Observing the masters
Students learn firsthand with studio tour
— There’s a lot to take in at Frank E. Schoonover Studios.
A bust of President Abraham Lincoln, a pair of worn snow shoes, a railroad lantern and several used paint palettes can be found — and
that’s just by the fireplace.
Then there are the books, stacked on shelves against every wall, some behind protective glass, most still under the original dust jacket, all containing eye-catching artwork of cowboys, pirates, fairytale characters or even Martian princesses.
So, when about 20 students from Rising Sun Middle School visited with art
teacher Carol Mangano for a tour on Monday, there were lots of places to find inspiration when Mangano told students to bring out their sketchbooks or cameras.
An artist herself, Mangano is a firm believer in researching and experiencing a scene before putting it to paper. An authentic scene is one that comes from an informed artist, Mangano said.
“Artists need to go there,” she explained.
Opened in 1906, Schoonover Studios was once used by the students of illustrator Howard Pyle, including the original tenants Frank Schoonover, N.C. Wyeth, Harvey Dunn and Clifford Ashley. The works of the artists involved in the Brandywine School appeared in the popular adventure novels and magazines of the time. It was Schoonover who created the appearance of fictional cowboy Hopalong Cassidy and explorer John Carter of Mars.
It was Pyle who founded the Brandywine School — which refers to both a style of illustration and an artists colony in Wilmington and in Chadds Ford, Pa., near the Brandywine River — at the end of the 19th century. Also during the Monday field trip, students walked to the studio of Howard Pyle, just a couple blocks away from Schoonover Studios. Joining Mangano in leading the tour was John Schoonover, grandson of the illustrator.
The visit came a year after Schoonover dropped in on a Rising Sun Middle field trip to the Delaware Art Museum. While there look- ing at the museum’s American illustration collection, Schoonover shared stories of his grandfather while pointing to his work hanging on the wall.
The museum is home to such Schoonover illustrations as “Macbeth” — completed for the 1918 book “Tales of Shakespeare” — and “Hans Brinker” — completed for the eponymous 1924 book.
Helping Schoonover’s grandfather create these scenes were props, like stuffed birds and antique rifles, which are still in Schoonover Studio. On Monday, Schoonover pulled down books and objects to show students where his grandfather got inspiration.
For many students, this was their first time inside a real artist studio.
“This is the real thing,” Schoonover said, remarking how little the place had changed. “The only thing we don’t do is have fires in the fireplace.”
The younger Schoonover is now owner of Schoonover Studios. He also works in art collecting and framing. Although he did not become an artist himself, Schoonover can share this personal art history.
“Their whole life was art,” he told one student while talking about the Brandywine School painters, noting the Wyeth family has several generations of artists.
He encouraged students to keep at their art every day if they too were serious about it. Schoonover said he hopes students walk away having seen something they didn’t know about before. When asked how often students or young artists visit the stu- dio, he replied, “Not often enough.”
“It’d be wonderful to have more young adults come in and really experience the world of illustration,” he said.
While it may look different, he pointed out there is a connection between the early style of illustration and today’s comic books.
Due to scheduling conflicts, this is the first time in several years Mangano has taken her students to Schoonover Studios. Rather than go to Baltimore or Philadelphia, the trips are close enough to keep costs down and allow students to return on their own, Mangano said. At the end of May, her students will participate in an art show at the Delaware Art Museum. In the fall, she will offer a trip to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa.
However, when Mangano cannot literally take her students to an artistic scene, she does so figuratively. On a recent vacation to Colonial Williamsburg, Va., Mangano took photos that she later showed to students in hopes of inspiring possible still lifes. She will also recreate scenes in her art classes — arranging quilts, tea cups or vases for students to sketch — and encourage them to look to their own belongings for inspiration.
Some of her students are able to skip into an advanced art class once they are in high school. Those who attended the trip Monday were in seventh and eighth grades.
While Molloy Foppiano, an eighth-grader, said she has a strong interest in math and science, she said she is also drawn to photography and filmmaking. She spent Monday’s trip taking photos around Schoonover Studios.
“There’s another part of me that wants to go into directing,” she said.
Students on the trip shared an interest in art. Maddy Stewart, another eighthgrader, said her older sister sparked her interest in art. She said she’s especially drawn to oil painting because of the way the paintings reflect the light.
“I’ve always wanted to try it,” she said.
Stewart and other students walked away feeling a little daunted after learning the impressive history and dedication of the local artists — but also encouraged to keep at their art.
“Even if you don’t think you’re good, you should still pursue it anyway,” she said.
John Schoonover, grandson of American illustrator Frank E. Schoonover, talks with Carol Mangano’s Rising Sun Middle School art students inside his late grandfather’s studio.
A collection of adventure stories with illustrations from American illustrator Frank E. Schoonover sit inside Schoonover Studios.
Antiques and copies of illustrations sit on display at Schoonover Studios.