So much of the art form of illustration has been shaped by the efforts of Howard Pyle that he is often referred to as the father of American Illustration. Pyle’s areas of specialty were American historical and medieval periods (which were popular in the fiction market at the time), and pirates. It is largely from Howard Pyle’s own research and imagery that we have our current visual idea of what a pirate looks like.
Based in the Wilmington, Delaware area, Pyle worked with publishers in both Philadelphia and New York. After a successful entry into the field at the close of the nineteenth century, Pyle was positioned to be one of the biggest stars in an emerging profession, not only as an illustrator, but as an author as well. Not finding enough material to fuel his artistic passion, he found that writing and illustrating together allowed him the freedom to choose his own subjects. He would go on to produce numerous children’s books and adventure stories, most in the earlier part of his career, as well as to become a regular contributor of articles for many of the magazines.
Pyle willingly shared his success, and began teaching in the Philadelphia area at Drexel University in 1894. His lectures were well attended, often by young artists coming from great distances and looking for a chance to benefit from his experience. Pyle’s frustration with a lack of real commitment from many students led to an experiment that changed the field in the United States, and the art world still feels the ripple effect today. In 1900 he left Drexel and shortly afterward founded the Howard Pyle School of Art. Taking on students only after personal interviews, each was hand selected by Pyle after showing the necessary promise that he felt was needed to shape them into a professional. Students that went into Pyle’s program were among the best American illustrators of the day, and many were so impressed with Pyle that they became strong teachers of the craft as well. Classes during the year were held in Wilmington, while summer studies were held at a mill in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, on the Brandywine River. It is this river and the surrounding valley that gave its name to the “Brandywine school,” Pyle’s particular style of illustration.
J. W. Aylward, Harvey Dunn, Frank Schoonover, Stanley Arthurs, Violet Oakley, Thornton Oakley, and N. C. Wyeth were just a few of the pupils who passed through Pyle’s tutelage and became stars of their own generation.
Menges, Jeff A. 101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age, 1890-1925. Published by Dover Publications. Mineola, New York, 2016. p. 175.