Intrepid Women: Annie E. Hoyle

Pen and ink drawing by USDA Forest Service artist Annie E Hoyle 1851-1931

Annie E. Hoyle created this rendering of Balsamorhiza sagittate for the USDA Forest Service, one of over 500 pen and ink botanical illustrations she produced for the agency between 1908 and 1930. The variety of stipple and line textures in this wildflower image are very subtle and delicate. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service Collection, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed about the Native Tree Portfolio project for the RBGE diploma is the opportunity to learn all kinds of interesting and unexpected things. While researching images of the piñon pine for the art history paper component of the portfolio, I discovered the work of a US Forest Service artist, Annie Elizabeth Hoyle.

Photo of the USDA Forest Service Engineering Staff in 1924.

The Engineering staff of the Washington Office, US Forest Service, March 1924. Photo from US Forest Service Headquarters History Collection at the Forest History Society. Botanical illustrator Annie Elizabeth Hoyle is the woman in the bottom left hand corner of the photo. Formidable!

Annie E. Hoyle was a remarkable woman. Born in West Virginia in 1851, she studied under George H. Story at the National Academy of Design in New York, followed by studies in human anatomy and anatomical drawing at London’s Royal Academy of Art, then studied two more years in Paris and Luxembourg. She also studied plant morphology and botany under Joseph Painter at the US National Museum (now Smithsonian) and Ivar Tidestrom at the Bureau of Plant Industry. She began working for the USDA Forest Service in 1908, when she was in her late 50s, and continued working until 1930, requesting and receiving five deferments to her final retirement. During her tenure at the Forest Service, “Mrs. Hoyle”, as she was known, was the preferred staff artist of scientists such as George B. Sudworth. She died in 1931.

Amorpha occidentalis, a North American wildflower, rendered in pen and ink by USDA Forest Service botanical illustrator, Annie E Hoyle

Notice the variety of textures and “colors” made by the linear ink hatching. Amorpha occidentalis, by Annie E. Hoyle. Photo credit:  USDA Forest Service Collection, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.

Such a minimal outline for a life serves only to whet the imagination! Allow me to speculate wildly about this most intrepid woman.

How does a 19th-century girl get from West Virgina to studying at the National Academy of Design in New York? Very few women in that era were able to pursue higher studies in art, and certainly not at the most elite schools in American and Europe. One such woman was the formidable Impressionist Mary Cassatt, but she was born into an extremely wealthy and socially prominent Main Line Philadelphia family. Wealthy and socially progressive families were rather thin on the ground in Charleston, WV, Hoyle’s home town.

Unlike Mary Cassatt or Berthe Morisot, both of whom painted warm domestic subject matter of women and children, or Rosa Bonheur, who specialized in Romantic portraits of animals, Annie E Hoyle studied anatomical art and advanced botany, balancing science and art.

And what about her name? There is only one family name recorded for Annie E. Hoyle. She was known as “Mrs. Hoyle” at the US Forest Service offices, but there is no record of a maiden name. Did she assume the honorific “Mrs.” while studying in Europe in order to avoid the harassment that single women traveling and living alone almost certainly faced at that time? Did she use the title after a divorce?

North American wildflower Amelanchier alnifolia. Botanical illustration for the USDA Forest Service by Annie E Hoyle and James M Shull

Amelanchier alnifolia, pen and ink botanical illustration by Annie E Hoyle with James M Shull. The illustrations in the USDA Forest Service Collection are pen and ink working drawings. Here you can see the adhesive tape, editorial corrections, printer’s instructions and other records of the publishing process. Photo credit: USDA Forest Service Collection, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA.

The fact that she worked until she was nearly 80 indicates that she had no family to care for her in her old age. Did she have children and a husband at some point, but outlived them all? That’s a definite possibility in that era. Perhaps she was the spinster daughter and sister of her family, estranged due to her eccentric and stubborn choice of an artistic career?

I hope you enjoyed learning about Annie E. Hoyle, a most intrepid and strong-minded woman! What do you think about her work and life story? Leave your thoughts in the comments! 🙂

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