The Museum receives new acquisition for Illustration collection
February 1, 2016
In March 1933, a headline in the Wilmington Morning News announced: “Give Priceless Art and Museum Site to Local Society.” The article detailed the offer, made on behalf of the estate of collector Samuel Bancroft by his widow, son, and daughter, of “an unrivaled collection” of British Pre-Raphaelite art and related books and manuscripts to the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts. Allied with this gift was the offer of several acres of land on Park Drive (now Kentmere Parkway) on which to build a museum. The gift of the Bancroft Collection was conditional upon the erection of a museum on the land within five years. The museum, the newspaper noted, would also house the Society’s collection of paintings and drawings by Wilmington-born Howard Pyle (1853–1911), whose works of illustration art comprised the Society’s founding collection in 1912.
George T. Maxwell’s drawing of illustrator and Pyle student Frank Schoonover gesturing to wrapped Pre-Raphaelite paintings and urging contributions to the Society appeared in the February 6, 1935 issue of Wilmington’s Journal-Every Evening newspaper. Schoonover’s appeal to the community for support of the museum to be built for the unique Pre-Raphaelite collection is unmistakably clear and imperative. Maxwell balanced his mild caricature of Schoonover’s physique with a convincing likeness of the artist. He further personalized Schoonover with a smoking pipe and the formal attire of the period, along with a serious demeanor and sure-footed resolve. The campaign was successful and the Delaware Art Center opened on June 6, 1938. In 1972, the Center was renamed the Delaware Art Museum.
After 1935, Schoonover, whose first work was published in 1899, continued his robust career as an illustrator until 1955. He also exhibited his work and remained involved with the Museum, its teaching program, and the wider art community until shortly before his death in 1972. His grandson John R. Schoonover, the donor of the drawing, was instrumental in saving his grandfather’s historic studios on Rodney Street from demolition. Today he is curator of Schoonover Studios, Ltd., a gallery and study center in studios #1 and #2 at 1616 North Rodney Street.
“Gee Tee” George Maxwell (1889–1965) was a cartoonist and illustrator who contributed to Wilmington newspapers and Delaware-themed publications in the 1920s and 30s. He was editor of the Newark, Delaware Ledger. His work also appeared in other cities’ newspapers.
Mary F. Holahan
Curator of Illustration/Curator of Outlooks Exhibitions