Thursday, May 29, 2014

Howard Pyle: Illustrator, Author, and Teacher

Just today I found a tidbit on Pyle, and I thought it was interesting that he illustrated his works while dictating his stories.  As I said, he took his illustrations very seriously.

Based on a March 2014 lecture given by Dr. David Murphy

Howard Pyle with his daughter Phoebe  between 1890(?) and 1900, photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston
Library of Congress:
American illustrator and author Howard Pyle was born on March 5, 1853, to a Quaker family in Delaware. As a teenager, he studied art in Philadelphia with F.A. 
Van der Weilen, then began writing and illustrating his own stories.

Pyle’s big break came in 1876 when Scribner’s Magazine accepted one of his pieces. He moved to New York City for further art study and continued to do more magazine work. After coming home to Delaware in 1879, Pyle set about writing and illustrating various books, including the Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, which was published in 1883. By this time, he had published stories and drawings in many different magazines; pirates, patriots, and princesses were common subjects.

He was well-known among artists and intellectuals of his day, a prominent member of the art establishment as well as the illustrator community (which other artists often belittled for being commercial). Vincent Van Gogh’s letters mention Pyle repeatedly–it’s clear that Van Gogh admired his work. While Woodrow Wilson was still a history professor (before his presidency), Pyle illustrated Wilson’s book about George Washington–much to Wilson’s delight.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Pyle’s illustrator and author talents were a great combination. He wrote and illustrated The Wonder Clock (featuring a tale for every hour in the day), Twilight Land (new fables), Otto of the Silver HandMen of Iron, four volumes on King Arthur, and many other tales as well. He liked to dictate the stories while working on his illustrations. You can see the influence of Albrecht Dürer in his drawing style and perspective.

“Captain Keitt” (plate facing p. 212) from story “The Ruby of Kishmoor” in Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates. New York: Harper, 1921. 

His stories are amusing, but often have morals too–not always to everyone’s taste, as Robert Louis Stevenson made clear: “I thought ALADDIN capital fun; but why, in fortune, did he pretend it was moral at the end?” (Letter to Mrs. Fairchild, March 1892) Whatever Stevenson thought of Pyle’s moralizing, he did appreciate Pyle’s illustrations! 

In the 1880s, Pyle and Stevenson defined the popular idea of pirates.
Starting in 1894, Pyle taught art lessons at the Drexel Institute of Technology. In 1900, he founded his own art school in Wilmington, DE. 

He taught a wide variety of subjects ranging from classical art to historical clothing and practical illustration skills, with a focus on developing imagination; incredibly, he refused to charge for his teaching. His many students included Maxfield Parrish, Frank Schoonover, Harvey Dunn, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and N.C. Wyeth. (If you look closely, you’ll notice that in many cases, Wyeth’s painting is very similar to Pyle’s drawing of the same scene.) Although he died in 1911, Pyle’s legacy lived on through his students.

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