Ellen Bernard Thompson Pyle was born in the Germantown section of Philadelphia on November 11, 1876 to Newcomb Butler and Kate Ashton Thompson. She had two younger sisters, Edith (Montgomery) and Katherine (Mallery). Ellen showed an interest in art in her teens, and by 1895, she was an art student at Drexel University, where she first studied with Lydia Austin (Parrish) and Charles Grafly. By 1898, she had become one of Howard Pyle's pupils. She was a talented student, and she was one of a dozen students invited to attend Howard Pyle's summer art school in Chadds Ford, PA in 1898 and 1899. Her paintings were also shown in class exhibits and published in books and magazines (see the bibliography). It was while she studied with Howard Pyle that she met his youngest brother, Walter, who was 17 years Ellen's senior and married. Ellen returned to her parents' home in Philadelphia around 1901, and she continued her illustration work there. Walter Pyle's wife died tragically in 1903, but Ellen did not hear this news until months later when Walter contacted her. Ellen and Walter married a year later and bought a house in Wilmington. After her marriage, Ellen had a few illustrations published, but she stopped painting to raise her family of four children. A son, Walter Pyle, Jr., was born in 1906, and three daughters—Ellen, Katie, and Caroline—followed in 1907, 1911, and 1914.
In 1918, Walter and Ellen moved to a beautiful farm in the country called Westbrae. The three-story stone house and surrounding 40 acres were a perfect place to raise children and enjoy gardening, nature, and the outdoors. Ellen and Walter were thrilled with their new home. However, just over a year later, Walter succumbed to Bright's disease, a renal condition that also took the life of his brother Howard. At the age of 42, Ellen found herself widowed with four children to raise. Eventually, she battled through her deep grief and began to rebuild her career as an illustrator. Katharine Pyle, Walter's sister, helped Ellen to find work, and, in 1922, Ellen's first cover for The Saturday Evening Post was published. Ellen's career gained momentum, and she went on to paint 40 covers for the Post, 10 dust jackets for books by Berta Ruck, and a number of other works, including covers for Parents magazine, Literary Digest, and Everybody's magazine. She frequently used her children and Wilmingtonians as models for her work. Ellen Pyle died August 1, 1936 of heart disease. She is buried with her husband in the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery.
To see her artwork, published and unpublished, click here.
To see a complete (as far as we know) bibliography of her published illustrations, please click here.
An effort to catolog her work is underway! Please send an e-mail if you have a painting or any other EBTP information!
Curtis Publishing still holds the copyright for all their cover artwork after 1923, so only the covers from 1922 can be shown on this site (see this page).
To see most of her 40 The Saturday Evening Post covers, please click here, and Curtis Publishing's Web site will open in a new window.
Do you know Kate McCarthy? She was the model for four Saturday Evening Post covers. She immigrated to the United States from Ireland around 1872. She was married to Owen McCarthy, and they had five children: Timothy, Julia, May, Ellen, and Eugene. They lived for years on West 18th St. in Wilmington. In 1930, she lived with two of her granddaughters, Catherine/Katharine McCarthy and Mary Hynes. We'd love to know more about her!
© 2007 Katharine E. Smith. All rights reserved.