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Howard Pyle (March 5, 1853 – November 9, 1911) was an American illustrator and author, primarily of books for young people. The prime example of gay myth-making in childish fiction is Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown, in Nottinghamshire (1883). Forster saw the Merry Men as a domestic Theban band. Pyle saw them as handsome playmates in an all-male paradise. Maid Marion is absent and rarely mentioned. The main role of women is to bleed poor Robin to death. (He dies in ‘Little John’s loving arms’.) The real ‘woman’ of the Band is Allan a Dale who has the face of a maiden and a voice that ‘charmeth all men’.
Pyle was born in Wilmington, Delaware, the son of William Pyle and Margaret Churchman Painter. As a child, he attended private schools and was interested in drawing and writing from a very young age. He was an indifferent student, but his parents encouraged him to study art, particularly his mother. He studied for three years at the studio of F. A. Van der Wielen in Philadelphia, and this constituted the whole of his artistic training, aside from a few lessons at the Art Students League of New York. In 1876, he visited the island of Chincoteague off Virginia and was inspired by what he saw. He wrote and illustrated an article about the island and submitted it to Scribner's Monthly. One of the magazine's owners was Roswell Smith, who encouraged him to move to New York and pursue illustration professionally. Pyle initially struggled in New York; his lack of professional experience made it difficult for him to translate his ideas into forms for publication. He was encouraged by several working artists, however, including Edwin Austin Abbey, A. B. Frost, and Frederick S. Church. He finally published a double-paged spread in the Harper's Weekly issue of March 9, 1878 and was paid $75—five times what he had expected. He became increasingly successful and was an established artist by the time that he returned to Wilmington in 1880. Pyle continued illustrating for magazines. He also collaborated on several books, particularly in American history. He wrote and illustrated his own stories, beginning with The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood in 1883. This book won international attention from critics such as William Morris. Over the following decades, he published many more illustrated works for children, many of which are still in print today. Pyle married singer Anne Poole on April 12, 1881, and the couple had seven children. In 1889, he and his wife sailed to Jamaica, leaving their children in the care of relatives. While they were overseas, their son Sellers died unexpectedly. This loss likely inspired his children's book The Garden Behind the Moon, which is about death and bears the dedication: "To the little Boy in the Moon Garden This Book is dedicated by His Father."
In 1894, he began teaching illustration at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry (now Drexel University). After 1900, he founded his own school of art and illustration named the Howard Pyle School of Illustration Art. Scholar Henry C. Pitz later used the term Brandywine School for the illustration artists and Wyeth family artists of the Brandywine region, several of whom had studied with Pyle. Some of his more notable students were N. C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, Elenore Abbott, Ethel Franklin Betts, Anna Whelan Betts, Harvey Dunn, Clyde O. DeLand, Philip R. Goodwin, Thornton Oakley, Violet Oakley, Ellen Bernard Thompson Pyle, Olive Rush, Blanche Grant, Ethel Leach, Allen Tupper True, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Arthur E. Becher, William James Aylward, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Charlotte Harding. Pyle taught his students at his home and studio in Wilmington, which is still standing and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Pyle was an early member of The Franklin Inn Club in Philadelphia.
In 1900, he created his own school in Wilmington where he taught a small number of students in depth. In 1903, Pyle painted his first murals for the Delaware Art Museum. He took up mural painting more seriously in 1906 and painted The Battle of Nashville in the state capitol of Minnesota, as well as two other murals for courthouses in New Jersey (the Essex and Hudson County Courthouses). Pyle developed his own ideas for illustrating pirate dress, as few examples existed of authentic pirate outfits and few, if any, drawings had been preserved. He created a flamboyant style incorporating elements of Gypsy dress. His work influenced the design of costumes for movie pirates from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp. It has been noted as highly impractical for working sailors. In 1910, Pyle and his family went to Italy where he planned to study the old masters. Suffering poor health, he felt depressed and drained of energy. After one year in the country, he suffered a kidney infection and died in Florence at the age of 58.
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