The Howard Pyle School of Illustration

This is the third part of a series which follows along as Painter’s Folly in Chadds Ford is restored, updated, and converted to a space celebrating both the past and future of art in the Brandywine Valley. Each article will explore a different aspect of the location and the renovation process, from its history to its use as artistic inspiration to its new purpose. Previous parts of this series: Bringing Painters Back to Painter’s Folly and Howard Pyle at Painter’s Folly.

The Travels of the Soul, Howard Pyle. In The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Christmas, 1902. Private Collection.

Howard Pyle was not a good student. He was distracted, preferring to doodle and read rather than write papers and listen to lectures. Perhaps that is what made him such a good teacher. He understood the struggle that comes with learning new skills and applying your knowledge.

Pyle was seen as an illustrator, rather than an artist, by the art elite of his day. His work was seen regularly in popular magazines such as Harper’s Weekly and The Century Illustrated, accompanying poems and stories. It was an important distinction at the time. He was turned down by “fine art” schools, teaching instead at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry in Philadelphia. His classes became so popular that Drexel created a School of Illustration, the first in the country.

His goal was to pass on a uniquely American Style of illustration to students. However, he was overwhelmed by the number of students who lacked basic skills, and found the university schedule inadequate to properly instruct them. He added an intensive summer course to the curriculum. Students would retreat to the countryside, staying near his own home at Painter’s Folly, working daily on their technique, and being inspired by the open countryside. But still, this did not satisfy his goals.

Howard Pyle and Students, Turner's Mill, Chadds Ford, 1902

In 1900, after six years of teaching illustration at Drexel, Pyle decided it was time for a radical change. He opened the Howard Pyle School of Illustration. Located in Wilmington, near the Brandywine Park, Pyle designed and built the space himself—a cottage which leaned heavily into the dark Victorian style and later two adjoining studios.

Over five hundred students applied in the first year, though only twelve were accepted. The lucky accepted students paid no tuition, only room and board, as well as for their own art materials, which Pyle procured himself and sold to the students at cost. Frequent trips to the open countryside near Pyle’s home in Chadds Ford gave students an opportunity to escape the city and study new landscapes.

Over his career, Pyle would teach over two hundred students, including many that went on to become famous illustrators and artists in their own right. Elenore Abbott, Harvey Dunn, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Arthur E. Becher, Charlotte Harding, Allen Tupper True, Frank Schnoover, and Jessie Wilcox Smith are just a few that went on to make major impacts on the art of illustration. Of course, his most famous student, and most familiar to residents of the Brandywine Valley, was N. C. Wyeth.

While running the Howard Pyle School of Illustration, Pyle was still busily working as an illustrator. Some paintings created during that period are sometimes referenced as being by the “Howard Pyle School,” rather than Howard Pyle himself, since it can not be confirmed that students did not assist in their creation.

The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Christmas, 1902

Pyle wanted to create a school that would allow students to explore the American style of illustration which he had pioneered. His detailed paintings created fantastical visions that perfectly accompanied the stories. While he took inspiration from historical sources, Pyle added his own flourishes. His style had a huge influence which can still be seen in the work of fantasy artists, writers, and filmmakers.

Drawings of actual pirates are few and difficult to source. The classic pirate that many envision today is in many ways a creation of Howard Pyle, including the layered clothes and outlandish accessories. While historians may doubt the practicality of these outfits–a long scarf dangling from the waist is simply a hazard on a swaying Spanish galleon—that certainly doesn’t stop costume designers from emulating them today.

For the Christmas issue of The Century Magazine, December 1902, Pyle created a series of illustrations accompanying short stories entitled The Travels of the Soul. These gorgeous lush illustrations still pop from the pages of the original magazine, over 120 years later. But not everyone was as impressed. When asked to view the painting to confirm its authenticity, Andrew Wyeth, the son of Pyle’s student N. C. Wyeth, who himself spent time in Pyle’s studio as a child, was reported to have said, “It’s nice, but I always liked his pirates better.”

Painter’s Folly in Chadds Ford, PA can be toured by appointment. Studio space for artists is available for rent at the Studios of Painter’s Folly. For more information, contact Chadds Ford Township at 610-388-8800 or online at The Howard Pyle Studio is maintained by The Studio Group. You can visit the studio and see current exhibitions every First Friday of the month from 5 to 7:30 pm as part of the Art Loop Wilmington. Also available to view by appointment. The Howard Pyle Studio is located at 1305 N. Franklin Street, Wilmington, DE. More information can be found online at


About Victoria Rose

Victoria Rose (she/her) is an editor, writer, avid reader, self-described geek, and fan of all things creative. Her passion for words has led to her current career as a freelance editor, and she is the owner of Flickering Words, an editing service. When not wielding a red pen (or cursor), she loves reading books of all genres, playing video, board, and word games, baking ridiculous creations to show off on the internet, or enjoying the gorgeous outdoors. She is a board member of the West Chester Film Festival and part of the Thirsty Monsters, a team of streamers from around the world who fundraise for various charities supporting LGBTQIA+ and accessibility rights. She can be found online @WordsFlickering or the Brandywine Art Guide @BrandywineArtGuide.



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