Thornton Oakley

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Thornton Oakley
Thornton Oakley.jpg
Born Thornton Oakley
(1881-03-27)March 27, 1881
Died April 7, 1953(1953-04-07) (aged 72)
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Nationality American
Known for Illustration

Thornton Oakley (March 27, 1881 – April 7, 1953) was an American artist and illustrator.

Biography [1][edit]

Thornton Oakley was born March 27, 1881, in Pittsburgh. He graduated from Shady Side Academy in 1897 and studied at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving B.S. and M.S. degrees in architecture in 1901 and 1902. He first studied with Howard Pyle in 1902 at Chadds Ford in the mill, and described his first day there in a talk given at the Free Library in Philadelphia in 1951:

"There we four - my new cronies - Allen Tupper True, George Harding, Gordon McCouch and I - made our first sketches from a model, and our efforts were frightful to behold! Not one of us had had a palette in our hands ever before: I had not the least idea as to procedure. My attempts were terrifying to behold, and when H.P. came to me to criticize my work he paused for a long, long time before speaking, and I know that he must have been appalled."

Oakley studied with Howard Pyle for three years. During his first class, Pyle stood before his easel for a while before commenting that "either you are color-blind or else you are a genius." It turned out with time that neither was true. Oakley never learned the nuances of color but had an instinctual like for the primaries - red, yellow and blue.[2]

Oakley became an illustrator and writer for periodicals, including Scribner's, Century, Collier's, and Harper's Monthly. In the years 1914-19 and 1921-36 he was in charge of the Department of Illustration at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. In 1914-15 he also taught drawing at the University of Pennsylvania, and gave lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Curtis Institute. He was a member of the jury of selection and advisory committee of the Department of Fine Arts at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 and the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition in 1926.

During World War I lithographs of his patriotic drawings of war work at the Hog Island Shipyard, Pennsylvania, were distributed by the United States government. During World War II he did three sets of pictures of the war effort for the National Geographic in 1941, 1943, and 1945. After the war he was commissioned to paint industrial subjects for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Philadelphia Electric Company, Sun Oil, and other industries. In 1938-39 he did six mural panels for the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia on epochs in science.

Oakley was deeply influenced by Howard Pyle's philosophy of illustration. In the talk at the Free Library referred to above, he said: "We never heard one word from our beloved teacher concerning tools and methods. His utterances were only of the spirit, thought, philosophy, ideals, vision, purpose." Oakley presided at the private viewing of the Howard Pyle Memorial Exhibition at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1923, when reminiscences of Pyle were given by Elizabeth Green Elliott, Jessie Willcox Smith, George Harding, and Frank E. Schoonover. In praising Pyle, Oakley said: "Illustration is the highest type of pictorial art ... because illustration is simply a pictorial MAKING CLEAR, and if a picture makes clear a message in a big way, it is an illustration, whether it be made for magazine, book, mural decoration, or exhibition." In an essay on "Illustration" for the American Magazine of Art in August 1919, he spoke of illustration as inspiration and the expression of man's highest ideals.

Oakley also illustrated a series of travel books, authored by his wife, Amy Ewing Oakley (1882–1963).
These include:
Hill Towns of the Pyrenees (1924, John Long, Ltd.)
The Cloud-Lands of France (1927, Century)
Enchanted Brittany (1930, Century)
The Heart of Provence (1936, D. Appleton-Century)
Scandinavia Beckons (1938, D. Appleton-Century)
Kaleidoscopic Quebec (1947, D. Appelton-Century)
Our Pennsylvania: Keys to the Keystone State (1950, Bobbs-Merrill)
Behold the West Indies (1951, Longmans, Green)

Oakley made a large collection of Pyle, drawings, prints, books and other items, including letters and sketchbooks, which he presented to the Free Library in Philadelphia in November 1951. He died in Bryn Mawr on April 4, 1953 and is buried with his wife Amy at the Lower Marion Baptist Church Cemetery in Bryn Mawr.[3]

Magazine illustrations[edit]

American Magazine of Art - 1919, 1925
Appleton's Magazine - 1907
Asia - 1918
Century - 1905-1912, 1916-1919
Colliers - 1904-1918
Everybody's - 1906-1909
Forum - 1926-1927
Harper's Magazine - 1906
Harper's Monthly - 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908–1915, 1916, 1918
International Studio - 1913, 1915
Ladies' Home Journal - 1908
Leslie's - 1904
Metropolitan - 1907-1910
National Geographic Magazine - 1942-1945, 1942, 1943
Nations Business - 1919
Pennsylvania Magazine - 1947
Scientific American - 1918
St. Nicholas Magazine - 1908-1909
Scribner's Magazine - 1905-1916
System - 1909
Western Penna. Historical Magazine - 1948


  1. ^ Thornton Oakley papers, Delaware Art Museum
  2. ^ Pitz, Henry C. (1968). The Brandywine Tradition. Weathervane Books. p. 119. ISBN 0-517-16431-0. 
  3. ^ Find a Grave Thornton Oakley

See also[edit]