Howard Pyle’s Costume Party

As we get ready for the opening of Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered this Saturday, June 9, along with our Swagger & Dagger Dance Party, here is a fun post about the illustrator’s own costume parties, held during illustration’s Golden Age:

Throughout his career Howard Pyle gathered an impressive collection of period clothing and accoutrements he used to give plausibility to various period illustrations. While Pyle used paid models, he also had his students dress in appropriate costume and model for him and one another. In the cyanotype photo to the right, four of his students and one of his models are dressed in a mishmash of costumes: (standing, l to r) Bertha Corson Day, model Annie Haley, and Clyde O. DeLand; (seated, l to r) Robert Lindsey Mason, and Emlen McConnell. The women are partially dressed in men’s clothing and DeLand and McConnell wear women’s clothing.

When Howard Pyle turned 51 in March of 1904, his students celebrated their teacher’s birthday by making a banquet for Pyle and his wife, Anne Poole Pyle, set as a medieval revel. They decorated Pyle’s studio and for the banquet medieval food and drink were served by waiters in colonial costume. A group of the students dressed in various costumes from Pyle’s collections. They then put on a pageant, with each student appearing as a character from a Pyle illustration. They presented themselves one after another standing within an over-sized picture frame: Robin Hood, Little John, Sir Launcelot, pirates, and soldiers.

After the party wound down, the students partied on into the night.

Left: Stanley Arthurs in costume, March 1904. Right: N.C. Wyeth as Little John, March 1904

Left: Stanley Arthurs in costume, March 1904. Right: N.C. Wyeth as Little John, March 1904

The extant photos of the students in their costumes (in the collections of The Delaware Art Museum and The Brandywine River Museum) reveal them posed in Pyle’s Franklin Street studio in Wilmington. Around the fireplace and on the mantel are various props Pyle used in his work. I laugh every time I see the Arthurs photo because the pants he wears were breeches and meant to end just below a man’s knee.

Dr. Joyce K. Schiller, Curator of the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, Norman Rockwell Museum

 

Dr. Joyce K. Schiller is the Curator of the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, a center for the study of American illustration art at the Norman Rockwell Museum. She came to the Berkshires from the Delaware Art Museum where she was the Curator of the American and Illustration art collections from 2001-2009. Her essay “Teaching Storytelling” appears in the catalogue for “Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered.”

 

 

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