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 Katharine Pyle  (1863 - 1938)

About: Katharine Pyle
 

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Lived/Active: Delaware      Known for: book illustrations, portrait paintings

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BIOGRAPHY for Katharine Pyle
Facts/Data
Birth
1863 (Wilmington, Delaware)
 
Death
1938 (Wilmington, Delaware)

Lived/Active
Delaware

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book illustrations, portrait paintings

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is courtesy Katharine Smith, a "collateral descendent" of Katharine Pyle (she was my great-great aunt). Katharine Pyle never married or had any children of her own, but she had a number of nieces and nephews.

Katharine Pyle was one of Delaware's most prolific authors, having had a part in the creation of more than 50 children's books, yet little information has been published about her life. For anyone who would dare the rarified air of children's book collecting, her works would be a challenging and rewarding target.

Pyle was born in Wilmington November 22, 1863, the youngest of four children. Her parents, William Pyle and Margaret Churchman Painter Pyle, were of old Wilmington Quaker families. The home atmosphere has been described as warm and conducive to learning and creating. Katharine spent her entire life in the Wilmington area except for four years in New York in the 1890s.

William's business interests included leather making. He suffered occasional financial reverses, and after her parents' deaths Katharine was largely responsible for her own support.

In 1879, while a 16-year-old student at Wilmington's Misses Hebb's School, her poem 'The Piping Shepherd' was published in "Atlantic Monthly". Her illustrator brother Howard (1953-1911) asked her to contribute verses and drawings for his "The Wonder Clock", published by Harper in 1888. She studied at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women with classmates such as Bertha Corson Day and at Drexel Institute in her brother's illustration class. Two of her works from that class were exhibited in 1897 at Drexel.

She illustrated books as early as 1895 and is said to have had a play published in 1898 by 'Ladies' Home Journal', but her real success as a writer and artist began in the same year with the publication of "The Counterpane Fairy" by Dutton. This book, which she both wrote and illustrated, enjoyed popularity for the next 40 years and is still known today.

Katharine published more than a book a year from 1898 to 1934. Some she wrote and illustrated. Others she only wrote, edited, or illustrated. A few she carefully labeled as "retellings" of classics. Her book "Nancy Rutledge", 1906, is said to have been based on her own childhood.

She authored two works of Delaware history. "Once Upon a Time in Delaware", 1911, edited by Emily P. Bissell and illustrated by Ethel Pennewill Brown, was a somewhat fictionalized account for children of certain events in Delaware history and was described extensively in 'Collecting Delaware Books' volume 4 number 3. "The Story of Delaware, A New and Careful History of Our State" was serialized in 1924 in the Wilmington Sunday Morning Star.

She is known to have painted formal portraits of a number of local people. Her portrait of Dr. Albert Robin hung in Wilmington General Hospital. Originals of her illustrations come on the market occasionally and bring good prices.

Katharine was generous with her time and money and active in the Swedenborgian Church to which she converted. She used her own energy and her many friends in Wilmington society to press for social reform, especially in the field of juvenile justice.

Ellen Pyle Lawrence, daughter of Katharine's brother Walter and a successful artist herself, describes Katharine in a one-page typescript biography in the library of the Delaware Art Museum. In part she says, "She was a champion of the underdog and immediately responsive to anyone in need, not always wisely and often at her own expense. Like most crusaders, she had her difficulties and she was constantly challenging both friend and foe; but she was a brilliant and vital individual and a woman well ahead of her time."

Photographs of her exist. An early one shows the short hair and trim shirtwaist of a turn-of-the-century working woman. A later one shows strong features, hair in a bun, and lacy clothing. The first has been reproduced in the Delaware Art Museum's A Small School of Art: The Students of Howard Pyle, 1980. The second appears in Delaware Women Remembered, 1977, edited by Mary Sam Ward.

Katharine Pyle died February 19, 1938 at her residence at 804 North Franklin St., Wilmington.


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