Frank Schoonover - signature
See The Ladies' Home Journal war drawing below in the third issue of

Frank Schoonover - Photo with PyleFrank E. Schoonover was born in 1877 in New Jersey. It was the perfect time and the perfect place. In 1896, he was accepted to the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, where Howard Pyle was teaching illustration one day a week. In 1897, the course was divided into two parts, with Pyle teaching the advanced students. Schoonover was one of the fortunate ones who "graduated" to the Pyle class. Others were Maxfield Parrish, Jessie Willcox Smith, Violet and Thornton Oakley, and Stanley M. Arthurs.

Schoonover was not an immediate success. He was mainly self-taught and had been planning to become a minister when he saw the Drexel ad for the Illustration Class. Despite his lack of technical skills, Pyle saw his raw brilliance and encouraged him to audit classes. Stuck in the rear of the classrooms, he and Arthurs became fast life-long friends and, oddly enough, both became friends and confidants of Pyle (that's Pyle and Frank at left - I cropped Stanley out of the picture). Schoonover improved quickly and he was proficient enough to win one of the ten prized scholarships to the Chadds Ford Summer classes in 1898 and 1899. There Pyle tutored the most developed students and the class size was limited. Entrance by means of one of the scholarships was very prestigious. By the second year, Pyle had secured work for Schoonover and he was illustrating books: A Jersey Boy of the Revolution and In the Hands of the Red Coats, both in 1899.

Frank Schoonover - In the OpenPyle resigned from Drexel in 1900 and built his own school next to his studio. Schoonover (and Arthurs) came along. The excursions to Chadds Ford on the Brandywine River continued. Schoonover relished the outdoor experiences. He had been attracted to the fields and streams as a young boy and some of his earliest memories and drawings were of those subjects. Pyle's tutelage reinforced that bent and his earliest commissions were for outdoor adventure stories like In The Open by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews (at right) from the July 1903 issue of Scribner's Magazine.

Frank Schoonover - The Edge of the Wilderness1903 also saw his first major exploratory expedition into the wilds. For four months, by foot and dog sled he explored 1200 miles of eastern Canadian wilderness. The experience and the material he gleaned from it were the grist for a series of illustrated essays/stories that ran in Scribner's in 1905 and an inspiration for the rest of his life. At left is a plate from The Edge of the Wilderness in the April issue. Another episode, Breaking Trail, appeared in May. Both images are reproduced from the printed source and can be compared with reproductions from originals in Frank Schoonover - Illustrator of the North American Frontier. Books and assignments flowed to him. He took every opportunity to go "on location" to soak up the atmosphere and local color. In fact, for all his obvious abilities, he apparently found it easier to draw a subject which he was looking at than to make one up. The Deliverance by Ellen Glasgow required a trip to the tobacco fields of Virginia. Other early work necessitated journeys to Denver, Butte, New Orleans, and anywhere he could go "out West."

Frank Schoonover - A Princess of MarsHe maintained his studio at Pyle's school until 1906. By that time he was a member of the Society of Illustrators, had his first fiction published (both in 1905) and had traveled to Jamaica with Pyle and Arthurs. In March 1906, he moved to his own studio in Wilmington Delaware where he worked for the rest of his career.

And what a career! From 1903 to 1913 he was a regular contributor to all the great illustrated magazines of the day: Century, Harper's, McClure's, Scribner's, etc. He worked for Outing Magazine where he illustrated covers and the works of Jack London and Henry Van Dyke. Other famous authors whose stories and books he illustrated include Edgar Rice Burroughs (A Princess of Mars from 1917 at right), Rex Beach, Zane Grey, Robert W. Chambers, Gilbert Parker, Henry Van Dyke, etc. He was well known for his images for Clarence Mulford's Hopalong Cassidy stories.

At the time of Pyle's death in 1911, Schoonover was one of the premier illustrators of his day (the others were almost all Pyle students, too - most noticeably Wyeth and Parrish). In 1910 he and Arthurs had assisted Pyle on the Hudson County Courthouse Murals. He created wonderful color-plate books for Penn Publishing, including With Cortes the Conqueror (1917) and Joan of Arc (1918) as well as a series of war drawings (see sample below) done for the monthly Ladies' Home Journal. All these assignments certainly proved that he had learned to "make up" a picture.

Frank Schoonover - Ladies' Home Journal WW1 painting

For Harper's, he did a single illustration for each of the following titles. Each was used as dust jacket, onlaid color cover plate and frontispiece. Interior illustrations were in black and white and by Louis Rhead for most of the series.

Tales From Shakespeare 1918
Arabian Nights Entertainment 1921
Grimm's Fairy Tales 1921
Kidnapped 1921
Robin Hood 1921
Robinson Crusoe 1921
Tom Brown's School Days 1921
Treasure Island 1922
King Arthur and His Knights 1923
Heidi 1925

Frank schoonover - BlackbeardFollowing in the Pyle tradition of historical subjects, he did three great biographical books for Penn: Lafayette (1921), Washington (1925), and Lincoln (1928) - all written by Lucy Foster Madison. Pyle's piratical subjects may have influenced other titles including Blackbeard Buccaneer (at left - reproduced in b&w in the book) (1922), Privateers of '76 (1923), Barbary Bo (1929), To Have and To Hold (1931), Yankee Ships in Pirate Waters (1931) and Crimson Cutlass (1933). There were dozens of other titles, most situated in the wilds or focused around outdoor adventure, like The Flamingo Feather and Ivanhoe (both 1923) and Sled Trails and White Waters (1929). It's obvious to me that Schoonover was following in his mentor's footsteps and would continue to do so for his entire career. I can't think of another artist who carried the Pyle banner as long and as proudly as he did.

aside: One of the interesting things about doing these pages is finding the connections that have escaped me over the years. I finally noticed the style and technique of Schoonover's line work is remarkably similar to that of J. Allen St. John and I'd guess that the influence went from St. John to Schoonover. By 1931, the date of Schoonover's drawing at right, St. John had been using the tortuously contoured line for a solid decade. Of course both of them could have shared the same influence of Anne Anderson or they could all have developed the approach independently. Frank Schoonover - Yankee Ships in Pirate Waters
from Yankee Ships in Pirate Waters

Frank Schoonover - Rifles of Washington title spreadIn 1931, his commercial output was almost totally curtailed. That year, also in Pyle's footsteps, he organized a School of Illustration (in Indianapolis, Indiana) where he wrote the teaching texts and gave instructions and lectures. In 1937, he devoted himself solely to easel painting - mainly landscapes of the Delaware and Brandywine River valleys. He was back to the fields and streams that had fascinated him as a youth. The latest books I've seen from him are Roland the Warrior (1934) and Rifles for Washington from 1938 (see right) which were both primarily line art.

Unable to shrug off Pyle's influence, he started his own school in Wilmington in 1942 which lasted almost 25 years. If you're doing the math here, you'll realize that Schoonover had a long, productive life. A stroke in 1968 forced him to stop painting and to close the school. He died in 1972 at the age of 95, outliving even the venerable Parrish by six years.

The good folks at Frank E. Schoonover, Fund, Inc. asked that I post the following:

From 1940 until just before his death in 1972, Schoonover concentrated on painting landscapes of the Brandywine and Delaware River valleys. He also formed and taught in his own School of Art at his studios at 1616 N. Rodney Street in Wilmington. He had hundreds of devoted students over those years and some are fine artists in their own right. He also painted portraits and designed beautiful stained glass windows, 15 of which are in Immanuel Church on 17th Street in Wilmington. Schoonover painted until age 91 and went on to visit and assist some of his students with their work until his death at age 95 in 1972.

A catalogue raisonne is being compiled of his 2500+ works. To find out more about that project and current Schoonover information, please visit their website


To learn more about Frank E. Schoonover, see:

The Illustrator in America 1900-1960's Walt Reed, 1966 Reinhold
The Brandywine Tradition Henry C. Pitz, 1968 Houghton Mifflin 
Howard Pyle - Writer, Illustrator, Founder of the Brandywine School Henry C. Pitz, 1975 Clarkson & Potter
Frank Schoonover - Illustrator of the North American Frontier Cortlandt Schoonover, 1976 Watson-Guptill
200 Years of American Illustration Henry C. Pitz, 1977 Random House
Frank E. Schoonover Illustrator Ann Barton Brown, 1979 Brandywine River Museum
The Illustrator in America 1880-1980 Walt and Roger Reed, 1984 Madison Square Press
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 1998
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of ImageS 3 Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 2002 JVJ Publishing

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This page written, designed & © 1998 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.

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