Chuck Pyle Reflects on Lessons Learned and Taught in New Exhibition

By Greta Chiocchetti

As an illustration student getting his start at the Academy of Art University, Chuck Pyle never thought he’d be on the other end of the classroom, passing on his own knowledge to the next generation. 

But when he was sought out by his alma mater to staff its rapidly growing Illustration department, he found inspiration in one of his own mentors, former School of Illustration (ILL) Director and illustrator Barbara Bradley, who altered the course of his own career. 

School of Illustration Director Emeritus Chuck Pyle. Photo courtesy of Chuck Pyle.

“I never anticipated that I’d teach,” said Pyle, who went on to do exactly that for the better part of four decades and is currently ILL Emeritus Director at the Academy. “But it was this wonderful surprise that turned out to be incredibly gratifying despite the challenges—the stuff that happens in the moment with a kid in class can literally help shape the next several years of their life.”  

Pyle was invited to take part in the Petaluma Arts Center’s current show, “Integrating Practice: Celebrating Teaching Artists of the North Bay,” which is open now and runs through March 26. The exhibit celebrates teaching artists and examines the impact teaching has on one’s own art, featuring seven North Bay-based artists with careers in teaching at the college level. Also representing the Academy was figurative and landscape painter Chris Newhard, who has been teaching drawing classes in both the School of Fine Art and ILL since 1998. 

Curated by Carin Jacobs, director of the Petaluma Arts Center, and Mary Fassbinder, a Petaluma-based artist, Pyle’s works are showcased alongside nearly 40 other pieces across a variety of disciplines, from sculpture to silk screening to robotics.

“It’s really a strongly diverse show. It represents a lot of different teaching approaches and disciplines, and, certainly, a very wide variety of styles,” said Pyle. “One of the cool things about living here in the Petaluma area is that there are so many divergent and diverse artists and approaches. Many of them teach part-time, if not full-time. So, it enriches being in Sonoma County for everyone, by virtue of what they do.”

For the exhibit, Pyle entered a set of figure drawings as well as two illustrations: a young adult book cover (pictured above) as well as an advertisement he had completed for Nissin Foods, a Japanese food company. 

“They wanted us to choose work that gave a sense of what you do in the classroom, and also professionally,” explained Pyle, who sent in a collection of 10 figure drawings in honor of the figure drawing classes he taught at the Academy from 1979 until his retirement in 2021. 

For many students, learning to draw the human form can be particularly challenging, but it is fundamental to building a strong arts foundation. Over the years, Pyle has learned how to deliver the knowledge in a variety of ways, reaching students from different walks of life and corners of the globe. 

“I have an ease and a deep knowledge of things that a 19-year-old doesn’t, but my job is to impart enough of that into them, to light a fire in them to want to get to that point of ease and mastery on their own,” said Pyle. “And make it their own, not to copy how I do things, but to broaden their knowledge base out with a relentless curiosity and voraciousness of appetite to want to become a master on their own terms.”

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