In the world of arts and letters, Howard Pyle was a luminary. But in turn-of-the-century Rehoboth, he was something even more admirable each summer: a family man extraordinaire.
By Michael Morgan
From the August 2019 issue
In the summer of 1896, nationally known artist, writer and devotee of the beach Howard Pyle emerged from an oceanfront cottage and headed for the surf. Leading a gaggle of youngsters of varying ages — and with a 2-year-old toddler perched on his shoulder, giggling with every step — Pyle scampered across the glistening sand and plunged into the breakers. After several dips in the curling foam, he dashed back across the beach to deliver the happy 2-year-old to a nanny. Such was the daily ritual of Pyle, his young daughter Eleanor, and the rest of his family at Rehoboth Beach.
Among America’s more influential figures in the arts and letters, Pyle was highly regarded in his time, but his life and legacy are little remembered in the 21st century.
Born on March 5, 1853, in Wilmington, Howard Pyle inherited from his mother a love of literature and a deep interest in the work of the great English illustrators. He possessed a natural talent for art and writing, and in 1876 he took a trip to Chincoteague Island, Va. After returning home, Pyle wrote an article about the wild ponies and rugged people there, and he drew several illustrations to go with the text. Pyle’s mother encouraged him to send them to Scribner’s Monthly, and when the submission was accepted (the illustrations had to be redrawn by the magazine’s staff to make them suitable for reproduction), his career as one of America’s foremost artists was launched.
As he continued to sell illustrations and articles to Scribner’s Monthly, Harper’s Magazine and other publications, Pyle sometimes took trips to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the Delmarva Peninsula, and on one of these trips he visited the Delaware coast. Rehoboth, founded in 1873, was still a budding resort, and Pyle focused his attention on Lewes, where the more than 200-year-old town appealed to his interest in history. In 1879, he wrote and illustrated three installments of “A Peninsula Canaan” for Harper’s that contained a succinct description of the town near Cape Henlopen: “The old town of Lewes … possesses among many points of interest, an old fort built in 1812 for the defense of the town, which is still in a perfect state of preservation, with guns mounted precisely as they originally were.”
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