It’s definitely possible that this image has the longest title of any that I’ve done so far, and undoubtedly will take me several Tweets to promote. That won’t be confusing at all, but then again, I suppose you are actually here.
I’ve been thinking of trying out one of Howard Pyle’s works for some time, but they’re kind of difficult to come by online. For someone of Pyle’s stature, having taught, been friends with and overall influencing at least a couple of generations of artists, that’s a big surprise.
A Wolf Had Not Been Seen in Salem for Thirty Years (above, from 1909) struck me as a fascinating piece as soon as I saw it. There are quite a few of Pyle’s works that I find interesting, and this one certainly stands out. For me, it stands out because of the many things Pyle doesn’t do here.
There are plenty of Pyle’s works that are more aggressive, more forward in either their content or in the pure visual setting of the pieces. Do a search for Attack on the Chew House or even his far more famous work The Nation Makers to see images that are very strong, practically dripping with emotion and strength.
Pyle seemed to have been split between works that are highly engaging, full of energy and action, and works that are quiet, subtle, and speak in a low volume. Having been an illustrator for some time, that certainly makes sense, as the art is driven by the story and thus, drives the portfolio as well.
A Wolf Had Not Been Seen in Salem for Thirty Years falls definitely into the latter camp. It’s far more subtle, far quieter within the image itself. But I think that’s deceptive. Laid within the quiet confines of this image is a violent trap just waiting to be sprung.
Pyle’s image is rather sparse, between the snow and the cloudy sky he leaves the viewer’s eye to latch onto the people and the wolf. Your eye falls upon the people in the front, and the mix of fear and of the unknown is very strong here. Pyle creates his people, the landscape and even the tree with a sense of direction, all bringing your eye to the wolf.
Illustrators can really vary as to how they’d deal with a creature like the wolf. But I think no amount of gore, or bared teeth or monstrous form are going to top Pyle’s wolf. This is a creature of pure malevolence, and in Pyle’s subtlety he’s speaks volumes.
He doesn’t need the over-the-top horror to make a striking figure. Just the wolf’s bowed head, his menacing lean forward, his matted, dark fur against the white of the snow, all make it such a powerful darkness invading the light that the viewer can fill in the story themselves.
Pyle here does what any good, creepy horror movie or scary book can do. It’s not about showing everything, not about explaining every detail. It’s the terrible, quiet invasion by a creature of the dark, evil come to the light.