Monday, November 22, 2010

The Frank J. Reilly Papers

Photo of John Ennis by Kyle Cassidy

Pennsylvanian portraitist John Ennis has recently been made custodian of a collection of documents rightfully considered to be a national art treasure.  The nine boxes currently in his charge contain the hand-written teaching notes of Frank J. Reilly, one of the most influential American art teachers of the twentieth century.  Though several institutions have expressed interest in the papers, they indicated that the thousands of pages of notes, should they even be kept intact, would be archived and not readily available to the public.  Ennis, as a member of the Reilly lineage, decided it would be better to freely share these lessons rather than have them officially preserved, but locked away from posterity.

Illustration by Frank Reilly

Although Reilly was an eminent illustrator in his day, it was as a teacher that he was truly exemplary.  The meticulous and logical approach to the craft of painting which Reilly conceived, was influenced by the teachings of the French Académie, and his curriculum proved its effectiveness with astounding consistency.  Students who were able to gain entrance to his highly popular classes were often assured of a successful career, and the list of those pupils provides a veritable "Who's Who" of American art over the past six decades.  Painters who benefitted from Reilly's tutelage directly, or through lessons passed down through his students, include James Bama, Clark Hulings, Robert Schulz, Gerald Allison, Ronnie Lesser, Jack Faragasso, Robert Maguire, Robert Berran, Leonard Starr, Ted Seth Jacobs, Michael Aviano, Apollo Dorian, Doug Higgins, Frank Covino, Morgan Weistling, Fred Fixler, John Asaro, Marvin Mattelson, Shawn Zents, Glen Orbik, Jeffrey Watts, Anthony Ryder, Jacob Collins, Michael Grimaldi, Graydon Parrish, Jeremy Lipking, and many, many more.

"I can teach you the nuts and bolts, but I can't teach you to be creative.  If you are creative,
 you will be able to put these nuts and bolts to work."  -  Frank J. Reilly

The Reilly Papers, Ennis' new blog, will focus on Frank Reilly's system of painting as outlined by the teacher himself.  Alongside each hand-written tutorial posted, Ennis, who was mentored by Jerry Allison, and who was also a student of Schulz, Aviano, and Faragasso, will offer his own explanation of Reilly's notes to help illuminate the thoughts behind each lesson.  This will offer a more direct analysis of Reilly's original method of painting, as it has been unavoidable that his progeny have all taught their own variations of the system based upon personal tastes and their own interpretations.

A sample of Reilly's hand-written teaching notes

Ennis is earnest in his desire to electronically share these documents with artists worldwide, but he knows the web log will be a time-consuming endeavor.  He is afraid that his effort is selfish, and that these notes are of interest only to himself.  If this is a project you would like to see him continue, then please visit The Reilly Papers, and show John Ennis your support.



The Reilly Papers
Frank Reilly:  Revolutionary Teacher by Kent Steine (American Art Archives)
Frank Reilly "Could Teach a Wooden Indian to Paint" by Leif Peng
Leif Peng's Frank Reilly Flickr set
Frank Reilly on Wikipedia
Marvin Mattelson
Frank Vincent DuMond
Photographer Kyle Cassidy




Thanks Matthew, I am going to follow and will spread the word this is great news

M.A. said...

Exciting news.

Harry Dalkins said...

Agh! I need those papers!

David Apatoff said...

This is very exciting news indeed. I will be following the papers closely!

John Ennis said...

Matt, thanks for the post! I've had an overwhelming response. Heartwarming to know there is still an interest in Reilly.

dfrost said...

Thank you. Not quite big enough words, so I'll say it again. Thank you. I will be gratefully following.


dfrost said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
academic said...

What an exciting experience!/Hilarious! Delightful! True!/wonderful stuff! thank you!

oil painting


First - let me salute and pay respect to all those whose great dedication to the fields of Art and Illustration inspires them to keep Frank Reilly's name and contributions alive for future generations.
Almost half a century ago, in 1962, Frank Reilly offered to give a graduating NYC High School student a full scholarship to his famous school located in the Steinway Hall Building on West 57th Street in NYC.
I carried as many of my paintings as I could handle to my interview with Mr. Reilly and as fate would have it, at 16 years of age, I was the youngest art student he ever selected to receive a scholarship.

The atmosphere in the school was one of intense dedication and Mr. Reilly was virtually revered as a Master. When he entered the drawing studio to lecture, always dressed smartly in a dark suit with tie, we were all in awe of his very presence.

How sad there were no pocket recorders in those days to capture those lectures for posterity.
Following the morning drawing class, I attended the afternoon painting class where again there was always a sense of awe as Mr. Reilly circulated around the room from student to student.

Mr. Reilly's very tragic, premature death brought to all of us a sense of shock that for many has lasted a lifetime.

I wonder if anyone has any idea what became of those rare films Mr. Reilly made of his famous contemporary illustrators. If they still exist anywhere in some private collection, it would mean the world to me to get copies of them on VHS or DVD for which I would pay the duping costs.

I am certain there are huge numbers of people who agree that these precious films should be released and shared with posterity.
Perhaps someone can consider this request and act upon it for the benefit of so many people who would be similarly interested.

Looking back fifty years I can say the hours I spent in Frank Reilly's art school in NYC had a profound influence on my subsequent life as an artist. Unlike most of the students who were chiefly interested in becoming first class Illustrators, my own goal was to spend my life studying the methods and techniques of the Old Masters. Following Frank Reilly's death I gravitated to such living Masters as Sidney Dickinson, Edwin Dickinson, Frank Mason, David Leffel, etc. But the experience of working in the "atelier" of Frank J. Reilly was like going back in time and feeling what it must have been like to work in the great Academies of ancient France and Italy in past centuries.

Whether I was successful in my own personal goals to absorb and master the techniques and knowledge of the Old Masters, I will let others decide and judge for themselves.

I tried during my many years as a Teacher, to pass on to my students the sense of deep rooted Dedication that Frank J. Reilly instilled in me as a 16 year old boy, with big dreams, a half century ago.

I regret I never had the chance to say these words to the great man in person.

My work can be seen at
I am represented by PORTRAITS INCORPORATED in NYC.

Congratulations on your splendid web site.

Kindest personal regards, always and hope you can locate those old Frank Reilly films.

Best wishes-
David Pakter

Leonardo Zavala Cuevas said...

i would like to personally thanking you for releasing such an important piece of information for us artist being self taught its worth its weight in gold