Online Gallery

Lens and Brush:
Works by American Illustrator Frank E. Schoonover

April 1–May 16, 2021

Frank E. Schoonover (1877–1972) is known for his works found in Harper’s Weekly, Scribner’s, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal, American Boy, and other publications. Schoonover—along with N.C. Wyeth, Jesse Willcox Smith, and others—was a prized student of Howard Pyle, the founder of the Brandywine School of American Illustration. Through Pyle’s encouragement, Schoonover traveled by snowshoe and dog sled across parts of Canada and North America, taking photographs of his environments that were later used as image references. This exhibition, which includes more than 40 works, provides a glimpse into Schoonover’s resources, technical skill, and creativity used for his highly acclaimed illustrations.

About this exhibition and events

Drummer Boy, 1899, oil on canvas. FESsw83.

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Drummer Boy Photo by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Drummer Boy by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

During Schoonover’s four years studying with Howard Pyle at Drexel Institute, he and nine other students spent two productive and artistic summers as scholarship students under Pyle’s tutelage in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, in 1898 and 1899. Pyle employed costumed models, often his own students, to create the story telling settings. Here, Schoonover poses himself as a Colonial drummer boy for a composition he and his fellow students painted.

General Stryker, 1900, Oil on canvas. FES6.

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General Stryker Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

General Stryker by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Just a few months into his fledgling career, Schoonover painted General Stryker, probably a local commission. He positioned a favorite model, George Wilson, uniformed and astride a makeshift horse, in Schoonover’s studio in Wilmington, Delaware. Schoonover shared this studio with fellow Pyle student, Stanley Arthurs, adjacent to Pyle’s ateliers in Wilmington. Schoonover and Arthurs were Pyle’s two favorite students.

Breaker Boy Union Meeting, 1903, charcoal. FES148.

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Breaker Boy Union Meeting Photo by Frank Schoonover,  Mitchell Gallery

Breaker Boy Union Meeting by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

In 1902, McClure’s Magazine commissioned Schoonover for his first muckraking assignment for the story, “The Children of the Coal Shadow.” This story, published February 1903, exposed the wretched working conditions of young Breaker Boys in the Pennsylvania Anthracite region. Schoonover sketched and photographed life at a colliery near Scranton, Pennsylvania, for several days. The photograph and resulting drawing are iconic and compelling statements of youthful adolescence in a dark, coal environment. This photograph was taken with a flash, a new invention in photography.

Newspaper Boys, 1903, charcoal and gouache. FES159.

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Newspaper Boys Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Newspaper Boys by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Schoonover’s second muckraking foray in 1903 took him to the teaming streets of New York for Earnest Poole’s “Waifs of the Street” article, May 1903. The caption reads: The work is almost wholly dependent on the crowds in the street.

Boys Eating, 1903, charcoal and gouache.
FES 163.

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Boys Eating Photo 1, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Boys Eating by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Another of the six illustrations for “Waifs of the Street” is Boys Eating. The magazine caption reads: “Lemonade Bill,” who claims to sell two thousand waffles a day, and is an authority on the street diet.

Playing Craps, 1903, charcoal and gouache.
FES164.

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Boys Eating Photo 2, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Boys Eating  by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Another of the six illustrations for “Waifs of the Street” is Playing Craps. The magazine caption reads: Most street workers are inveterate players at the game of ‘craps.’​​​​​​

Indian Mother and Child, 1905, Wax crayon. FES199.

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Indian Mother and Child Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Indian Mother and Child by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

In late 1903 Schoonover embarked on a lengthy and arduous journey into the frozen Hudson Bay wilderness with two guides. His purpose was to gather Canadian material for future stories that he both illustrated and authored. Among these were approximately 80 photographs he took under extreme adverse condition. Indian Mother and Child reflects Schoonover’s personal contacts with the indigenous Indians. It appeared in Schoonover’s article, “The Edge of the Wilderness,” Scribner’s Magazine, April 1905. He returned home after four months of camping and breaking trial with 26 remarkable wax crayon sketches.

Evening at Beaver Dam, 1906, charcoal and watercolor. FES206.

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Evening at Beaver Dam, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Evening at Beaver Dam by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

This work is among 26 remarkable Canadian sketches that capture a cold, yet tranquil scene on a late afternoon near Beaver Dam.  His diary entry: “Such sketches, made in the open, have been of very great value to me in my painting.” A photograph was taken as a resource, but the sketch was never published.

Setting the Lynx Trap, 1905, Wax crayon. FES214.

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Setting the Lynx Trap Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Setting the Lynx Trap by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

The Lynx Trap appeared in Schoonover’s story, “Breaking Trail,” published in Scribner’s Magazine, May 1905. From his diary: “I walked some two miles from camp drawing a Lynx trap. He (the trapper) builds a trap called a Cabane.”

Hopalong Takes Command, 1905, oil on canvas. FES249.

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Hopalong Takes Command Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Hopalong Takes Command by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

In his Wilmington studio, Schoonover posed O’Donnell, his faithful model, outside to pretend to be cowboy Hopalong Cassidy, the subject of the book, The Bar-20. In fact, the author, Clarence Mulford and Schoonover collaborated on the name, Hopalong Cassidy, perhaps an apocryphal story. Years later Hopalong became a legendary Hollywood character portrayed by actor William Boyd.

Slag Dump, 1906, oil on canvas. FES275c.

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Slag Dump Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Slag Dump by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

McClure’s Magazine sent Schoonover to Colorado in 1906 as a photojournalist and illustrator for an article, “The Fight of the Copper Kings,” published in May 1907. This powerful illustration, along with six photographs, appeared in the article that revealed significant information about the copper mines and turbulent legal and political history of Montana in the early 1900s.

Eating on the Deck, 1908, charcoal and watercolor. FES339 and FES337.

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Eating on the Deck Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Eating on the Deck by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Eating on the Deck by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

On February 28, 1908, the revenue cutter Konigin Luise arrived with 401 mostly Italian passengers. Harper & Brothers sent Schoonover back to New York for the article, “The Judgment of the Steerage,” published in September 1908. The editor wrote to Schoonover: “I have just succeeded in arranging … the matter of permits for you to go down on the revenue cutter and to make sketches and photographs of the steerage ship.” A week later Schoonover spent an afternoon casually photographing the various immigrants awaiting a new life in America. Schoonover created 13 illustrations for the story.

Operator, 1909, oil on canvas. FES377.

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Operator Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Operator  by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

This is a classic example of “outside” modeling. Mrs. Charles Carey is photographed at her operator’s station, probably somewhere in Wilmington, Delaware. The photograph provided Schoonover with compositional material for an illustration that later appeared in the story, “The Chief Operator,” for Harper’s Magazine in 1909. The editors of the 2009 Schoonover Catalogue Raisonné discovered the illustration on the dust jacket of the rare 1909 novel, The Oath of Allegiance by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.

Fire Escape, 1910, charcoal and watercolor. FES401.

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Fire Escape Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Fire Escape by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Adjacent to the numerous anthracite coal mines, were often silk mills which employed the daughters and wives of the miners. To gather material for the story, “Women of the Pennsylvania Silk Mills,” Harper’s Magazine, April 1910, Schoonover traveled to the Bliss Mill with the author, Florence Sanville. The visit resulted in 49 photographs and eight illustrations. The Fire Escape juxtaposes the ladies’ social lunchtime break against a dramatic birds-eye industrial photograph of the colliery.

Rowing, 1909, oil on canvas. FES411.

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Rowing Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Rowing, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

For the Century Magazine, July 1910 article, “The Mystery of Rowing,” by Walter Camp, Schoonover visited the University of Pennsylvania boathouse and gym, sketching and taking a handful of photos. However, he relied more on his model, Frank Kyle to pose as a rower on a makeshift rowing platform in his Rodney street studio, where he had moved in 1906. The final result was two dramatic illustrations capturing the classic race between Yale and Harvard in 1886.

Crushing the Shells, 1911, charcoal and watercolor. FES446.

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Crushing-The-Shells-Photo-Schoonover-Mitchell-Gallery.jpg

Crushing the Shells, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

During his honeymoon in New Orleans in January 1911 with new bride Martha, Schoonover incorporated several side trips for material pertinent to his own story, “The Haunts of Jean Lafitte,” Harper’s Magazine, December 1911. He describes his various side trips from New Orleans, including not only the salty marshes and backwater bayous where the infamous pirate Lafitte hung out, but also the various islands, including Manila Village, home of the shrimp factory.

Manila Village, 1911, charcoal and watercolor. FES446.

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Manilla-Village-Photo-Schoonover-Mitchell-Gallery.jpg

Manilla Village, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Another photograph taken in Manila Village, appears unposed, as is true of the shrimp laborers in the previous photograph. The illustration medium is handled brilliantly by the artist.

Fur Brigade, 1912, oil on canvas. FES474.

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Fur Brigade Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Fur Brigade by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Schoonover’s second grand foray into the Canadian wilderness took place during the summer of 1911. Unlike the rigors of the 1903–04 trek, recreational canoeing and fishing inspired this trip. From his journal: “This long canoe trip gave me a fine idea of the summer life of the Indian, I saw the coming of the fur brigades to the Post.” His story, “The Fur Harvesters” was published in Harper’s Magazine, October 1912. Schoonover took 180 photographs during this journey.

Maid of the Forest, 1913, oil on canvas. FES574.

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Maid of the Forest Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Maid of the Forest  by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Randall Parrish’s The Maid of the Forest, published in 1913, featured several Schoonover illustrations, including the frontispiece, In the Woods. Maud Stewart posed for the composition.

Mother Him, 1919, oil on Academy Board. FES925.

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Mother Him Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Mother Him  by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

In the artist’s original daybooks listing all 2,510 completed works, the artist notes that he used five models for this illustration. His wife Martha and young Russell Eshbach are pictured here. Despite the somewhat melancholy mood, the story, “Unto Her a Child Was Born: A Christmas Story,” was featured in Ladies Home Journal, December 1919.

Seizer of Eagles, 1921, oil on canvas. FES1039.

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Seizer of Eagles Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Seizer of Eagles by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

In 1906 Schoonover visited the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana. Fifteen years later he referred to one of his photographs taken there for the illustration, He Painted My Face that appeared in James Willard Schultz’s story, “Seizer of Eagles,” serialized in The American Boy magazine, October 1921, then published as a book by Houghton Mifflin in 1922.

Wheat, 1925, oil on canvas. FES1330.

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Wheat Photo, Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Wheat by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Schoonover’s lovely wife, Martha, an artist herself, occasionally posed for paintings in the studio. We see her here pretending to be Helga from the story, “Wheat” in The Country Gentleman magazine, December 1925. She’s sitting on a rare revolutionary stool from the Birmingham meeting house in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, that has recently been donated to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Of note below is the large chest, ironically dated 1777.

Scout on Horse, 1926, oil on canvas. FES1460.

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Scout-on-Horse-Photo-Schoonover-Mitchell-Gallery.jpg

Scout on Horse by Frank Schoonover, Mitchell Gallery

Scout on Horse appeared on the cover of American Boy magazine, February 1926. Schoonover created over 150 magazine and books covers during the Golden Age of American Illustration. Unlike George Wilson, who posed for General Stryker 20 years previous, the model, most likely Charles Ryan, had a saddle to sit upon.