Frank E. Schoonover
1877 - 1972
As a student at Howard Pyle’s school in the Brandywine area, Frank Earle Schoonover became a devoted adherent to his teacher’s tough belief that an artist should “live what he paints”. In 1896, he entered Pyle’s classes at Drexel, choosing to study illustration rather than the ministry, which his parents had most coveted for him. After his second year of study, Pyle accepted him into his Chadds Ford Summer School on scholarship and by 1899 he was illustrating books such as A Jersey Boy of the Revolution and In the Hands of the Red Coats. By 1903, he was illustrating outdoor adventure stories; In the Open by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews was the first of a long list of such commissions.
In 1903, with more inspiration from Pyle, Schoonover traveled to the Hudson Bay area to experience that environment for use in his illustration works. Schoonover’s journeys to Canada and Alaska are more remarkable when one realizes that on one trip in 1903 the artist traveled some 1,200 miles entirely by snowshoe, canoe and dog sled. Over the years, a great number of his illustrations were based on those daring excursions, enabling him to accurately portray the living conditions of recently settled American frontiers. He traveled out West and lived with the Blackfeet Indians, and his depictions of Eskimo’s are as accurate as they get. "To Build A Fire" (from Jack London’s story of the same title) is a perfect example of such a painting.
Like Jack London, Schoonover had learned in the wilderness what it took to survive. Like Pyle and Wyeth, Schoonover’s understanding of the rugged life made him a prime candidate for illustrating many classic tales of adventure. Among these titles are Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, and Ivanhoe.
He also illustrated many books by “the world’s most successful author,” Zane Grey. Those novels included Open Range,Avalanche, Rustlers of Silver Ridge, Rogue River Feud, and Valley of Wild Horses. He illustrated more than 200 classic books, and with classmate Gayle Hoskins he organized the Wilmington Sketch Club in 1925 and formed his own art school in 1942, teaching until he was 91 years of age in 1968.
His earliest commissions came through Howard Pyle and at least once he shared a commission with fellow student, Philip R. Goodwin.
In 1905, author Clarence Edward Mulford developed a character with one short leg and thusly he was called "Hopalong Cassidy" or "Hoppy" to his ardent fans. The illustrator for this character was the author’s friend, Frank Schoonover. He found a model for the character during his travels and painted a real life cowboy with a short leg, immortalizing him in the process.
Over many years of studying together, Schoonover and Pyle became close friends and ultimately, their studios in Wilmington were near each other, Schoonover also helped Pyle with major commissions and teaching. He befriended another fellow student, Stanley Arthurs, and in 1906 they both traveled to Jamaica with Pyle. That same year he rented a studio in Wilmington with his neighbors being more of Pyle’s students: N.C. Wyeth, Henry Jarvis Peck, and Harvey Dunn.
Born in Oxford, New Jersey, Frank's father worked in an iron foundry, and the family was not long on culture. He applied to Howard Pyle’s first classes at Drexel and was joyous upon being admitted, stating: “I felt honored because his class was a pretty strong one-made up of big shots…Jessie Willcox Smith, Maxfield Parrish, Thornton and Violet Oakley, and others.” It is worth noting that Parrish only stayed in Pyle’s class for a couple of weeks as Pyle felt he did not need any instruction.
“Schoonover Red” became a signature element in most of Frank’s paintings. He was enamored with the color red and in each of his illustrations he tried, wherever possible, to put in a dash of cadmium red, varnished more heavily than elsewhere to heighten its intensity. It became a characteristic symbol of his paintings.
Frank helped to organize what is now the Delaware Museum of Art and was chairman of the fundraising committee charged with acquiring works by Howard Pyle. In his later years he restored paintings including some by Pyle and turned to easel paintings of Brandywine and Delaware landscapes. He also gave art lessons, established a small art school, designed stained glass windows, and dabbled in science fiction art (illustrating Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars). He was known locally as the “Dean of Delaware Artists.”