Saturday, July 6, 2013

N. C. Wyeth’s “Big” Cover Design

On a Friday night 107 years ago this month, N. C. Wyeth wrote to his “Mama” back in Hingham, Massachusetts:
This week has gone past like lightning. - Really, I never experienced such a “fast” week in my life. I've bent every effort, poured every bit of my inner self into my work this week, endeavoring to reach a much higher plane in my work, and secondly to satisfy Mr. Pyle in his wish for a “big” cover design. I have, I am positive, reached a higher plane, according to those opinions about me, including Mr. Pyle’s. I would like so much to have you see the picture. It’s one of an Indian chief with his right hand up, palm forward showing friendship. He is on his mustang with his feathered lance across his saddle.

The week has been very individual. I know I shall always remember it because it has been one of intense seriousness of purpose and more or less of a victory for me.
I should note that in the invaluable book, The Wyeths: The Intimate Correspondence of N. C. Wyeth, 1901-1945, this letter is dated July 2, 1906 - which was a Monday, not a Friday, as Wyeth states outright and implies twice, so its more probable date is July 6, 1906 (though I suppose there’s also a chance it could be June 29, 1906).

At any rate, Wyeth was writing in the midst of turmoil both personal and professional: he was a new husband, had a new house, had his first child on the way, and his work was in dizzying demand. He also had a very demanding teacher: “Mr. Pyle expects so much of me,” Wyeth had written a few weeks earlier. For better or worse - probably worse - Howard Pyle had taken charge of the art department of McClure’s Magazine that February and ever since had been pressuring his prize pupil to illustrate more and more for it.

But Wyeth was remarkably resilient, full of energy and ideas, and the pressure resulted in the creation of some of his strongest pictures, at least in these pre-Scribner’s Illustrated Classics days. And he was only 23-years-old!

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