Pyle’s “The Mermaid” Returns to Riverwalk

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Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 1.00.01 PMBy Terry Rogers

As part of the 2012 “Art is Everywhere” campaign, the first pop-up art project for the Delaware Art Museum, which coincided with the 100th Anniversary of the museum. The death of Howard Pyle, famed illustrator and author, spawned the birth of the museum. For this reason many of the art pieces used in the exhibit were reproductions of his work. One of those chosen was “The Mermaid,” which hung on the side of Good News Food Store, overlooking the Riverwalk for some time.

In 2013, Mispillion Art League donated the painting to the Milford Boys and Girls Club for display at the entrance to the Richard Y. Johnson Aquatic Center. However, the painting was deemed unsuitable for the club and it was placed in storage. On Thursday, July 9, 2015, the painting returned to the Riverwalk when it was placed on the back of the building that houses Fur-Baby Boutique & Doggie Daycare and Arena’s Deli & Bar, overlooking the Mispillion River.

“We are very grateful to Mayor Bryan Shupe for finding the perfect place for this work of art,” said Sharon Hepford of the Mispillion Art League. “This location is right by the river and in a highly visible area where all residents and tourists can enjoy this marvelous painting.”

Howard Pyle was born on March 5, 1853 in Wilmington. He moved to New York City and began a career as a magazine illustrator before returning to Wilmington in 1880. He illustrated works such as “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” and is often called “The Father of American Illustration.” He wrote and illustrated dozen of books, including fairy tales and fables. Mr. Pyle taught illustration at Drexel Institute of Art from 1894 to 1900 before creating his own art and illustration school. His school is now known as the Brandywine School where he taught such noted artists as N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish.

“The Mermaid” was discovered, unfinished, on an easel in his studio after his death. Mr. Pyle had been working on the piece, which depicts a shipwrecked man being rescued from an angry sea by a mermaid, when he left for a trip to Florence, Italy. He died on that trip of a sudden kidney infection so his full intentions for the piece were never realized. His children donated the painting in memory of their mother, artist Anne Poole Pyle.

“At the time the piece was provided to the Mispillion Art League during the Art is Everywhere program, we were in the process of designing programs featuring the work of Howard Pyle,” said Cathy Walls of the Mispillion Art League. “The Delaware Art Museum was impressed with the fact that we were honoring Mr. Pyle and they chose Mispillion Art League as a pop-up location.” Milford was the only location permitted to keep the pop-up art after the program ended.

Paintings were also placed at Woodside Farm Creamery in Hockessin, The Grand in Wilmington, the Wilmington Riverfront and the Courthouse in Dover, to name a few.