Henry Pitz, American (1895 - 1976)

Henry Pitz

The following was written by Mary "Molly" Wheeler Wood Pitz, widow of the artist, Spring 1988

HENRY C. Pitz was the only child of Anna Rosina (nee Steiffel) and Henry William Pitz. His mother's close knit family had emigrated from Lake Constance in southern Germany at mid-century; his father had trained as a bookbinder in Munich, before moving to Philadelphia in the 1880s to open his own bookbindery and leather workshop. Soon after, he met and married Anna, and they set up housekeeping next door to her family at 29th and Poplar streets.

Their son Henry Clarence, born June 16, 1895, demonstrated a talent for drawing. He became an avid fan of Howard Pyle's work, and as a youngster he and a close friend, Walter Kumme, spent considerable time in the studio of Walter's uncle, illustrator Julius Kumme. Although the family planned for their gifted son to attend William Penn Charter School and the school of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, Henry W. Pitz died unexpectedly and his business partner embezzled money from the firm. This forced Anna Pitz to make other plans for young Henry's education.

She sent him to local schools, one of which was Central Manual School, and enrolled him in art lessons on Saturday mornings. In 1914 he was graduated from West Philadelphia High School, winning both a history prize and a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art at Broad and Pine streets.

At the museum school Henry began studying with former Pyle student Thornton Oakley and subsequently with other Pyle students-Walter Everett, Maurice Bower, Harvey Dunn, and George Harding, all of whom lectured at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts as well. He also met the famous women students of Pyle's Chadds Ford and Wilmington studios: Violet Oakley, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Charlotte Harding, and Elizabeth Shippen Green.

When not in classes Henry took every opportunity to attend theatre, ballet, concerts, lectures, and exhibits. But World War I interfered. In 1917, his last year at the art school, he enlisted in the Army Medical Corps as an X-ray technician assigned to Base Camp 56, Allerey, France, assisting Colonel Coates, a Philadelphia surgeon, in the operating room. He also continued to sketch in his spare time. Following the armistice in November 1918, he accompanied Colonel Coates and Captain Sheldon on an inspection tour of Luxembourg and Alsace-Lorraine and filled a sketchbook with pictures of the ravages of war.

Returning to Philadelphia unscathed and anxious to commence his career, Henry initially taught other veterans at the school he had left a few years earlier. In 1920, he showed his portfolio to art editors of several New York publishing houses and came back to Philadelphia with a commission to illustrate John Bennett's Master Skylark. This was the first of more than 250 projects he undertook during the next five decades.

A new facet of his career opened in 1928. Century Company invited Henry and Edward Warwick to both write and illustrate a book. The book, "Early American Costume", filled an important gap in the literature for illustrators and became a valuable reference tool that is still used today. That was the first of eighteen books that Henry wrote. Most of the others were "how-to" books aimed at the art students, such as The Practice of Illustration, Drawing Trees, Pen, Brush and Ink, How to Use the Figure, A Treasury of American Book Illustration, and Illustrating Children's Books, but among the later ones were broadly interpretive essays that drew on his breadth of experience and wealth of information, such as The Brandywine Tradition.

Less than a decade after writing his first book, Henry joined American Artist, a monthly magazine published in New York under the guidance of editors Arthur Guptill and Ernest Watson, and later Norman Kent and Susan Meyer. As an associate editor and writer, during the next forty years Henry contributed numerous articles about illustrators, printmakers, advertising artists, and painters - American and European.

Yet another aspect of Henry's career was teaching. In 1934, Edward Warwick, then Dean at the museum school, asked Henry to head the newly formed Department of Pictorial Expression. Henry accepted. For twenty-six years he trained, inspired, and encouraged many of the finest illustrators of the day, including Joseph and Beth Krush, Helen and William Hamilton, Sidney Goodman, Edward Smith, Albert Gold, Howard Womer, Edward Michener, Fred de p. Rothermel, Ranulph Bye, Isa Barnett, Paul Keene, Jacob Landau, and Howard Watson.

His colleagues were a host of talented artists-Earle Horter, John Lear, Ben Eisenstat, John Geiszel, Edward Shenton, Ben Solowey, and William Emerton Heitland-and distinguished artists, publishers and editors whom Henry and fellow faculty members invited to lecture. These years were exciting and stimulating for illustrators and rivaled the turn-of-the-century spirit of Howard Pyle's school. Henry's long standing admiration for Pyle served him well; artistically he was a self-conscious descendent of that vital group.

An active and committed artist, Henry belonged to the Philadelphia Sketch Club, the Philadelphia Watercolor Club, the Art Alliance of Philadelphia, in addition to the Salmagundi and Society of Illustrators in New York. In 1950 he was elected to the National Academy of Design. He exhibited widely, for which he won many prizes for his watercolors, prints, drawings, and illustrations, and willingly served as a frequent juror for art exhibitions.

By the 1960s Henry had demonstrated considerable insight in his studies of the art and artists of the Philadelphia and Brandywine regions. His enduring interest in the Wyeths, led Lovell Thompson, then editor-in-chief at Houghton, Mifflin and Company in Boston, to commission him to write The Brandywine Tradition, published in 1969. The book remained on the best seller list a remarkable ten weeks because it struck a responsive cord with a public that was appreciative of the worth and vitality of native talent. Three years later Clarkson Potter, Inc., a New York Publishing house, commissioned him to write Howard Pyle: Writer, Illustrator, Founder of the Brandywine Tradition which was published in 1975.

Honors followed honors. Henry was granted a fellowship at the Huntington Hartford Foundation near Los Angeles. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration asked him to be one of the artists who recorded the Apollo launch to the moon from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in May 1969. The following year Henry was invited to join the Franklin Inn, an old, distinguished literary club in Philadelphia whose members were and are leaders in the fields of education, journalism, and the arts and sciences. He accepted with pleasure and lunched there on the days he taught at the art school-by then called the Philadelphia College of Art. The following year, 1971, Ursinus College conferred a Doctorate of Letters on him and the Philadelphia Athenaeum awarded him a prize for The Brandywine Tradition.

In 1935, Henry had married Molly Wood in Chestnut Hill. During most of their married life they lived in Plymouth Meeting, where they raised two children, Juha Leaming Pitz Handy Barringer and Henry William Pitz II. Henry and Molly enjoyed forty-one years of a rich and varied life filled with pictures, books, music, friends, family, and travel, both abroad and in the western United States. Henry's last year of life was busy with two one-man shows, and writing the text for 200 Years of American Illustration. He was working on a painting the day before he died in his eighty first year, November 26, 1976, revered and beloved by his many friends and family.

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