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Frank E. Schoonover
(American, 1877-1972)
This artwork, by Frank Schoonover, is the cover illustration for Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. Born in Oxford, New Jersey, Schoonover studied under Howard Pyle at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia and became part of what would be known as the Brandywine School. Schoonover was a prolific contributor to books and magazines during the early twentieth century, the so-called "Golden Age of Illustration.”

This quiet, studious New Jersey native decided to pursue a career in illustration rather than enter the ministry. While studying art at Drexel, Frank Schoonover became a follower of Howard Pyle, and became one of his most successful students. In the summers of 1898 and 1899, he continued with Pyle at his Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, summer sessions. He was a class monitor, and benefited from the mentorship that Pyle shared with his hand-picked scholars. After studying with Pyle, Schoonover settled in the Wilmington area, and remained there for the rest of his career.


Schoonover’s experiences led to a unique specialty. Like his instructor Howard Pyle, Schoonover preferred to gain first-hand knowledge of an environment to achieve full mastery. While he would spend a great deal of his time with Western themes, Schoonover’s first explorations were to the North. An avid outdoorsman his entire life, Schoonover ventured twice through the Canadian wilderness-- first by snowshoe, and later by canoe. He became an expert in depicting adventures in this region. The people who lived there, the tools for survival, and the beautiful landscape all found their way inside the pages of Schoonover’s sketchbooks. That kind of information gathering became typical of his work throughout his life. Schoonover made trips to Europe, the Gulf area of the United States, and to the West—with the research always helping to produce better illustrations.


Schoonover spent time in Scranton, Pennsylvania, during a coal miner’s strike; Richmond, Virginia, for a story on tobacco fields and their owners; and Butte, Montana, for work on a long magazine serial on the fight over the Minnie Healy copper mine. This travel reflected the dedication Schoonover put into his research and his image-making. As his reputation grew, he went on to work for many major magazines, and Outing became one of his earliest employers. He received many opportunities for Western stories, and later book work followed, including an unusual arrangement in the 1920s in which Harper & Brothers had Louis Rhead produces scores of line drawings for children’s classics, and paired them with cover plates by Schoonover. Treasure Island, Robin Hood, and Grimm’s Fairy Tales are just a few of these books.


Active well into his later years, Schoonover enjoyed the landscape painting, and began teaching in earnest in 1942, at a point in life when most are considering retirement. He taught classes until 1968, and died at the age of ninety-five.


Menges, Jeff A. 101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925. Published by Dover Publications. Mineola, New York, 2016. p. 202.

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