An Excerpt from Frank E. Schoonover Catalogue Raisonné
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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