Thornton Oakley illustration for "Harper's Monthly Magazine" (1905): beautifully framed antique


The Steam Shovel Takes up a Ton of Coal at a Time
    Illustration for “Toilers of the River”
         by the Artist 
    Illustrations by Thornton Oakley
    Harper's Monthly Magazine. December 1905 Issue
    Vol. 112.

    Image Size: H 8.25” x W 5.75”
    Matted & Framed:  H 16.00” x W 13.50”
    Framed Price: $225.00  
    Packaging and shipping
       approximately $22.00

TO returned to Philadelphia after graduating from Howard Pyle’s school for illustrators (in Wilmington, Delaware) in 1905. Soon he was busy writing and illustrating articles for Harper’s Monthly Magazine. His article “Toilers of the River,” which appeared in the magazine’s February 1906 issue, may have been his first published work.

Clearly Harper’s liked Pyle and his students. Pyle’s pirate story, “Fate of a Treasure-Town,” was the opening story in the magazine’s December issue. The piece ran with four full-color illustrations - something seldom scene. Its April 1906 issue opened with a full color frontispiece from Warwick Deeping’s “Tiphanie le Fee.” The artist who created this striking picture was Pyle student Elizabeth Shippen Green. A second four-color illustration accompanied the story in the middle of the issue.

TO began his “Toilers of the River” story with these lines: “I stood upon the great steel bridge which spans the Monongahela and was bathed in an atmosphere of smoke. A strange, red haze lay like a veil upon the valley.” This was Pittsburg in its heydays as an industrial center during the great manufacturing expansion of the late19th/early-20th centuries.

TO was from Pittsburg. As an artist, he relished its scenery, which featured an “oil river” lined by blast furnaces “pouring out volumes of red ore dust.” He drew its “networks of railroad tracks” on which “locomotives were shifting ceaselessly back and forth with shrieking whistles and the clang of bells.” 

In "The Steam Shovel," the artist captures the city's grimy bustle. I particularly like its congested, chaotic geometry. Everything is in slow relentless motion, like the building of the nation. Probably because TO was a novice artist, Harper’s did not reproduce his illustrations in color as it did for the pictures produced by HP and ESG. But it did print them in an ochre tint that drew its readers' attention. This picture is a three-color halftone printed in high resolution, which increased its clarity by minimizing its pixel size.

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