New Castle County Courthouse: The Artisan
H. Fletcher Brown Vocational High School Mural
The Artist - Frank Earle Schoonover
Frank Earle Schoonover (1877-1972) was a renowned artist and illustrator of the Golden Age of Illustration (1880-1930). He lived and worked in Wilmington for seventy-four years, his house being on Bancroft Parkway and his studio at 1616 North Rodney Street, a few blocks from his mentor Howard Pyle. He was a student of Howard Pyle both at Drexel and as a scholarship winner at Mr. Pyle's summer school beginning in 1898. That Pyle summer school produced the Brandywine School of Art which is recognized as the foremost group of illustrators in the country during the"Golden Age of Illustration."
Beginning in 1898, Schoonover illustrated books and magazines at an amazing rate. During the course of his career he produced more than 2500 documented work of art, illustrating over 150 books and hundreds of magazines. With the reduced demand for illustrations during the late 1930's and early 1940's, Schoonover turned to teaching, establishing his own school of art in his studio on Rodney Street. He taught both adults and children from 1938 to 1968, influencing several generations of Delaware artists. In addition during those years, he concentrated on landscape painting and art restoration. He also took on commissions for specific works including the H. Fletcher Brown Vocational High School mural. Through this mural, Schoonover hoped to inspire the students of the school where they trained for the professions depicted in the mural.
At the end of his life, Schoonover was considered the "Dean of Delaware Artists," and is still called that today. Schoonover's influence on the arts and life of Delaware is exemplified not only in the large numbers of his works still resident in the private, corporate, museum, and public collections in the state of Delaware, but also by the efforts of so many individuals connected with this mural and its preservation.
The Mural - "The Artisan"
The mural is painted with a central panel depicting figures practicing various trades and crafts and flanking panels containing explanatory text.
The Commission - Schoonover first met with H. Fletcher Brown, vice president of the DuPont Company and local Delaware benefactor, on January 11, 1938. A follow up interview was held on February 15. Schoonover submitted his proposal for the Central Panel on March 3 and it was accepted on March 7. The proposal sketches were done in charcoal on tracing paper mounted on board. Using lantern slides, the sketches were later projected onto the canvas at the Immanuel Episcopal Parish House in mid-June 1938. On June 20, the canvas was moved to Schoonover's Studio at 1616 Rodney Street where the canvas was painted. On September 6, 1938, the canvas was removed from its stretchers and subsequently installed over fresh plaster in the school by C. G. Schaller of Philadelphia. On September 14, after Mr. and Mrs. Brown toured the school, Mr. Brown wrote:
I think the mural is magnificent. It is very difficult, however, for the observer to realize the merit in the picture due to the fact that all points of view are too close. Such a beautiful painting ought to be seen from a suitable distance. It is, of course, out of the questions to remedy this defect in the location. Owing to the intimate contact of the pupils I had urged that a railing be put along the front to protect the mural, and have been assured that this will be done as soon as possible.
The school and mural were dedicated on November 2, 1938.>
The Central Panel - The central panel of the H. Fletcher Brown mural depicts the central figures of the "painter-sculptor and the Creative Spirit who ever holds a lamp of learning." They are surrounded by men and women in Medieval dress practicing a number of trades and crafts. From left to right, the figures include a dyer with dye vats and fabric, an alchemist with his books and pots, a sailing ship, ironworkers constructing a gate, musicians, a woman embroidering, a painter depicting the muse on canvas, an architect with compass, a goldsmith, a plowman, a master printer and his apprentices, a carpenter and masons building a cathedral and a worker in stained glass.
Many of the crafts represented in the mural played an important role in Delaware in 1938. The chemist and dyer were tributes to the rise of the chemical industry in the state. The printer and his apprentices "are at work preserving for the future, the thought records of the past." The ploughman represents the strong agricultural industry of the state as the ship shows Delaware's position in shipping. The architect, carpenter and masons illustrate the strength of the building trades, while the painter, embroiderer, goldsmith and worker of stained glass represent the cultural resources of the state. Perhaps most importantly, the children depicted in the lower right corner represent the future of craftsmanship (the boy) and the joy of achievement (the girl). They symbolize Schoonover's faith in the future of Delaware and the students to be educated in the school.
The Flanking Panels - The flanking panels were part of the original proposal but were not begun until January 1939. They function as illuminated manuscripts designed to explain the central panel. The panels are also excellent example of Schoonover's skills as a calligrapher,
The left hand panel describes"The Mural". Throughout the panel are illuminated letters and depictions of some of the mentioned craftspeople at work. The text reads as follows:
Arts and Crafts of Medieval Age
Prophetic of the Skills & Culture that can be achieved in a Vocational School through the relationship of the Master Craftsman and the Pupil Apprentice.
Visualization of the ARts & Crafts brings one · first · to a Dye worker drawing hand woven cloth from a vat of color An Alchemist amid crucibles and retorts ponders over a Latin treatise on Chemistry In the background Musicians play to the rhythmic hammering of Iron Masters who are building a fence & gates that open to the commerce of the world · A Sailing Ship beyond is set to carry a cargo to a distant city This is indicative also of the crafts of Navigation an Cartography.
The Guild of Tapestry & Weaving is shown by a Woman who fashions a picture of her Knight + a gesture to Chivalry
The left hand panel continues to depict some crafts and concludes with a depiction of "The Procession of the Guilds". The text explains more of the mural as follows:
Central standing figures portray the meeting of a Painter-Sculptor and the Creative Spirit who ever holds a lamp of learning In front of them an Architect plans a building and a Goldsmith holds an ornamental figure for its decoration. Beyond close to an iris-bordered stream the Master Printer & apprentice are at work preserving for the future the thought records of the past The silhouette of a Ploughman leads one toward a village where live the folk and the Craftsmen who are building a Cathedral. Down the rising walls a Mason drops a plumb and in front are the Carpenter and apprentice. Near him the Master Worker in Leaded Glass holds before a young helper a section of the design that pictures the Prophet Isaias The effulgence that falls upon the boy is symbolic of his future craftsmanship. Back of the windowmaker is the rainbow of promise & before him a little girl adds the note of Joy which should be a part of all achievement.
When the H. Fletcher Brown Vocational High School closed and was slated for demolition in 1980, a member of the Vo-Tech School Board had the mural appraised and later demolition was delayed to allow the mural to be removed by conservator Timothy Jayne. The mural was removed to the Twistback Conservation Center where it has been relined and partially cleaned. Immediate plans are to construct an aluminum stretcher for the 7 foot by 24 foot canvas. After stretching, a conservation will be completed. Eventually, plans call for the mural and flanking panels to be installed at the proposed New Castle County Vocational-Technical High School. In the interim, the mural, once restored, should be displayed to the public.
When removed from the building just prior to demolition in 1980,the mural was professionally appraised and its condition judged to be "good". Hundreds of students passed this mural daily and it survived most onslaughts from budding "artists" armed with pen or pencil who sought to "improve" upon the original work.
The H. Fletcher Brown Vocational High School Mural was Schoonover's attempt to inspire and instruct the students of the school. The figures depicted in the mural represent not only the medieval craftsmen of the painting, but also the legacy of craftsmanship, pride and honor of profession that they bequeath to future practitioners. The importance of this mural to the students of the school can be seen in the activism of the members of the Class of 1950 in researching the mural and advocating for its preservation. It can also be seen in the condition of the mural.
This impressive mural was made for the students and citizens of Delaware and represents the industries and the working men and women of our state. Such a work of art form a prominent Delaware artist deserves both preservation and display for public appreciation and education. The frank e. Schoonover Fund, the non-profit organization dedicated to the art of Frank E. Schoonover wholeheartedly supports and appreciates all the efforts to bring this to fruition.
The above information has been prepared by LeeAnn Dean, Research Director of the Frank E. Schoonover Fund, Inc. The Frank E. Schoonover Fund, Inc. is not-for-profit organization dedicated to increasing the appreciation and understanding of American Illustration through educational programs and supporting the research and the work of the artist and illustrator Frank E. Schoonover.
The Frank E. Schoonover Fund, Inc. P.O. Box 3686, Greenville, DE 19807-0686, 302-656-9131.
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