Like N.C. Wyeth and W.H.D Koerner, Frank Schoonover was a famed illustrator of the West and a student of Howard Pyle. Unlike the other two, however, Schoonover experienced the wilderness early in life and felt a very special attraction to it. “Woods, streams, bridges, nature, the wilderness—they are all in my work,” Schoonover later wrote, “and the people I painted are rugged as their environment.” He earned a reputation as a skilled illustrator and as a portrait, figure and landscape painter of lively western scenes.
Schoonover was born in Oxford, New Jersey, and in 1896 entered art classes at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia where he came under the tutelage of Howard Pyle. Within three years the young artist moved to Wilmington, Delaware to work with Pyle on a regular basis. “Technical training is necessary, but it must be subordinated to the imagination,” Schoonover wrote. “Good illustrations are storied pictures, and they tell some phases of the story better than do words. They must convey the same thought and action as do the stories. They must be convincing, fitting in detail, embodying the same power of imagination, the same humor, romance, and action.”
In the winter of 1903, Schoonover traveled to northern Quebec and Ontario and crossed the upper part of Hudson’s Bay by dogsled with two Indian guides, a trip which provided him with numerous notes and sketches. Two years later, the artist traveled to Colorado and Montana where he sketched and photographed enough raw material for his western illustrations to use throughout the remainder of his life. In 1914, Schoonover purchased land for a studio in Bushkill, Pike County, Pennsylvania, illustrating for magazines and books such as Scribner’s, Harper’s, Century, Colliers, McClures, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson. During that time, it is thought that his work reached about five million readers a month.
However, he determined in the mid-1930s that he could not keep up that pace, and he turned to landscape and portrait painting in which he injected his love of drama that characterized his illustration. Often his painting was dominated by an action-packed figure such as an Indian astride a bucking horse. Over his long and productive life, Schoonover not only illustrated for many magazines and books, he also designed stained glass windows, taught at the John Herron Art Institute and at his own studio, and painted many landscapes of the neighboring Brandywine and Delaware River Valleys.
Reference: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, edited by Dr. Rick Stewart, AskArt.com