Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

More About Famed Illustrator and Artist Edward Penfield of Pelham Manor

Edward Penfield is considered one of the masters of graphic design. He was a poster artist and illustrator in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He lived in Pelham Manor.  He was a public-minded, spirited citizen of the Village of Pelham Manor who served as Commissioner of Streets and worked tirelessly on mosquito control issues in the early 20th century. 

Edward Penfield was such a revered resident that, shortly after his death it 1925, the Village of Pelham Manor renamed the little stretch of roadway in front of Village Hall (previously known as "Village Place") "Penfield Place" in honor of Edward Penfield.

I have written about Edward Penfield on a number of previous occasions.  Here are links to a few examples:
Below is the text from various Penfield obituaries and a series of articles that include biographical data for Edward Penfield, each followed by a citation to its source.


Automobile Calendar for 1906 By Edward Penfield.
Offset Color Lithograph.  Source:  Library of Congress,
Gift of Mrs. Edward Penfield, 1933 (133.3).

"Edward Penfield Pioneer Poster Illustrator, Dead
Was Leader in Poster Art Field And Did Much Of Liberty Loan Color Work During War.
Edward Penfield, prominent illustrator, and resident of Pelham Manor, where he served as Street Commissioner for the past three years, died Sunday at Beacon.  He was 60 years old.  He was the pioneer in poster work in American magazine illustrating and widely known for his illustrated coaching scenes.  

Born in New York, June 2, 1866, he received his early Art training at the Art Students League, New York City.  He was Art Editor of Harpers Magazine from 1891 to 1901.  

He was recognized by his co-workers in the art field as the father of the Poster Art in this country.  The first poster he made was for Harper's Magazine in 1892 and some of his very best work was his covers for Collier's Weekly, which he did, possibly, prior to or during our entrance into the world war.  He also made posters for the food administration and the Liberty Loan.  

His work had a great influence on Commercial Art in this country, and it is regrettable that there is no record in book form so that it would be an everlasting record.

His two noteworthy books are Holland Sketches and Spanish Sketches published by Charles Scribner.  Mr. Penfield was President of the Society of Art Illustrators for three years, 1921 to 1923.

Following his art education in New York he traveled in Europe and after years of experimental work with processes for reproducing illustrations he became art editor of 'Harpers' Monthly,' 'Harpers' Weekly' and 'Harpers' Bazaar' in 1891.  He held that post for ten years and designed all of the posters used in those magazines and also did much illustrating.  In the 23 years since he left Harper's his poster calendars, magazine covers and advertising posters won him considerable reputation here and abroad.  His work was distinguished by boldness of line and warmth of color, and he was a frequent winner in competitions.

He executed the decoration for the breakfast room in Randolph Hall, at Harvard University, and also of the Rochester Country Club.  He published 'Holland Sketches' in 1907 and 'Spanish Sketches' in 1911.

He is survived by his widow, who is daughter of Major Charles A. Walker, of Jackson Avenue, Pelham Manor, and by one son, Walker Penfield, of Ridley Park, Pennsylvania.

The funeral was held Wednesday afternoon at 2 o'clock from the late residence on Jackson avenue, Pelham Manor.  Rev. Lewis G. Leary, pastor of Huguenot Memorial church officiating at the services.  Burial was in Rye Union Cemetery, Rye, N.Y.

Hundreds of business and social acquaintances who knew Mr. Penfield both in Pelham Manor and New York City were present at the simple services conducted Wednesday afternoon in the late home, with Rev. Lewis G. Leary, pastor of Huguenot Memorial Church officiating.

Prominent in the group of mourners were a score or more men of wide prominence in the artistic world.  Among them were Nelson Abbott, Lucius W. Hitchcock, president of the New Rochelle Art Association, Dean Cornwell, president of the Society of 

(Continued on page 10)

Edward Penfield Pioneer Poster Illustrator Dead

(Continued from page 10

Illustrators, Orson Lowell, President of the Artists' Guild of the Authors League; W. J. Beauley, advertising, Norman Price, John Alonzo Williams, Remington Schuyler, F. DeSales Casey, Art Editor of Life, George Brehm, F. S. Monks and Arthur Covey and wife, the latter also an artist.

Pelham Manor village officials, who knew the decceased intimately while he was Street Commissioner attended the funeral in a body.  Among them were President  N. M. Argabrite, Trustees Walter B. Parsons and H. H. Fox, Village Engineer Edward Campbell, Health Officer Dr. A. C. McGuire, Police Captain Philip Gargan, Village Attorney Edgar C. Beecroft, Village Clerk Livingston Leeds, Village Treasurer, John J. Fisher, and Thomas Dooley, Supt. of Streets."

Source:  Edward Penfield Pioneer Poster Illustrator, Dead, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 13, 1925, Vol. 15, No. 50, p. 1, col. 4 & p. 10, col. 5.

"Letters to the Editor

Febraury 13, 1925.

To the Editor of the Pelham Sun.

Sir:  May I add a few words of a more or less personal nature to the admirable article on Edward Penfield in this week's issue?

My acquaintance and consequent friendship with Mr. Penfield extended over some twenty odd years, and I feel qualified to speak of him as a man and an artist.  He was what you would call a square shooter.  There never was any doubt as to where he stood.  If he was your friend, he was your friend all the time and all through.  If he promised anything you could rely on his word, and for that reason it was not easy to get him to promise.  My friendship with Edward Penfield was founded on sincere admiration for him, for his sterling qualities of honesty and straightforwardness.

He was not what you ordinarily would call a genial man.  He was too blunt for that.  But underneath his rather brusque manner, his frank habit of speech, his friends recognized a warm heart and a willingness to help out even at a great personal sacrifice.  I had something to do with the Pelham publicity during the war and Edward Penfield was always ready to lay aside pressing work to lend the mighty assistance of his great talent to the local cause.

As an artist Edward Penfield will take high rank among American illustrators.  While he may be remembered for his wonderful posters, he will long be recognized as the dean of his branch of the profession in America.  His style in art might be compared to that of Nathaniel Hawthorne in literature.  It was original and inimitable because it was an expression of the man.  It could no more be anlayzed than could the magic of Hawthorne's use of words.  Whether it was a plain piece of lettering or an elaborate coaching scene it was unmistakably Penfield.  Nobody who is only slightly familiar with his work could fail to recognize the hand of Edward Penfield in the lettering of the title of 'The Pelham Sun, A Newspaper for the Pelhams,' which greets the eye when your weekly paper is opened.  I stopped Mr. Penfield on Fifth Avenue one day about five years ago and told him I had a favor to ask.  

'I know what you want,' he said, before I had an opportunity to voice my request.  'I'll draw a new heading for the Pelham Sun,' and he did, and there I hope it will stay for many years to come.  He made many illustrations for this paper, Christmas cartoons, pictures for special articles and mosquito drawings.

The swinging sign at the Red Church Corner, painted by Mr. Penfield, adds a quaintly characteristic touch to that picturesque locality.  It is in just the proper key to harmonize with the architecture of the Huguenot Memorial Church and to emphasize the venerable age of the Manor of Pelham.

One of the first commercial drawings Edward Penfield made he did for me.  Not only was his work masterly, but it invariably showed an understanding of the object sought to be attained, and in addition, he brought to it a profound knowledge of the mechanics of reproduction, a knowledge as great as any professional engraver or lithographer.  Mr. Penfield was the idol of the young artist and no aspiring genius ever sought his advice or counsel and was refused.  

A young man located in Cleveland, who has since won a high position in the art world, told me that his great ambition was to meet Edward Penfield and shake his hand.  When he came to New York I called Mr. Penfield on the phone and asked if I might bring the young man to see him.  'Surely,' Mr. Penfield cordially replied, 'bring him right over to the studio.'  We found him getting ready to hitch a team of horses he had bought at auction to one of his collection of old stage coaches.  Walker Penfield towed the decrepit equipage to the top of the hill with his Ford car and the young artist had the exquisite experience of riding through the streets of Pelhham Manor on the box seat of the coach with his eyes glued on the Edward Penfield he had worshipped from afar handling the ribbons.  I have looked in vain for a Penfield drawing of that old stage coach, which ini the days of its glory had travelled many a mile on the Massachusetts roads, being towed up the hill with a Ford at the other end of the rope.

Mr. Penfield made a deep and lasting impression on everybody who had the good fortune to meet him.  His was an unforgettable personality.  Anybody who saw him without knowing who he was would know that he was a genius.  It is sincerely to be hoped that some day a collection of his work will be put in such form that those of us who loved it, and sincerely admired the man and the artist, and appreciated what he meant to American art may be able to secure a copy.


Source:  Letters to the Editor -- EDWARD PENFIELD ARTIST, The Pelham Sun, Feb. 20, 1925, Vol. 15, No. 51, p. 2, cols. 2-3.

"Much of Pelham Manor's Beauty Is Due To Interest of Prominent Artist
The Late Edward Penfield was for Many Years Street Commissioner and Personally Supervised Village Improvements.

Few residents of Pelham Manor who are attracted by the beauty of their community realize that much of the responsibility for this was due to the civic interest of one of America's foremost artists who for many years was in charge of village planning and beautification, as well as personally supervising the construction of roads and supervision of street work.  The late Edward Penfield was well known for his interest in American home life and his service to the Village of Pelham Manor will be remembered for many years to come.

Mr. Penfield acted as Street Commissioner of Pelham Manor for several years prior to his death in 1925.  Although he was busy in his own profession, he never failed to find time for the routine duties of street inspection and it was his greatest delight to boast that he was responsible for a good storm drainage in the village and that he knew how to get rid of mosquitoes.

He was well versed in the historical lore of this section of Westchester County and a few years prior to his death erected a series of markers at important historical points in the village.  Old residents of the village cherished these markers and it is regrettable that the village officials ave not seen fit to continue them, particularly the one at Pelhamdale avenue and the Boston Post Road, describing the intersection as 'The Red Church Corner.'  This sign was only recently removed.  Others marked Colonial avenue and Wolf's Lane.

An interesting biography of Mr. Penfield is published in the Dictionary of American Biography issued this month under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies, by Charles Scribner's Sons.  For the interest of Pelham residents, The Pelham Sun is pleased to publish the biography as follows:

PENFIELD, EDWARD (June 2, 1866-Feb. 8, 1925), illustrator, painter, author, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y.  His father, Josiah, and his grandfather, Henry L. Penfield, came to Rye, N.Y., their forebears from Fairfield, Conn.; his mother, Ellen Locke (Moore) Penfield, was born in England.  Edward Penfield received his elementary education in Brooklyn, but soon left school to become a pupil at the Art Students' League in New York.  After several years of study he became, at the age of twenty-four, the art editor of 'Harper's Magazine,' and shortly, art editor of 'Harper's Weekly' and 'Harper's Bazaar' also.  He served these magazines for more than a decade with great distinction and intelligence, both as editor and as artist, in the former capacity seeking out and encouraging the best talent in the country and directing it into new and interesting channels.  He discovered and befriended many a young and struggling artist and did much to raise the standards of magazine illustration.  In 1901 he resigned his editorships, however, to devote his entire time to art.  He executed a series of mural decorations of outdoor sports in Randolph Hall, Cambridge, Mass., now the property of Harvard University, and in 1903 painted ten panels depicting a fox hunt for the Rochester Country Club.  Commercial work, however, absorbed more and more of his interest and time.  He made a large number of poster designs, by which he is best remembered, and may be cited as the inaugurator of the brief but golden age of poster art in America.  

His work was bold, precise, full of character, and always decorative.  His flat tones of solid color bounded by strongly accented black lines are reminiscent of the work of Nicholson, Beardsley, Steinlen, and Toulouse-Lautrec; there is the same forcefulness, directness, and extreme simplicity of means as in a typical Japanese print.  He was the pioneer in America of this influence.  He retained, however, his individuality; his drawing and even his lettering gear the unmistakable mark of his personality.  His knowledge of old forms of dress and uniforms was accurate to the last buckle; his interest in horses, coaches, and carriages led him into collecting ancient conveyances; his love of felines was as strong as Steinlen's.  His work compels attention by its pleasant pattern and easy readability and sustains interest by its quality of draftsmanship and accuracy of detail.  That his output was 'commercial' and not 'artistic' was largely due to the spirit of the times.

Percival Pollard's 'Posters in Miniature (1896), for which Penfield wrote an introduction, contains fourteen examples of his work, including a self-portrait.  Other designs were collected in 'Country Carts' (1900) and 'The Big Book of Horses & Goats' (1901).  Several illustrated articles contributed to 'Scribner's Magazine' were reprinted in 'Holland Sketches' (1907) and 'Spanish Sketches' (1911).  Other notable magazine contributions include 'The Ancestry of the Coach' (Outing, July 1901) and illustrations for Caspar Whitney's article, 'The Country-Cart of To-Day' (Ibid., June 1900).  Much of his work was done for the Dock Engraving Company of Philadelphia (e.g., an Almanack drawn from Old Farmer's Almanacks, 1918); typical of his book illustrations are those for 'The Dreamers' (1899) by John Kendrick Bangs; his best posters were made for 'Harper's Magazine'; he designed covers for 'Collier's' and 'Harper's Magazine,' and advertising matter issued by the Franklin Press and by the clothing firm of Hart, Schaffner & Marx.

Penfield was married on April 27, 1897, to Jennie Judd Walker, daughter of Maj. Charles A. Walker.  They had two sons, one of whom died in childhood.  He lived most of his married life in Pelham Manor, N. Y.  He was quiet, modest, unassuming, and retiring to the point of secretiveness.  In matters of dress he was as precise as in his work.  His health was not strong, though, paradoxically, his art was always robust.  He died in Beacon, N. Y.

Note:  A small collection of Penfield's work is preserved at the Memorial High School, Pelham, N. Y.  Reproductions appear in 'Am. Art by Am. Artists, One Hundred Masterpieces' (1914); 'The Pageant of America' (1927, vol. XII; F. C. Brown, 'Letters and Lettering' (1902).  For comment and biographical material see 'Am. Art Annual,' vols. XX (1923-24), XXII (1925); C. B. Davis, 'Edward Penfield and His Art,' 'Critic,' Mar. 1899; 'Internat. Studio,' XXV (1905), xxvi-xxvii, XXVI (1905), lv - lx; C. M. Price, 'The Cat and the Poster,' 'Arts and Decoration,' Sept. 1912; Frank Weitenkampf, 'Am. Graphic Art,' (1924); 'Who's Who in America,' 1924-25; S. R. Jones, in 'Studio' (London), July 15, 1925; 'N. Y. Times, Feb. 9, 10, 1925; 'Art News,' Feb. 14, 1925.  Information for the foregoing was also derived from his family and friends, and from the editors of 'Harper's Magazine.'"

Source:  Much of Pelham Manor's Beauty Is Due To Interest of Prominent Artist, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 14, 1934, p. 4, cols. 1-2.  

"Quality of Good Work Always Prevailed In Poster Designs Of Edward Penfield, Artist
Former Pelham Manor Man Had a Personality in His Sketches That Defied Imitation Posters Told Of Pleasant Pursuits

Writing in the March issue of The Poster, national journal of poster advertising and poster art, Matlack Price, gives a brief sketch of the late Edward Penfield of Pelham Manor.  In his article, Mr. Price says:

'It is not as though we had too many poster designers of the first rank -- that we should lose Edward Penfield, who dies on February 9th, at his home in Pelham, N. Y. And the loss of Edward Penfield, the man, could not be replaced by any number of artists, however brilliant their attainments.

'It is of Penfield the man that I would write first -- of the many who, with all his fame, never grew too important to show his interest in things that other people were doing, who, with all his work, was never too busy to give advice and encouragement to students.  Nor, in the years it was my privilege to know him, did I ever hear him speak disparagingly of the work of another artist -- a bad habit, by the way, which far too many young artists allow themselves to fall into.  A man of vigorous and positive personality, one of Penfield's greatest charms lay in his quiet modesty.  He never held forth vehemently on what he believed to be the matter with advertising art in America, or told you how good his own work was (an unfortunate habit even of many able men who should know better) -- he quietly went on trying to make advertising art better by doing his own work as well as he could, and he was perfectly willing to let others appraise its merit.

'I first met Penfield when I was writing my book on posters, and will never forget his kind interest or his modest helpfulness toward a man so much younger than himself.  I had been collecting examples of his work for some years and he could see that I was sincerely interested in it.  And when I asked him for a few examples that I had never been able to secure, he found as many of them as he could for me and neither directly or indirectly suggested any changes in selections for the chapter I was preparing or asked to see the text before publication.  That was very characteristic of the man.  

'Of the artist, I wrote then, in 1911, an estimate of his work which needed no changing in the later revised edition.  Penfield had and maintained all the strength of a fine, strong tradition in the field of poster design, and his work in the past ten years simply confirmed his position.  Younger artists were doing things more showy, more brilliant, perhaps, but no one was doing anything better.

'There was always a quality of good taste in Penfield's work, from first to last -- a quality on which he seems never to have allowed any compromise to be made.  The people in his posters, beginning with the famous old Harper's series of the early '90's, were always people of good breeding.  His posters 'all tell their story and suggest, as well, the various pleasant pursuits of pleasant people.'  This element was always to be felt in Penfield posters.

'It is fortunate that some of Penfield's most interesting work in color has been preserved in the two books called 'Holland Sketches' and 'Spanish Sketches,' and if a more general collection of his work can be assembled as a permanent inspiration to students for all time, the annals of American art will be greatly enriched.

'Throughout his long career, the range of Penfield's work varied in technique rather than in feeling, and in the last year he returned in some measure to a finer development of his earlier manner.

'When he taught poster design at the Art Students' League in New York a few years ago, he taught it with the clear, direct simplicity with which he must always have approached his own work, and his students produced work of far above average merit.

'Constantly apparent in his drawings was Penfield's intense interest in old vehicles of all kinds, especially stage coaches, and his collection of actual specimens at his country place at Pelham Manor represents, without doubt, an absolutely unique hobby.  There was always true artistry in the accuracy with which Penfield could delineate the details of carriage construction and harness without sacrificing the broad effect of his paintings or impairing their essentially esthetic qualities.

'Retrospectively considered, it is not to be questioned but that Mr. Penfield's work in the poster field from its earliest beginnings, has been of significance unequaled by that of any one other designer.  There were never any retrograde periods, or even intervals of inactivity, in his constant and untiring presentation of drawing after drawing -- each one of which had its effect on the gradual upward trend of commercial art in America -- each one of which as a shot fired in a steadily winning battle.

'There will never be another Penfield -- and his style is too personal, too individual, ever to be successfully copied.  He has left behind him so much fine work, and so much of the spirit of a sincere artiest as can be expected when any painter lays down his brushes for the last time -- indeed; he has left behind him far more than most men have to leave.  His memory will always be as fresh and as full of inspiring personality as though he were still among us.'"

Source:  Quality Of Good Work Always Prevailed In Poster Designs Of Edward Penfield, Artist, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 20, 1925, Vol. 16, No. 3, p. 5, cols. 1-3.  


The memory of Edward Penfield will be preserved especially by Pelhamites.  Following the suggestion of Remington Schuyler made last week in the Pelham Sun, there have been many responses to the plan to provide a permanent memorial to the Pelham artist at the Art Center.

Those who are interested in aiding the work should communicate with John Clyde Oswald, of Pelham Manor who is interesting himself in the Penfield Memorial.  Mr. Oswald is the president of the endowment fund of the Art Center."

Source:  THE PENFIELD MEMORIAL, The Pelham Sun, Mar. 26, 1926, Vol. 17, No. 4, p. 2, col. 2. 

"To Rename Village Place In Honor Of Edward Penfield

William R. Montgomery, of the Esplanade, appeared before the Pelham Manor board of trustees, Monday night and suggested that the Board consider the advisability of renaming Village Place and designating it in future as Penfield Place in honor of the late William Penfield [sic], famous artist and former Street Commissioner, who died a few months ago.  'It seems some recognition should be given of the time and efforts Mr. Penfield gave for the village, and I would strongly urge the village board to name this street Penfield Place,' Mr. Montgomery told the Board.  

It was pointed out in the course of Mr. Montgomery's talk that Mr. Penfield had never exacted a fee while in office, had strongly advocated the village executive buildings and was largely responsible for their becoming a reality, having drawn all the designs for the later improvement.

President Henry H. Fox told Mr. Montgomery that the Board will think about his suggestion and take definite action later."

Source:  To Rename Village Place in Honor Of Edward Penfield, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 12, 1925, p. 3, col. 1.


Mrs. Edward Penfield

Jennie Walker Penfield, former leader in Pelham social and civic circles, died yesterday in Swarthmore (Pa.) Hospital.  she was the widow of Edward Penfield, who died about 25 years ago.  

Mrs. Penfield lived for many years at 185 Jackson Avenue, Pelham Manor, moving to Swarthmore a year and a half ago to make her home with her son, Walker Penfield.  While in Pelham she was active in the Manor Club and was a member of Huguenot Memorial Church and its women's societies.  

Her son is the only survivor."

Source:  Obituaries -- Mrs. Edward Penfield, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Jul. 15, 1950, p. 2, col. 1.  

"Pierce Arrow" by Edward Penfield.
Pen, Ink and Watercolor on Paper, Ca. 1907.
Source:  Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division,
LC-USZC4-4711, or LC-USZC4-1205.

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