A cold gray evening in the early winter of 1912 saw the gathering of a small, diverse group of Delaware residents. Some were artists; others were entrepreneurs and businessmen and women of Wilmington; all were good friends of Howard Pyle.
Howard Pyle, who had put Wilmington on the artistic map with his inspired and impassioned teachings and dedication to his vision of illustration, was dead at the age of 58. Pyle died unexpectedly in November 1911 while on a trip to Italy with his family. Left behind were a legion of grieving students, friends, and admirers.
This gathering of saddened friends decided, on that winter night, that something must be done to honor the memory of the artist and teacher who had touched them all so deeply. This group of Pyle’s students and Delaware personalities formed the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts with the goal of preserving and exhibiting the works of Howard Pyle. Donations from generous local patrons enabled the Society to purchase nearly 100 of Howard Pyle’s works of art—these paintings, drawings, and prints formed the foundation of a collection that would soon include paintings from some of the most talented illustrators in America.
When the charter of the society was drawn in 1912, it boasted the signatures of such Delaware luminaries as Louisa du Pont Copeland, and illustrators Stanley M. Arthurs and Frank E. Schoonover. More importantly it stated a broad vision for the future: “to promote the knowledge and enjoyment of and cultivation in the fine arts in the State of Delaware.”