N. C. Wyeth's The Giant has hung in the dining room of Westtown School since 1923, a memorial from members of the Westtown Class of 1910 to their deceased classmate, William Clothier Engle (1891-1916). Commissioned by the class, the painting pays tribute to an artistic young man lost in the prime of his life. Engle's 1910 classmates had commissioned a painting from the renowned artist N.C. Wyeth in memory of the popular student. Wyeth came to the School to study suitable locations, and at first considered a series of pictures in the Boys' Collecting Room depicting the Odyssey. Eventually the south wall of the Dining Room was chosen, and Wyeth painted a picture which combines Engle's interest in the imagination of children and the beauty and power of the sea.
While at Westtown William Engle not only studied with N.C. Wyeth but became his friend. "Between classes he was always out with brush and palette, painting about the countryside near the school," wrote William Coale Ellis '11, of Engle.
William Engle entered Westtown in September, 1908, at the age of 15 from his home in Newark, New Jersey. Classmate Marian Thatcher wrote later of Engle that he was a well-liked student with "high ideals, a keen sense of humor and was gifted with his pen and paint brushes" (Thatcher 56). William Ellis Coale, Westtown Class of 1911, wrote of his friend Bill Engle "…between classes he was always out with brush and palette, painting about the countryside near the school and opened the eyes of many of us to the rare beauty surrounding us" (Coale 11).
After graduation from Westtown in 1910, Engle enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Shortly, he went to live in Chadds Ford so that he could study with N. C. Wyeth. Engle spent part of the summer of 1916 on the family farm of Westtown classmate, Walter Coppock, where he painted three landscapes that now hang at Westtown School. Illness forced Engle back to New Jersey, where he died in November 1916 on his 25th birthday.
- One of three landscape paintings by Engle hanging at Westtown School.
The Giant reflects William Engle's great love of the sea, born of the summers he spent in Beach Haven, New Jersey. (The Wyeth family also made summer visits to Beach Haven.) George Whitney, Westtown's director of fine arts - and friend and colleague of N. C. Wyeth - said in 1932, "…Mr. Wyeth knew of Engle's love of children and their happy frolics; he knew of Engle's love for the sea, and so the 'Giant' was created, a picture in which one sees the imagination of the child taking shape in the great cloud built form of the Giant" (Whitney 1). William Ellis Coale confirmed the connection between Engle, Wyeth, and the painting's theme in 1946 when he wrote, "Bill had always meant to execute a scene like this of children by the sea, looking up into the clouds. But his early death precluded this, so that his old friend and master created this fitting memorial, and thus fulfilled the pupil's dream" (Coale 11).
The children in the scene are N. C. Wyeth's five children, with William Engle represented by the young man in the white hat. Wyeth exhibited the painting in Needham, Massachusetts, before its presentation to Westtown on Alumni Day in June 1923. The painting was exhibited again in the area during the fall and the winter of 1923-24 before its return to Westtown School in March 1924. Wyeth seemed pleased with the memorial to his student, writing to his mother in December 1923, "The exhibition opened Monday night (Howard Pyle Memorial, by his pupils) and I can say without any question that 'The Giant' was the canvas of interest. We had a big crowd there, the picture was given the place of honor and created quite a sensation" (The Wyeths: The Letters 697). Still, the painting creates a sensation some eighty-plus years later among the Westtown School community and its visitors.
- N.C. Wyeth (far left), George G. Whitney (fifth from left) and Griffith Baily Coale (sixth from left, a Westtown alumnus, artist and brother of William Ellis Coale) and their families at Westtown's Alumni Day, 1928.
Allen, Douglas, and Douglas Allen, Jr. N. C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1975.
Brandywine River Museum. "N. C. Wyeth Catalogue Raisonne Project." Unpublished notes.
Brown and White [Westtown, PA] 24 Mar. 1924: 4.
Coale, William Ellis. "In Memory of William Clothier Engle." The Westonian Fall 1946: 11-12.
Thatcher, Marian E. "Westtown's Giant." The Westonian Spring 1966: 56.
Tierney, Martha A. "Alumni Day at Westtown." The Westonian June 1923: 137-139.
Whitney, George G. "N.C. Wyeth Donates Illustration Prize." Brown and White [Westtown, PA] 23 Jan. 1932: 1.
Woodbury, Ethel Coppock. Personal interview. Fall 1999.
The Wyeths: The Letters of N.C. Wyeth, 1901-1945. Ed. Betsy James Wyeth.
Boston: Gambit, 1971.