Born on March 5, 1853, in Wilmington, Delaware to a loving Quaker family, Pyle grew up with a variety of interests. His father owned a leather working business, and his mother passed on to him her artistic abilities. She also encouraged a love of reading literature and an appreciation of art and illustrations. Pyle learned much from his family, and he attended the Friend's School before going to a private school with an excellent schoolmaster.
Having taken an early interest in drawing and writing, Pyle continued to improve his style as he grew older. Eschewing the idea of higher education, Pyle instead traveled to Philadelphia to take art classes for three years at the studio of F.A. Van der Weilen. Productive in his learning and training, Pyle nevertheless returned to Wilmington and began working with his father.
A good, hard worker, Pyle would have settled into the leather business but for a trip to an island near Virginia. The adventure triggered his creativity and renewed his desire to draw and write. His penned and illustrated article found acceptance with Scribner's Monthly, and one of the owners encouraged him to venture to New York and become an illustrator for magazines. Pyle decided to accept the risk and with the blessing of his parents, he moved to New York.
Life was hard. The magazine owner didn't offer him much support, contrary to his enthusiastic earlier response. Pyle's work wasn't accepted because he lacked the technique demanded by the magazine editors. But he learned. Pyle tried different styles; he studies at the Art Students' League when he could; and, he gained knowledge from the experiences and the advice of other artists. Pyle refused to quit trying. For almost eighteen months, Pyle struggled before his determination and labors paid off. Harper's Weekly published his work, and Pyle became well-known for his artwork.
By the time he returned to Wilmington, he was a busy illustrator. Marriage and children didn't slow his work production, but he always made family his first prerogative. Well-respected in his community for his happy, friendly manner, Pyle enjoyed the life he had. An accomplished illustrator, Pyle also believed he could be a successful author as well. This proved to be true when in 1883 his work The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood saw publication. An extensive researcher for the drawings and a comprehensive reader, Pyle knit together many legends to create a story for children. Too, he wove pirate tales into a book called Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates, and his work entitled Otto of the Silver Hand was later made into a movie called Black Shield of Falworth.
Taking on more responsibility, Pyle began teaching in 1894 at Drexel Institute of Arts and Sciences in Philadelphia. He taught until 1900 when he founded a school in Wilmington called the Brandywine School and Artists Colony and instructed students such as N.C. Wyeth and Harvey Dunn. A few years later he accomplished the task of writing and illustrating four volumes of King Arthur legends.
Taking a step back, Pyle then turned to creating murals. His work adorned the Minnesota state capitol and two New Jersey court houses, portraying American historical scenes and subjects. To gain a wider perspective and study the old masters, Pyle packed up his family and moved to Italy. A year later Pyle died from a kidney infection on November 9, 1911.
During his lifetime, Pyle revolutionized illustration by giving them depth and distinction and by showing action and adventure. Before the artwork had been still and dry. Pyle provided drama, and when color came into use, Pyle was one of the first to utilize it. As a teacher, Pyle helped his students find publication and careers in illustration. He taught approximately 110 students, 40 of whom were women. Pyle's students further advanced the world of illustrating and later became known as the "Brandywine School." Future generations of illustrators and readers alike appreciated all that Pyle gave to the world of literature.
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