Thornton Oakley, circa 1920
|Born||March 27, 1881|
|Died||April 4, 1953 72) (aged|
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
|Alma mater||University of Pennsylvania|
|Spouse||Amy Ewing Oakley|
Thornton Oakley (March 27, 1881 – April 4, 1953) was an American artist and illustrator.
Thornton Oakley was born on Sunday, March 27, 1881, in Pittsburgh. He was the son of John Milton Oakley and Imogen Brashear Oakley. He graduated from Shady Side Academy in 1897, and studied at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving B.S. and M.S. degrees in architecture in 1901 and 1902.
Oakley began his study of illustration with Howard Pyle in 1902, working with him for three years, both at Pyle's winter studio on North Franklin St. in Wilmington, Delaware,and at his summer studio in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, which was situated in the old mill that now houses the Brandywine River Museum. Almost half a century later, Oakley described his first day with Pyle in an address he delivered at the Free Library of Philadelphia, on the occasion of which he also presented his collection of Pyleana – drawings, prints, books and other items, including letters and sketchbooks – to the Free Library:
There we four - my new cronies - Allen Tupper True, George Harding, Gordon McCouch and I - made our first sketches from a model, and our efforts were frightful to behold! Not one of us had had a palette in our hands ever before: I had not the least idea as to procedure. My attempts were terrifying to behold, and when H.P. came to me to criticize my work he paused for a long, long time before speaking, and I know that he must have been appalled. He finally said 'Well, Oakley, either you are color blind or you are a genius.' And I am still wondering which it is!Commenting about Pyle's evaluation of Oakley, author and illustrator Henry C. Pitz opined, As time and practice revealed to Pyle, neither guess was wholly correct. Thornton Oakley never learned the nuances of color but had an ingrained predilection for the primaries, red, yellow and blue.
In March 1910, Thornton Oakley married Amy Ewing (1882–1963) of Philadelphia.Their daughter Lansdale Oakley became a frequent companion on their many trips abroad, during which Amy gathered material for her travel books, all of which were illustrated by Thornton (see Book Illustrations below).
Oakley became an illustrator and writer for periodicals, including Century , Collier's , Harper's Monthly and Scribner's . In the years 1914–1919 and 1921–1936 he was in charge of the Department of Illustration at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. In 1914–1915 he also taught drawing at the University of Pennsylvania, and gave lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Curtis Institute. He was a member of the jury of selection and advisory committee of the Department of Fine Arts at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition in 1926.
During World War I, lithographs of his patriotic drawings of war work at the shipyard at Hog Island, Philadelphia were distributed by the United States government. In 1938–1939 he did six 12-foot mural panels for the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on epochs in science. During World War II he did three sets of pictures of the war effort for National Geographic Magazine in 1942, 1943, and 1945.After the war he was commissioned to paint industrial subjects for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Philadelphia Electric Company, Sun Oil, and other industries.
Oakley was deeply influenced by Howard Pyle's philosophy of illustration. In the 1951 address he delivered at the Free Library of Philadelphia, referred to above, he said, We never heard one word from our beloved teacher concerning tools and methods. His utterances were only of the spirit, thought, philosophy, ideals, vision, purpose.Years earlier, in 1923, Oakley presided at the private viewing of the Howard Pyle Memorial Exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance where reminiscences of Pyle were given by Elizabeth Green Elliott, Jessie Willcox Smith, George Harding, and Frank Schoonover. In praising Pyle, Oakley said, Illustration is the highest type of pictorial art. ... Because illustration is simply a pictorial MAKING CLEAR, and if a picture makes clear a message in a big way, it is an illustration, whether it be made for magazine, book, mural decoration, or exhibition. ... Among those pictorial artists who have been definitely connected with making clear statements, pre-eminently stands Howard Pyle. No one, we believe, made messages more clear; nor, do I feel, more beautiful, more mystical, more lofty in purpose. Oakley had previously expounded his own philosophy of illustration as a "pictorial making clear" in an entire essay on that subject in The American Magazine of Art in 1919.
Throughout his career, Oakley was a member of many cultural institutions and clubs. He was a charter member of the Philadelphia Water Color Club in 1903, serving as its secretary from 1912 to 1938, at that time becoming its president. In 1932, in recognition of his artistic services to France, the Third French Republic decorated Oakley with the Palmes d'Officier d'Académie, an honor rarely conferred upon foreigners.
Thornton Oakley died in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania on Saturday, April 4, 1953, and is buried with his wife Amy at the Lower Marion Baptist Church Cemetery in Bryn Mawr.
Among the books Oakley illustrated are:
Though Oakley illustrated many books, he was the author of only one. In 1943, he published a short monographas a tribute to his long-time friend and fellow artist, Cecilia Beaux, who had died in the previous year. Oakley met Beaux when he was only 17, and he remained one of Beaux's closest friends until the end of her life, even though she was 26 years his senior. Beaux achieved considerable fame as a portrait artist, and Oakley included a 1911 sketch that Beaux drew of him in the book. His wife Amy's book, The Heart of Provence (q.v.), was also dedicated to Beaux.
The following list is representative of the many magazines for which Oakley produced illustrations. In most instances, he illustrated the articles of others, but for some articles, he was both author and illustrator:
The American Magazine of Art - 1919, 1925
Appleton's Magazine - 1907
Asia - 1918
Century - 1905-1912, 1916-1919
Collier's - 1904-1918
Everybody's - 1906-1909
Harper's Monthly Magazine - 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908–1915, 1916, 1918
International Studio - 1913, 1915
Ladies' Home Journal - 1908
Leslie's - 1904
Metropolitan - 1907-1910
National Geographic Magazine - 1942, 1943, 1945
Nation's Business - 1919
Pennsylvania Magazine - 1947
Scientific American - 1918
St. Nicholas Magazine - 1908-1909
Scribner's Magazine - 1905-1916
System - 1909
The Forum - 1926-1927
Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine - 1948
One notable magazine article, which Oakley wrote but did not illustrate, was a tribute to his friend and fellow artist, Lucy Scarborough Conant, who had recently died. In this article, written in 1921, Oakley presented his own definition of an artist: For an artist is not merely one who paints with pigments. Whether a man speak with brush or mallet; pen or note; by utterances, statesmanship, gift, or friendship; whether by his daily routine, business, or by whatever activity to which his existence may be called; — if he thrill the inmost being, lift with visions toward the stars, reveal the beauty of ennobling life, then, and then alone, may he be named by that most inspiring of all titles, Artist.
Newell Convers Wyeth, known as N. C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator. He was the pupil of artist Howard Pyle and became one of America's greatest illustrators. During his lifetime, Wyeth created more than 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books, 25 of them for Scribner's, the Scribner Classics, which is the work for which he is best known. The first of these, Treasure Island, was one of his masterpieces and the proceeds paid for his studio. Wyeth was a realist painter at a time when the camera and photography began to compete with his craft. Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were designed to be understood quickly. Wyeth, who was both a painter and an illustrator, understood the difference, and said in 1908, "Painting and illustration cannot be mixed—one cannot merge from one into the other."
Howard Pyle was an American illustrator and author, primarily of books for young people. He was a native of Wilmington, Delaware, and he spent the last year of his life in Florence, Italy.
Frank Earle Schoonover was an American illustrator who worked in Wilmington, Delaware. A member of the Brandywine School, he was a contributing illustrator to magazines and did more than 5,000 paintings.
Jessie Willcox Smith was an American illustrator during the Golden Age of American illustration. She was considered "one of the greatest pure illustrators". She was a contributor to books and magazines during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Smith illustrated stories and articles for clients such as Century, Collier's, Leslie's Weekly, Harper's, McClure's, Scribners, and the Ladies' Home Journal. She had an ongoing relationship with Good Housekeeping, which included the long-running Mother Goose series of illustrations and also the creation of all of the Good Housekeeping covers from December 1917 to 1933. Among the more than 60 books that Smith illustrated were Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and An Old-Fashioned Girl, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Evangeline, and Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.
Violet Oakley was an American artist. She was the first American woman to receive a public mural commission. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, she was renowned as a pathbreaker in mural decoration, a field that had been exclusively practiced by men. Oakley excelled at murals and stained glass designs that addressed themes from history and literature in Renaissance-revival styles.
Elizabeth Shippen Green was an American illustrator. She illustrated children's books and worked for publications such as The Ladies' Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post and Harper's Magazine.
The Brandywine School was a style of illustration—as well as an artists colony in Wilmington, Delaware and in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, near the Brandywine River—both founded by artist Howard Pyle (1853–1911) at the end of the 19th century. The works produced there were widely published in adventure novels, magazines, and romances in the early 20th century.
Elenore Plaisted Abbott (1875–1935) was an American book illustrator, scenic designer, and painter. She illustrated early 20th-century editions of Grimm's Fairy Tales,Robinson Crusoe, and Kidnapped. Several books were published as illustrated by Elenore Plaisted Abbott and Helen Alden Knipe.
Clara Elsene Peck was an American illustrator and painter known for her illustrations of women and children in the early 20th century. Peck received her arts education from the Minneapolis School of Fine Arts and was employed as a magazine illustrator from 1906 to 1940. Peck's body of work encompasses a wide range, from popular women's magazines and children's books, works of fiction, commercial art for products like Ivory soap, and comic books and watercolor painting later in her career. Peck worked during the "Golden Age of American Illustration" (1880s–1930s) contemporaneous with noted female illustrators Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley.
Anna Whelan Betts was an American illustrator and art teacher who was noted for her paintings of Victorian women in romantic settings. Betts is considered one of the primary artists of the golden age of American illustration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Art historian Walt Reed described Betts' work as "characterized by its great beauty and sensitivity."
Ellen Bernard Thompson Pyle was an American illustrator best known for the 40 covers she created for The Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s and 1930s under the guidance of Post editor-in-chief, George Horace Lorimer. She studied with Howard Pyle and later married Pyle’s brother Walter.
Philip R. Goodwin was an American painter and illustrator who specialized in depictions of wildlife, the outdoors, fishing, hunting and the Old American West. He provided illustrations for numerous books and magazines, as well as for commercial items, such as posters, advertisements and calendars. He is perhaps best known for illustrating Jack London's The Call of the Wild and for providing the cover art for many issues of Outdoor Recreation / Outdoor Life Magazine during the 1920s and early 1930s. He is also the artist who designed the Horse & Rider Trademark of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Goodwin was a very private person and did not seek publicity, so not much was known about his private life during his lifetime. Most of what is known comes from letters held at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.
Charles Archibald MacLellan was a 20th-century American painter and illustrator. His works enjoyed a wide-ranging, popular appeal in the United States, and he was probably one of the most recognizable cover illustrators of the day.
Henry Clarence Pitz was an American artist, illustrator, editor, author, and teacher who wrote and/or illustrated over 160 books, and dozens of magazine covers and articles. His most well-known book is The Brandywine Tradition (1968).
Mary (May) Wilson Watkins Preston was an American illustrator of books and magazines and an impressionist painter. She had an interest in art beginning in her teenage years, but her parents sent her to Oberlin College hoping that she would develop another interest. After three years, and at the urging of one of her teachers, Preston's parents allowed her to return to New York and attend the Art Students League. She then studied in Paris with James Whistler and next at the New York School of Art with William Merritt Chase.
The Plastic Club is an arts organization located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founded in 1897, the Plastic Club is one of the oldest art clubs in the United States. It is located on the 200 block of Camac Street, the "Little Street of Clubs" that was a cultural destination in the early 1900s. Since 1991, the club's membership also includes men.
Charlotte Harding (1873–1951) was an American illustrator. She signed her work with her maiden name, but her name in her personal life was Charlotte Harding Brown after she married James A. Brown in 1905. She illustrated magazines, such as The Saturday Evening Post and Harper's Bazaar, and books such as Robin Hood.
Elizabeth Fearne Bonsall was an American painter and illustrator. She illustrated The Book of Cats (1903), The Book of Dogs, The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1927), and other books. She created illustrations for Henry Christopher McCook's American Spiders and their Spinningwork. McCook credits her for making most of the illustrations for the volume. Bonsall also created illustrations for magazines. She won several awards for her works between 1885 and 1897.
Sarah Stilwell Weber was an American illustrator who studied at Drexel Institute under Howard Pyle. She illustrated books and national magazines, like The Saturday Evening Post, Vogue, and The Century Magazine.
The Red Rose Girls were a group of female artists from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, active in the early 1900s. The work of the three working artists in the group, Violet Oakley, Jessie Willcox Smith, and Elizabeth Shippen Green, was supported by Henrietta Cozens, who took on the responsibility of managing their communal household. They rented the Red Rose Inn in Villanova, Pennsylvania, in Mainline Philadelphia from 1901-1906, before moving to Cogslea in Mount Airy, Philadelphia from 1906-1911.
The Brandywine River Museum maintains a collection of Thornton Oakley memorabilia, including news clippings, business correspondence, sketchbooks, personal diaries, and other materials, all donated by his daughter Lansdale in 1981.
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