The Father of Illustration: From Boston to Boise

by Memo Cordova, Boise State University

The Special Collections and Archives (SCA) unit at Boise State University’s Albertsons Library houses materials specific to the history of the university and the state as a whole. Among its many documents, personal correspondence, artifacts, and ephemera, the unit also houses three large framed etchings donated by Lois Chaffee, wife of President/Chancellor Eugene B. Chaffee (1936 to 1970), in 1988. These three pieces are signed etchings from paintings done by famed 20th century American illustrator and author Howard Pyle (1853-1911).

Anyone familiar with the stories of the American West, World Wars, or the lore and fantasy of faraway lands populated by pirates, buccaneers, and ne’er-do-wells that were popular in the 1880s through the 1950s will have come across the illustrative works of artists such as N. C. Wyeth, Harvey Dunn, Violet Oakley, Jessie Willcox Smith, Frank Schoonover, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Maxfield Parrish, among others. The wondrous illustrations that accompanied such stories elevated the genre and placed these artists as masters of the visual narrative. These artists were in turn influenced, and perfected their craft, under the tutelage of artist, teacher, and author Howard Pyle. Pitz, in his The Brandywine Tradition, explains that Pyle’s influence as a fellow artist and teacher was coupled with “the authority of which he spoke–the authority of one of the greatest, probably the greatest illustrator of his day” (1969, p. 138). As a student, N. C. Wyeth wrote to his home after one of Pyle’s sessions, “The composition lecture lasted two hours and it opened my eyes more than any talk I ever heard” (1969, p. 136).

Howard Pyle was born in Wilmington, Delaware on March 5th, 1853. His talent as an artist and author emerged early on in his life, and his illustrations appeared in publications such as Scribner’s Magazine, Harper’s Weekly, and St. Nicholas. By 1894 his artistic skills and natural teaching ability landed him a teaching position at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, and two years later became the Director of the School of Illustration. In 1900 he left Drexel to open the Howard Pyle School of Art in Wilmington. It was in Wilmington, in the historic Brandywine region, where Pyle lived and taught his more prominent dozen or so students during “three consecutive summers of 1901, 1902, and 1903, when the most brilliant company was assembled and Pyle was at this best. The span of time was short but it left an imprint (Pitz, 1969, p. 113). During that time and until his death on November 9th, 1911 in Florence, Italy, Pyle produced an astonishing number of works, such as paintings, murals, and literature (Agosta, 1987, chronology). Pyle single-handedly helped usher what many dubbed “The Golden Age of American Illustration” which flourished from the 1870s up to the 1950s (NMAI, 2015).

A giant among illustrators of his time, his books and art brought to life timeless characters into vivid detail, such as Robin Hood in The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883), the four-volume Arthuriad (1903-1910), and The Story of King Arthur and his Knights. It was Pyle’s masterful combination of “richly evocative illustrations with a text fully detailing sights, scents, textures, and sounds” of the Arthurian mythos that accounts for the “authenticity of Pyle’s highly artificial romantic world” (Agosta, 1987, p. 55). In his two-volume set, Howard Pyle: His Life–His Work (2004), Paul Preston Davis writes that Pyle “produced about 3,300 published illustrations…half of those illustrated his own writings–19 books and nearly 200 articles and stories in magazines. At least half of those 19 books are still in print and being read today” (p. 5). He not only flourished as an artist and author, but was also an adored teacher and mentor, having instructed about “half of the official combat artists of World War I” (May, J. P., May, R. E., 2011, introduction). It is not surprising that Pyle “is rightly called the Father of American Illustration. During an age when the whole nation engaged in reading as a pastime, Pyle and his faithful followers shaped the use of illustration with creations that were at once modern, relevant, and faithful to the stories which they were used” (J. Homme & C. Homme, 2002, p. 23).

Given the extraordinary body of work Pyle left behind, his artful teaching and prodigious artistic output it is not surprising to find some of his works in unlikely places. We know little, however, of how these three etchings came to be in the possession of the Chaffee estate here in Boise. We know from various sources the etchings were commissioned by The Bibliophile Society in Boston in 1903. According to Davis, Pyle:

Completed five paintings for The Bibliophile Society which became the subjects of five etchings by W. H. W. Bicknell for a Portfolio of Etchings to be reproduced and made available exclusively to the Society’s membership. No reproductions of the paintings in any form were to be distributed outside of the membership…Each etching was signed by Howard Pyle and W. H. W. Bicknell. The portfolio was limited to 302 sets (2004, p. 279).

J. P. May and R. E. May write that “In 1904, Pyle collected $2,500 from a private dealer for his half-interest in five paintings previously made for the Bibliophile Society” (2011, p. 156). So it is safe to assume that these five paintings–the basis for these etchings—were sold to a private party and no longer part of The Bibliophile Society. Although the fate of the two missing pieces, “Friar” Bacon in his Study and “Izaak” Walton remain unknown, we are fortunate to have the remaining three in Special Collections at Boise State University. Below are some details of each piece:

Figure 1. Richard DeBury and the Young Edward III
Figure 1. Richard DeBury and the Young Edward III
Figure 2. Small pencil drawings by Pyle with Bicknell’s signature
Figure 2. Small pencil drawings by Pyle with Bicknell’s signature
Figure 4. Bicknell’s signature, with a pen drawing by Pyle
Figure 4. Bicknell’s signature, with a pen drawing by Pyle
Figure 5. Caxton at his press
Figure 5. Caxton at his press
Figure 6. Bicknell’s signature and drawing by Pyle
Figure 6. Bicknell’s signature and drawing by Pyle

The Archives West online finding aid describes these pieces as “Three etchings made by W. H. W. Bicknell after original paintings by Howard Pyle. Boise State holds: Caxton at his press; Richard DeBury & the young Edward III; Erasmus, Colet & More.” While short, it fails to describe the mastery of line in each piece. Each etching is beautifully rendered, and is signed by Pyle on the lower left side of each piece; the red emblem of The Bibliophile Society rests at the bottom of the middle section; and W. H. W. Bicknell’s signature on the right-hand side of each piece. Each etching also contains a small ink or pen drawing drawn by Pyle himself.

Figure 7. Howard Pyle’s signature
Figure 7. Howard Pyle’s signature=
Figure 8. The emblem of The Bibliophile society and Bicknell’s signature
Figure 8. The emblem of The Bibliophile society and Bicknell’s signature

These three pieces have adorned various Boise State offices since at least the 1940s. The Special Collections and Archives unit contains only one photograph of then-university president Chaffee with the three pieces, with the Richard DeBury and the Young Edward III etching easily recognizable in the background:

Figure 9. Chaffee (left) receives a copy of -Idaho on the March- from First National Bank
Figure 9. Chaffee (left) receives a copy of -Idaho on the March- from First National Bank

The Bicknell etchings, while limited, are by no means rare. A complete set can still be purchased online in places such as online bookseller, which has a complete set for sale for $13,975.00 (as of this writing). The value of such pieces lies as much in their beautifully crafted design and artistic merit as in their 2400+ mile journey from 1903 Boston to the offices of a university president. How did they come to be in the possession of the Chaffee estate? Were these gifts given by Boston friends? Where are the other two pieces?

As someone who is enamored with classical illustration, coming across these art pieces by a luminary like Howard Pyle in my library was a magical experience. As a patron I appreciate that my library has these etchings in their collection and can gaze unabashedly at an artist’s work whose legacy shaped American illustration. Finding these kinds of gems emphasizes the inherent and important value of how libraries–regardless of size or niche collection, or even location and purpose–house within them objects of hyperlocal uniqueness and random wonderment. No archival collection will house quite the same kinds of items or materials, and each library offers within it untold possibilities for positive engagement (and I dare say, joy) to its community. One just has to make these kinds of opportunities visible and available for the right connections to happen.

What kind of wonders can you find in your library?

Memo Cordova is an Associate Professor/Librarian at Albertsons Library, Boise State University.
Address: 1865 W Cesar Chavez Ln, Boise, ID 83725.

References (2016, March 14). Etchings by W. H. W. Bicknell after original paintings by Howard Pyle. Retrieved from

Agosta, L. L. (1987). Howard Pyle. Boston: Twayne Publishers.

Archives West. (n.d.). Howard Pyle etchings, 1902-1903. Retrieved from

Davis, P. P. (2004). Howard Pyle: His life–his work. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press.

Homme, J., & Homme, C. (2002). Storybook culture: The art of popular children’s books. Portland, Oregon: Collectors Press.

May, J. P., & May, R. E. (2011). Howard Pyle: Imagining an American school of art. Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press.

NMAI: The national museum of American illustration. (2015, March 4). Retrieved from

Pitz, H. C. (1969). The Brandywine tradition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Tech Tools – Flashcards with Flair

EllieWelcome to (or back to) Tech Tools, a regular column of The Idaho Librarian devoted to informal discussion of practical technologies. As always, I welcome your comments, ideas, and feedback on this post or other technologies you would like featured in this column.

Flashcards with Flair

I’ve come across online flashcards a few times and been curious. Do they work well in an online format? Do online flashcards offer benefits that old-fashioned 3×5 cards lack? There are a number of free web-based tools that offer this functionality. In hopes of answering those questions, I signed up for several free online flashcards products, tested them out, and chose three to review: Quizlet, Flashcard Machine, and Cerego.


Quizlet is a free tool for creating and using flashcards, which can be used to generate quizzes and games. After creating a free account, you’ll be taken to a dashboard screen which will show your (as yet non-existent) activity.

Creating cards: It’s super easy to create flashcards in Quizlet. From the top navigation area, click on Create a Study Set. Then, fill in the blanks with one field for one side of the “card” and one field for the flip side (which Quizlet calls a definition).

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To the right of each card, there are 3 icons to: add a photo, add a sound file, and search for definitions/answers within the flashcards from other Quizlet users. However, you cannot upload your own photos or audio with a free account. The search for definitions feature functions nicely, letting you review a list of matching definitions. Click to select one, and edit if you wish.

Flashcard collection: Quizlet contains a library of flashcards created by users. I could not locate information about how large this collection is, but I didn’t have trouble finding material on a variety of topics.

Search/browse: Quizlet allows for a simple keyword search, after which you can sort by relevance or date. There is no browse option.

Reusing flashcards: Once you find a study set that meets your needs, there are number of ways to reuse the cards. The two that I found most useful are copy and add to folder. Once cards are copied, you may edit them, whereas add to folder just saves them for you to use later.

Studying: Quizlet’s strength is in the many ways that you can study using flashcards. The options include:

  • Flashcards is very similar to using actual Flashcards. Click a card to flip it over, click the forward arrow to view the next card in the set.
  • Learn mode presents the flashcards as a fill-in-the-blank quiz. This is a good self-assessment next step.
  • The Speller option is interesting. It reads material from the study set, which you then type. I think that this is meant to help with retention, since in doing this you’re hearing, seeing, and typing the words.
  • Test presents a test with a variety of types of questions including fill-in-the-blank, true-false, matching, and multiple choice.
  • The Scatter game presents words with definitions in random boxes. Drag one to another to make them disappear as the timer counts up.
  • The goal of the game Gravity is to type in the definition (or the term) as the meteors fall toward Earth. With this game, you can choose from 3 levels of difficulty as well as whether to see the term or the definition first.
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The only thing missing from Gravity is sound effects.

Overall:  onestaronestaronestaronestaronestar grey 
If you just want to create a set of flashcards, Quizlet is a great option because it’s easy and fast to create the cards, and you’ll have many study options. If you’re interested in finding cards that have already been created, Quizlet is pretty good, but the search/browse functionality falls short.

Flashcard Machine

Flashcard Machine is a very flexible flashcard creation tool, but it’s a little old school in terms of interface. It’s not difficult to use, but sometimes you have to click more than once to get to the screen you want to use.

Creating cards: To get started, create a free account, then click Create a Set. You will be prompted for some basic metadata about your new set and be given options for sharing your cards. I appreciate that both subject and education level are controlled vocabulary (with a pop-up list), which ultimately should make sets easier for others to locate.

Once you’ve created a set, creating cards is easy using either the Quick Editor or the Advanced Editor. The Quick Editor is two columns of text boxes, one for each side of the card. Fill them in, and click Save. The Advanced Editor has word processor functionality, and includes options for adding images and audio files. The down side is that you have to create one card at a time.

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The Quick Editor is easy to use. Create as many rows as you want cards.

Flashcard collection: Flashcard Machine contains over 111 million flashcards in its library. I don’t know how many of them are world-class flashcards, but that’s the price you pay for crowd sourcing. The up side is that the flashcards I looked at were accurate and useful.

Search/browse: With 111 million flashcards, thank goodness that the search and browse features in Flashcard Machine are awesome. The browse options include subject, most popular, highest rated, and top authors. Wow! The search functionality is equally impressive and includes keyword searching along with several field search choices.

On the results page, you can sort by relevance, topic, subject, date created, and rating. I’m not sure where the topic option is coming from, since I wasn’t directed to assign one when building my set of flashcards.

Reusing flashcards:  You can add any set of flashcards to a list of favorites or you can save the set, which allows you to edit the cards.

Studying: There are three games that you can use to study with a set of flashcards.

Quiz Me is a multiple choice game. If you get the answer right, you can move onto the next card. If you get it wrong, you have to keep guessing until you get it right.

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My favorite game is Quiz Me, probably because it’s the most like using actual flashcards.

Speed requires you to choose the correct answer from a column of moving cards, which are blank until you click them. It involves a lot of mousing, so it’s not the best game for those of use with repetitive strain injuries, but it’s engaging.

In Pop Quiz, you fill in the letters of your answer on a Jeopardy style screen.

Overall: onestaronestaronestaronestaronestar grey Flashcard Machine is not flashy, but it’s flexible and completely free. I suggest this tool for those who fondly remember using Pine as a text editor for email.


Cerego is the flashiest of the three products I reviewed, and it is (so far as I could tell) completely free.

Creating cards: After creating your free account, click the Create button in the left-side navigation bar, choose to make your set public or private, and proceed to name your set. Next you’ll have the opportunity to choose an attractive image to be featured on the set.

Here’s where the magic starts. To add a card to your set, choose one of the seven templates listed on the start page. These are more than just layout templates, they guide you through creating flashcards with different activities. The template options include:

  • Associations, which are basic flashcards.
  • Vocabulary, which are like basic flashcards, but you can include examples of the word in use.
  • Passages allow you to remove important words from a phrase to create fill-in-the-blank questions.
  • Regions let you map words to hot spots on an image.
  • Sequences are used for outlining processes or procedures in the proper order.
  • Patterns are used to teach characteristics, such as for plant identification.

The dashboard for my flashcard set. On the left are templates to choose from. To the right, Cerego adds your items in a visual layout.

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The dashboard for my new Cerego flashcard set. Template choices are on the left. To the right are my cards in a visual layout.

Some of the options, such as patterns, were a bit confusing to set up. That may be the nature of creating this type of content, and therefore not the fault of Cerego’s user interface.

Flashcard collection: Cerego has fewer sets than do the other two products, but they appear to all be high quality. Cerego hosts a Google Group for content creators, and perhaps this more hands-on approach includes curating flashcard sets. In addition, many of the sets are authored by Cerego themselves.

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Browse categories in Cerego.

Search/browse: Cerego offers simple keyword search as well as the option to browse content. The browsing options are organized by broad disciplines, with one layer of subdisciplines.

Reusing flashcards: You can copy any set of flashcards and edit it to be your own.

Studying: In Learn mode, Cerego takes you through a process of reviewing the flashcards followed by quizzes. They promise a patented process designed to maximize learning. I found the process to be both engaging and, in the short term, effective.

Overall: onestaronestaronestaronestarhalf star Cerego is a great tool, and using it to learn is straightforward. Creating flashcards takes some practice. I recommend this product to anybody who likes tinkering and has content that is worth the time investment of building an excellent learning tool.

Other Cool Cards

There are many online flashcard creation tools, and I couldn’t review them all, but I did look them order and rate them, using the same five criteria that I used for the longer reviews. Here are my brief notes and ratings.

  • Cobocards – purplepurplepurple3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free, with paid options. I found some broken links in the site and user interface is awful, but for the most part it appears to function.
  • Course Hero – purplepurplepurplehalf star3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free with paid options. Course Hero offers tutoring services and other study resources in addition to flashcards.There’s a lot of good content in there, but you have to hack your way through a thicket of “join now!” messages along the way.
  • Cram – purplepurplepurplepurple3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free with a paid option. Appears to be similar to Quizlet in functionality, with some additional free features.
  • Duolingo – purplepurplepurplepurplehalf star Free high quality flashcards for learning languages. I’ve signed up for Welsh.
  • Learn that Wordpurplepurplepurple3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free with a paid option. This product specializes in English language vocabulary. It’s kind of ugly, but it seems to work and contains a lot of vocabulary words as well as several ways to study the flashcards.
  • Memrise – purplepurplepurplehalf star3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free with paid options for more learning modes. Memrise is focused on language acquisition, though there is plenty of other subject content in the collection.
  • Study Blue – purplepurplehalf star3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM I would have scored this higher if I were reviewing the paid version, as it looks pretty good. However, though you can create flashcards and study them on Study Blue, you’ll have to pay in order to gain access to the collection of flashcard sets.

I didn’t sign up to use the following three products because they require a software download. They may be amazing, who knows? If you give any of them a try, let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Comment below if you have any thoughts on this article or suggestions for the next Tech Tools column. I love hearing from you!