Ellen Pyle is proof that illustrating can be like riding a bicycle. A student at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, one of the top art schools in the country, she studied with famed illustrator Howard Pyle. There she also met her teacher’s brother, Walter Pyle, who would later become her husband.
Showing promise even as a first-year student in 1895, Pyle published her first of many illustrations. She went on to find success illustrating children’s books and magazine articles, but in 1905 chose to give up her career to focus on motherhood. Reflecting on this in a 1928 Post interview, she said, “Probably people vary a great deal, but I found that when there was a young baby in the family … it was not practical for me to spend all day in the studio. One or the other had to take second place.”
But when her husband Walter died in 1919, Pyle needed to support her four children and so turned back to art. The Saturday Evening Post was the first magazine to accept her work, and by the end of her career, she had illustrated a total of 40 Post covers. Her children and neighbors often modeled for her paintings that portray traditional American life.
“The girl I am most interested in painting is the unaffected natural American type,” Pyle said in her 1928 interview with the Post, “the girl that likes to coast and skate in winter, who often goes without her hat, and who gets a thrill out of tramping over country roads in the fall.” This girl definitely fits the bill.
This cover is a great example of Pyle’s use of brilliant color and loose, broad brushstroke-style.
Art certainly ran in the Pyle family. Ellen Pyle’s daughter Katie modeled for this cover, and her two oldest children, Walter Jr. and Ellen, became artists themselves, and her youngest, Caroline, married into the Wyeth family of artists.
The grays surrounding this pair shadow the scene but the bright colors of the fruits and vegetables in the basket offer promise of a warm home-cooked meal.
The most interesting thing about this cover isn’t the woman driving a convertible in the snow, but the child who’s glancing back at us wondering the exact same thing.
Reprinted on the Post in 2007, this cover prompted reader Sara Chatzidakis to write us with some background on the image. It turned out the little Post girls were Chatzidakis’ mother and aunt, who modeled the scene for their neighbor, Ellen Pyle.
One of Pyle’s covers of everyday life, it’s the details that make this piece stand out. You can see the disappointment on the man’s face as he looks back at the tire after reading the sign “5 Miles to Mac’s Garage.” Looking at those diagonal lines going across the page, this will be one wet trip.
Pyle tried to hide her signature in her paintings, making them the same color as the work itself so they blended into the background. Her signature here appears in the right-hand corner and matches the grass.