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Centennial Celebrations


This year marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Howard Pyle, one of America’s greatest illustrators, and the founding of the Delaware Art Museum, whose beginnings are tied to Pyle’s death.

To commemorate these two occasions, the Delaware Art Museum hosts The Museum’s Centennial Celebration beginning in November with the opening of Howard Pyle: American Master Rediscovered. This retrospective exhibition features 79 paintings and drawings created by Pyle between 1876 and 1910.

Howard Pyle seated in his studio.

The exhibit runs through March 4, 2012, and presents a fresh perspective on Pyle’s familiar images of knights, pirates, and historical figures that continue to influence depictions today. “Visions of the Past,” “Fairytale and Fantasy,” and “America – Past and Present” are the three key themes highlighted.

Pyle is not only esteemed for his contributions to art but for his mentorship and knowledge that still influences artists today. After Pyle’s untimely death in November 1911, his friends, family, and supporters began the footwork for what would become the Delaware Art Museum to honor and preserve works of the artist that they all admired.

The museum was seen as a group project, which in its beginning stages became the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts. A small collection of paintings and drawings from Pyle soon grew to include works by Pyle’s students, many of whom became esteemed American illustrators.

Danielle Rice, executive director of the Delaware Art Museum, has worked tirelessly to piece together this celebratory exhibition.

” A huge amount of work has gone into this,” Rice said. To organize an exhibition like this we are borrowing objects from other museums … it takes about three to four years to put everything together.”

"The Coming of Lancaster," by Howard Pyle

The museum’s centennial celebration ends with a final exhibition entitled Indelible Impressions: Contemporary Illustrators and Howard Pyle, which explores how contemporary illustrators are inspired by Pyle’s art. The museum incorporates animation and a range of other media to showcase the artists who embody many of Pyle’s techniques and style.

“Pyle was like a rock star in his time,” said Rice. “People would stop him in the street and ask for his autograph. He is much beloved locally, but this celebration will show all people how extraordinary he really is.[quote]

“[Pyle’s death] is the reason we were founded,” said Rice. “He had so many friends and students in this area. And there is a communal desire to keep his works in Delaware. We didn’t want to lose this incredible treasure.”

The next 100 years

Museums today face a twin threat of an economic downturn and aging patrons.

To battle the economic realities and still commemorate its birthday, the museum has asked for birthday gifts.

“One of the things we are doing is celebrating our birthday by asking people to give us gifts and donations,” said Rice.

But the community gets a present, too: Many of the centennial events will be free.

With hopes of attracting not only Delaware natives, but art enthusiasts from all over, the museum is hosting several events appealing to people of all ages.

Pyle outside his Franklin Street studio.

This six-month festivity includes a series of illustrated lectures examining Pyle’s influence and impact and a preview party toasting the opening of the exhibit. The anniversary winds down with an elegant black–tie centennial gala, a family day for children, and a New Year’s Eve Party.

“We do work with schools and colleges,” said Rice.  “We have been doing a series of events called Art is Social. Our first program brought out around 400 people under the age of 30.”

This series of programs is dedicated to expanding the audience in the museum The next Art is Social event takes place on October 13.

Rice believes much of the excitement about this milestone is because it is for people all over the state of Delaware.

“We have reached out to organizations throughout the state to partner with us,” said Rice.

"At the Gate," by Howard Pyle

The Rehoboth Art League, The Studio Group, and The Delaware Symphony Orchestra will all participate in this anticipated occasion.

Heading into the next century, Howard Pyle and the Delaware Art Museum are staples of the Delaware arts community.

“I want people to realize this is a place you can keep coming back to,” said Rice. “Our exhibitions and programs change constantly. I am excited about the idea of people in Delaware and in the region around us just having a sense of discovery about what a wonderful resource this museum is.”