From childhood, Frank Schoonover was drawn to the outdoors and opportunities to explore the wonder of nature. As he put it, “I don’t know what I was looking for but I loved the water and the streams.” It’s no wonder then, that as his passion for both the outdoors and art grew, he began creating pen and ink drawings of streams, bridges, buildings, and barns. It wasn’t long before he realized that illustration was his true passion. This excerpt from Frank E. Schoonover Catalogue Raisonné by John Schoonover, Louise Schoonover Smith, and LeeAnn Dean describes Schoonover’s first experiences studying art under the famous Howard Pyle.
In early September, 1896, an advertisement in the Philadelphia Inquirer forever changed his course. Listed in the newspaper was the fall offering of classes at Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry in Philadelphia. He scoured the ad and “…it said that anyone with a desire for illustration could have the instruction in that kind of art under the tutelage of Howard Pyle, that if the work in hand would pass the judgment of (great master to me) Howard Pyle. Well (and you can understand how this seemed to be an answer to it all) that was it.”
He confronted his parents. “I really think that I’m not really material or fitted to be a Presbyterian minister. I think I’d like to go down and study with Mr. Pyle and be an illustrator. They didn’t seem to object very much to it.” With the goal of eventually studying under Pyle, a hopeful Schoonover submitted drawings for admission to Drexel to Clifford P. Grayson, director of the School of Drawing, Painting, and Modeling in the Department of Fine and Applied Art. He was accepted into that four-year program at a time when Philadelphia provided a compelling environment for artists, educators, and those interested in the arts.
Significant among those in Philadelphia at the time was William Merritt Chase, who started teaching at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1896. William Glackens had returned to the city, Cecelia Beaux critiqued Academy portrait classes, and Thomas Anshutz taught its antique classes. Sculptor Charles Grafly instructed at Drexel and the Academy, and Howard Pyle was a luminary at Drexel. “The training provided in these surroundings was grounded in sound academic curricula with an evolving specialization in illustration.” Concurrently, the swift development of photoengraving throughout the country during the nineteenth century’s last quarter favorably advanced American illustration as an art form.
After Grayson’s favorable review, Schoonover was enrolled in Advanced Elementary Art, rather than the first class. The course involved drawing parts of the human figure, animals, and ornamentation from Drexel’s impressive collection of plaster casts. In February 1897, Schoonover progressed to Antique Art, a demanding class that required drawing the full-length figure from casts, clay modeling, still life painting in oil and watercolor, sketching, pen and ink rendering, and artistic anatomy. That year, Drexel’s Department of Domestic Science commissioned Schoonover’s first commercial art, The Cow, a large chart that diagramed cuts of beef. It hung at the Institute for many years.
Although he quickly advanced to drawing live models, he would not study under Pyle’s tutelage until he had successfully navigated three semesters of arduous classes. The principal requirement to enter Pyle’s class was to produce an original charcoal drawing, a medium with which Schoonover was quite comfortable. He offered Pyle several examples of his work: netting minnows, fishing, and exploring streams and bridges in Bushkill, all boyhood experiences he called “incidents.” “Mr. Pyle looked over them all and said because of the creative thought he would admit me…To hear on the day before Christmas that I had been admitted into Howard Pyle’s Class on Composition was my greatest Christmas present, as I felt I was on my way to some kind of living.”
In such proximity to so many promising young artists, Schoonover later recalled, “I felt about as big as a small piece of cheese.” Pyle, a large, imposing man who had cautioned his students never to be discouraged, intimidated new pupils by seating them at the rear of his classroom. Further, he selected only ten compositions a week for Friday afternoon critiques. Months passed and Schoonover’s efforts were rarely recognized. During this vexing time, he found an ally in Stanley Arthurs, another neophyte who sat next to him. Schoonover and Arthurs, later a noted painter of historical subjects, would become lifelong friends. Eventually, they found their place in Pyle’s class. “They took over the chores as class monitors, and as their talents developed the great teacher felt a fatherly concern for them. They were his favorites—helpers and friends until the end of his days.” Both Schoonover and Arthurs flourished in Pyle’s Life Studies class, and Schoonover’s work unerringly captured both feeling and movement, presaging his future illustrations that so aptly captured human emotion.
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Louise Smith, one of the authors of Frank E. Schoonover Catalogue Raisonné describes how she and her brother John Schoonover, along with the help of friend LeeAnn Dean, were able to assemble an entire catalogue of Schoonover’s work from his earliest sketches to his last easel paintings.
An epiphany followed by ten years of research, hard work, and unparalleled experiences. The result? Frank E. Schoonover Catalogue Raisonné.
Circa 1995, my brother John Schoonover began urging me to retire from the field of education and spearhead a project dedicated to our grandfather, Frank E. Schoonover. We knew that he was a favorite student of Howard Pyle, as well as a prolific artist, a beloved teacher, and a significant illustrator during the golden age of illustration. We had no idea, however, about the magnitude of the project we contemplated. Together with my youngest brother, Cortlandt, and our spouses, we met and decided to embark on the journey to produce a book that would document each of his paintings and tell his story, or in other words, compile a catalogue raisonné. So, in 1999, I retired from teaching and determined the organizational pieces needed.
In order to garner necessary support, we formed the non-profit Frank E. Schoonover Fund, Inc., and rented an office in Wilmington near the location of the Schoonover Studios that are still open to the public. Fortunately, grandfather had left an invaluable legacy, his original daybooks. They comprised of two sets of journals that contained his handwritten record of most of his works, numbered from the first illustration that he sold in 1899, NO 1, to his final works in the late 1960s, NO 2510. The organization and information detailed in his daybooks provided the framework for the book.
In spite of the fact that a catalogue raisonné is often the result of a doctoral thesis, we marched undaunted into unknown territory, determined to provide the most complete picture of his work as possible, with the assistance of Lee Ann Dean and several dedicated volunteers. Questions quickly arose…Where were all the paintings? How would we find them? Who would photograph them? Where would we have to go to do the original research? How should the volumes of information be managed? Where would we get the manpower? How long would it take? Gradually, the questions were answered and the resulting work was a great adventure taking us from Maine to California and many states in between, visiting schools, museums and homes, often with our professional photographer in tow.
When we’d completed most of the research and found and photographed hundreds of paintings, we understood the mammoth scope of the book—over 3,000 images with text for each, as well as other sections including a biography, indices, and various pertinent lists. At this point it was time to secure a designer and a publisher. We needed someone who understood the scope of Schoonover’s importance and influence and would insist on a beautiful product. Since Grandfather had lived and worked in Wilmington, we turned locally to Bob Fleck and the Oak Knoll Press. We were thrilled, when he too, caught the vision and agreed to be our publisher. His editors Mark Parker Miller and later Laura Williams guided us through the long, at times arduous, process. The two-volume boxed set was finally published in 2009 and has surpassed our expectations. Ten years were well spent. We have heard from many that it is a welcome addition to personal, educational, and public libraries. More importantly, it is our gift to our grandfather and to the field of art history.
Click here for more information on the Frank E. Schoonover Catalogue Raisonné.