Rockwell Museum

Corning,. NY



Frank E. Schoonover's Ojibway Indian Spearing the Maskenozha (Pike) Joins Rockwell Museum Collection

A painting by illustrator Frank E. Schoonover (1877 - 1972) has joined the Rockwell Museum collection. Ojibway Indian Spearing the Maskenozha (Pike), painted in 1923, is the first work by this artist to join the collection. It served as a cover illustration for the December 2, 1923, issue of Popular Magazine, and for a 1928 work edited by Oliver G. Swan, Frontier Day. This beautiful painting has been in private hands since the 1920s, and it has not been publicly exhibited.

This work is an unusually fine example not only of Schoonover's best work but of the genre of early twentieth-century popular illustration that he epitomized. Within the artist's own body of work, there are many compositions of lone figures in canoes engaged in some sort of struggle. This particularly good example captures the tension of imminent action.

Right: Frank E. Schoonover (1877 - 1972), Ojibway Indian Spearing the Maskenozha (Pike), 1923, oil on canvas, 40 1/4 x 30 1/2 inches, Clara S. Peck Fund Purchase.

With the singleness of narrative purpose characteristic of the best illustrations, everything in this composition focuses on the drama at hand. The gaze of the Indian, the angle of his spear, even the convergence of the canoe and its reflection all point to the unseen quarry at the waterline. The ornamented birchbark canoe is richly painted and has a vibrancy that helps to keep the focus of attention in the foreground - an effective illustrator's device. The sky and background blend indistinctly with the reflective water, and do not in any way detract the viewer's attention from the intense focus of the Indian himself upon the water.

Although prepared for reproduction, this work bears no sign of hasty conception or execution. It is generously painted and suggests the confident familiarity of the artist with the subject of a figure in a canoe. The Indian is a type rather than a portrait - suggesting the outdoor skills, the determination, and the strong and noble physique that were all part of the popular stereotype of Native Americans in the 1920s. The palette displays the wealth of jewel-like warm and cool hues popularized by master illustrators Howard Pyle and Schoonover's contemporary N.C. Wyeth.

Frank Schoonover was a Pennsylvanian whose career centered on book and magazine illustration. He studied extensively with illustrator-teacher Howard Pyle, and worked in a wide range of media. He produced easel paintings and murals later in his career, and wrote fiction to accompany some of his own illustrations. By the end of his career, Schoonover had illustrated most of the great classics and stories for such periodicals as Harper's and Scribner's. By the 1930s, he had made a gradual transition to easel painting, never losing sight of the value of the imaginative, dramatic, narrative element in art.

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This page was originally published 10/12/98 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 11/28/11

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