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Howard Pyle, Illustrator Extraordinaire

Editor’s note:  All pen and ink illustrations are from the collection of Robert and Prudence Matthews, Fisher’s Landing, NY. (Click on image to enlarge)  

 If you read the article "The Man From Shady Ledge" in the January 2009 of Thousand Islands Life, then we can consider this article as Part II in a series of drawings/illustrations drawn in the Thousand Islands during the late nineteenth century.


Howard Pyle was born 1853 in Wilmington, Delaware and at twenty three was given a job with Scribner's Monthly1. One of his early assignments was to write an article on the Thousand Islands. He spent a month sketching and taking notes while he stayed at the Thousand Island House in Alexandria Bay, N.Y. His finished work was titled "Among the Thousand Islands" and was published in the April 1878 issue of the magazine.

While illustrations were Pyle’s forte, he wrote many books and stories during his life time. A lot of these are considered classics and are still available today either in their original form or as reprints. Two of his better known books, which he both authored and illustrated, were The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Nottinghamshire [1883] and The Wonder Clock [1888]. 

Toward the end of the nineteenth century he decided to teach art and soon established his own school. Over ten years he taught more than one hundred students including such famous names as Maxfield Parrish and N. C. Wyeth. Pyle and his students changed the way illustrations were portrayed which became known as "The Brandywine School of Drawing." The style revolutionized the art world.


Prior to 1880, illustrations were reproduced by engraving the artist’s drawing on a woodblock [the best wood was boxwood imported from Syria] which was then used to make prints. It was time consuming and the final product relied as much on the engraver’s skill as it did on the talent of the artist. Changing technology, such as the use of photography and the advent of steel engraving, gradually eliminated the woodblock engraver’s job. The result was a quicker, more accurate reproduction of the artist’s work. Forgive me for being a romantic but the skill of the engraver has a certain appeal not found in a machine.

Pyle's drawings for the Scribner's Monthly article were rendered in his favorite medium of pen and ink and since they were pre 1880, we can assume each image was engraved on a woodblock prior to making the print. He signed these drawings either with his initials "HP" or with "H Pyle" and since his signature was often part of the image, it sometimes presents a challenge to locate it. These are some of Pyle's earliest [and little known] published drawings and even Pyle aficionados might be surprised as to their existence.

It should be noted that Pyle's life as an illustrator fell in the middle of the period many consider to be the "Golden Age of American Illustrators.” His art work is held by many museums including the Delaware Art Museum, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Pyle's sketches of the men [pictured on right] were new friends he made during his stay in the Thousand Islands.

His drawing titled "Cooking a Camp Dinner" is signed "H Pyle" but is also signed "H Wolf sc" indicating that Wolf did the woodblock engraving on this particular image. There will be more on Henry Wolf in the March issue of Thousand Islands Life.  

All illustrations in this article are by Howard Pyle and are ca. 1878.

By Robert L. Matthews

We thank Robert L. Matthews (Bob) for this, his second in a series of articles for TI Life introducing us to Thousand Islands illustrators. Bob  his wife Prudence (Hooked on Prudence) have one of the most extensive collections of  Thousand Islands memorabilia.  For the past eight seasons the Matthews generously loaned their collection to the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY.  Bob is the author of two popular books:  Glimpses of St. Lawrence Summer Life: Souvenirs from the Thousand Islands: Robert and Prudence Matthews Collection, and in 2009 he published A History of the Thousand Islands Yacht Club.  When not at their beautiful River cottage at Fisher’s Landing, they live in St. Petersburg, Florida.

1 Scribner’s Magazine, was created by editor Josiah Gilbert Holland, (1819 - 1881) who lived at Bonnycastle, Alexandria Bay.



Posted in: History, Artists
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Comment by: M.B.Farhat ( )
Left at: 6:36 PM Tuesday, February 16, 2010
I am a retired children's librarian, 80 yrs. old. I grew up on Howard Pyle's books and still have several in my possession. What a delight to learn that he did illustrations of the Thousand Islands in his early career!
Comment by: Anietha ( )
Left at: 5:45 PM Monday, February 25, 2013
That Frank Frazetta borrowed both the gaoelln and the sailboat for two different paintings of his own is well known. Pyle in turn was influenced by Albrecht Durer's etchings when he did the pen-and-ink Knights of the Round Table drawings. The last image would be abstract art (non-representational) were it not for the lone, stranded figure. Pyle was possibly influenced by some of Whistler's near abstractions in this one, and both doubtless inspired Jeff Jones in his comics and paintings. Great work!