and before long his name became known as a rising illustrator. Publishers spoke of him as one of the most promising among the younger artists.

In 1878 [sic 1879] he came back to Wilmington to live and soon after he married. Already his reputation as an artist had been made, but his fame as a writer came later. He had written quite a number of verses and short stories but his book of “Robin Hood” was the beginning of his real reputation in that line. As years went on still other books were written, - “The Wonder Clock.” “Otts [sic Otto] of the Silver Hand,” “The Garden Behind the Moon,” “Twilight Land” and others. The last of all was the King Arthur Series. All these are now child classics and are rich in illustrations done by his own hand.

Some of his tales were dictated to his stenographer as he stood at his easel painting, but he found this double work wearisome after a time, and in his later years he never attempted it.

He loved to have someone read to him as he drew or painted. Hour after hour was spent by his stenographer in reading about tales of pirates or adventure: or perhaps she read to him one of Trollope’s novels, or a book of Swedenborg, for he was of the Swedenborgian religion, and the influence of his belief was shown, not only in his life, but in his pictures and writings as well.

His work hours were long. They did not always end with the daylight. Sometimes he worked at home in the evenings over some delicate bit of pen-and-ink or a wash drawing while his wife read to him.

Besides his illustrating and writing he did a number of mural decorations.

The amount of work he turned out was enormous; in all he produced over three thousand pictures and decorations.

In 1893 [sic 1894] he was asked to teach a class in illustration at the Drexel Institute, Philadelphia. It was the first class of its kind in this country and proved a great success.

Out of it grew Mr. Pyle’s Summer School at Chadd’s Ford.

Later he gave up his classes at the Drexel. He built studios about his own for some of his students; and others who had followed him to Wilmington for the sake of his teaching, rented rooms or buildings near by.

Many of the men and women who studied under him in those years are among the most famous illustrators of the day.

In 1911 [sic 1910] Mr. Pyle set sail with his family, intending to spend a year or more abroad. But from this journey he never returned. He died in Florence the following year.

Since then a great number of his pictures have been bought by the people of Wilmington. A society called “The Fine Arts Society of Wilmington” [sic The Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts] was formed with the express purpose of keeping them together, caring for them and exhibiting them at certain times.

Now a special room in the Wilmington Public Library has been built for them, and there they have been hung and can be seen any time. It is probably the largest collection there is of any one man’s work, and it stands as a greater memorial to the art of Howard Pyle than the most imposing monument that could have been built.

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