Howard Pyle has long been considered "The Father of American Illustration", as much for his prolific and superb work as a writer and illustrator as for his commitment to teaching. In the 1890s, Pyle was well established as an illustrator and turned his mind to teaching others. He founded the first School of Illustration in the nation at Drexel Institute (1894) in Philadelphia. In the same year he published 99 illustrations which brought him substantial fees, yet he never accepted money for his teaching. Many of the greatest illustrators attended his classes at Drexel, later at the Howard Pyle School of Art (1900-1905) in Wilmington, Delaware, and in the summers at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.
Pyle’s school in Wilmington made Philadelphia the center of illustration. The Delaware Museum of Art was founded to house his art works. Pyle had about two hundred students during his teaching career of whom more than eighty were well known and successful, and two dozen who were very famous. The students and their students became known as ‘The Brandywine School’. Some of the best known included Stanley Arthurs, Clifford Ashley, William Aylward, Arthur Becher, Anna Whelan Betts, Ethel Franklin Betts, Harvey Dunn, Anton Otto Fischer, Philip R. Goodwin, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Gayle Hoskins, Oliver Kemp, W.H.D. Koerner, Violet Oakley, Maxfield Parrish, Ernest Peixotto, Frank Schoonover, Jessie Willcox Smith, Henry J. Soulen, Sarah Stilwell Weber, C. Leslie Thrasher, and N.C. Wyeth. A most extraordinary and little known fact was that Pyle’s classes were fifty percent female students-an unheard of proportion in those days.
Pyle was born into a Quaker family from Delaware and he lived his whole life there except for two years at the Art Students League early in his career and one year at its end in Italy, where he died in 1911. His family was not unhappy when he expressed an interest in studying art although such a thought was not on a Quaker agenda. His first art teacher was Van der Weilen at the Art Students League. He expected to gain an education as an easel painter for there was no specific education for illustrators. Like most of his students, Pyle went into illustration to earn a living at his craft. While in NYC studying, he was able to obtain small commissions illustrating for Century Magazine. Other commissions flowed from his initial projects including: Collier’s, Everybody’s Magazine, Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Monthly,Cosmopolitan, Ladies’ Home Journal, McClure’s Magazine, Scribner’s, Wide Awake, and St. Nicholas magazines. In 1879, Pyle returned to Delaware and produced a number of books, which he both wrote and illustrated, includingHoward Pyle’s Book of Pirates, The Story of King Arthur and his Knights, Men of Iron, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, for other publishers such as Riverside Press, The Bibliophile Society, Century, Little Brown and Company, Scribner’s, and Houghton Mifflin, Co.