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American Illustrators Hall of Fame.

An artist who painted 40 covers for The Saturday Evening Post is posthumously inducted into the American Illustrators Hall of Fame.

Editor's note: At the peak of Ellen Pyle's flourishing career in the 1920s and 30s, the Post editor requested she write her life story for publication in the magazine. Her reply appeared in our April 7, 1928 issue.

The first letter I took in to the Post after the editor's request for my life story was returned with "Not enough detail; make it more personal; everyday things are of more interest; it may seem egotistical to you, but it won't to the Post readers." So - I live at Westbrae Farm in Greenville, Delaware, about five miles from Wilmington. My home is on top of a high hill, with rolling farm land all around. I love everything about the country, even the hooting of owls on a summer night and the fact that we are usually snowed in at least once a winter and have to get the county to dig us out.

Germantown, Philadelphia, was my birthplace, and my dream of life was to be able some day to be an artist. It was a red-letter day for me when I started studying art at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. Lydia Austin, now Mrs. Maxfield Parrish, and Charles Grafly were among my earlier teachers, and it was my privilege later to study under Howard Pyle. He was an inspiring teacher. The sincerity of his own work and his unflagging enthusiasm affected everyone around him and made a deep and lasting impression on his students. I remember walking over to the station after one of his lectures and feeling I could hardly wait until the next morning to get back to work and start being a Michelangelo, which I felt sure I would have no trouble in doing.

My one wish at this time was to make painting my lifework, but while studying at the Howard Pyle summer school at Chadds Ford, I met Howard's younger brother Walter, to whom I became engaged soon after leaving school. I had a studio in Philadelphia for a short time, and then after my marriage came to Wilmington to live.

The absorbing task of raising four children put artwork in the background, for a time. There has been a great deal of discussion. as to whether a woman can keep on with her work and be a competent mother. Probably people vary a great deal, but I found that when there was a young baby in the family, unless the nurse was to have all the joy of caring for the child and the responsibility for its training, it was not practical for. me to spend nearly all day in the studio. One or the other had to take second place.

My husband's death a few years ago changed things for me in a good many ways, and I began to spend more time at my work. Painting, with its absorbing interest, was a relief to my mind, and one cannot be idle when there are four children to be provided for.

I worked at first in the third story of my house, taking the guest room, which had a north window and was a fair size. But working in the midst of your household has its disadvantages. It is hard to concentrate when the telephone rings and you hear "I don't know, but I'll ask her when she comes down," or when the cook, in spite of the sign pinned on the door, pokes in a plate with the rest of yesterday's chicken "to know if you think that's enough to go around for lunch." This doesn't exactly combine with painting; it's a different side of your brain.

Now I have the hayloft of a barn not far from the house made into a studio. The north window looks out over the orchard, and it is heated in winter with a wood stove. The logs are cut from our own woods.

I painted two cover designs of girls' heads and one of my four-year-old daughter Caroline enjoying an ice cream cone. The Post bought the heads and said they might like the ice-cream-cone picture if it had more story. So later I put my sister's dog Scout in front, looking up with his mouth watering. We used up a whole box of biscuits keeping him quiet while I worked.

The girl I am most interested in painting is the unaffected natural American type, the girl that likes to coast and skate in winter, who often goes without her hat, and who gets a thrill out of tramping over country roads in the fall and bringing home branches of scarlet leaves for the living room. I use my children and the young people who come to the house quite as often as professional models.

I love painting children; they are so spontaneous and their color soft and vivid. It is not always easy to get just the baby you have in mind for a model. I often go into Wilmington and watch the children being wheeled about the street in their go-carts. The reaction of the mothers varies. Some treat you as if you had insulted them, don't want to have the baby painted, and stare at you coldly and suspiciously. But most of them are proud to have the child admired. One child was a smiling cherub at its home and burst into tears and loud wailing as soon as it came into the studio.

People ask you how long it takes to do a cover. It varies a great deal. If find after two or three days that the picture is not working out well, I start all over again. I hate a painting that looks labored and color that has grown dead through being worked over. Then, course, full-length figure and a design very much detailed take much longer than just a head. You might do a head in a couple of sittings and spend two or three weeks on design with two figure and a lot of accessories.

I start work about nine, first making out the market list and arranging the meals for the day. I work until about three or sometimes later, and often don't come in for lunch when I am in the middle of picture.

After I leave the studio, I like to be out-of-door gardening, playing tennis with the children in summer, or going for walks in winter.

Two of the children have started along the thorny but exciting path of art. My son Walter is beginning illustration and my eldest daughter Ellen is a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. I criticize their work and they often pose for me and at times it seems as if nearly everyone in the house is either painting or being painted.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes cover samples from magazine; Ellen B.T. Pyle receives artistic recognition
Author:Pyle, Ellen B.T.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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