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Theatrical Portraits by Scranton Penman on Display

The exhibit “Distinguished for Their Talents – Theatrical Portraits by Scranton Master Penman P. W. Costello, 1905-1930,” will be on display through April 23 in the Heritage Room of the Weinberg Memorial Library.
February 20, 2018
By: Breanna Forgione ’18, student correspondent

P.W. Costello, Scranton artist and master penman, became a national figure in the early 1900s for his work in engrossing, the calligraphic embellishment of documents. An avid reader of Shakespeare, Costello loved theater and classic literature, which served as the backbone of his work with portraitures.

Through April 23, “Distinguished for Their Talents – Theatrical Portraits by Scranton Master Penman P.W. Costello, 1905-1930” is on display in the Heritage Room of Weinberg Memorial Library.

Thomas W. Costello, great-grandson of the artist, discussed the artist, the collection and its inspiration.

“He loved theater. And he loved classical literature. He was an avid reader. Many people in Scranton knew him as both an engrosser and a portrait artist, particularly if they were the subject of one of his engrossed documents that included a portrait. Those who frequented one or both of his restaurants, lined with framed drawings, knew him primarily as a portrait artist,” said Thomas Costello.

P.W. Costello was born in the Minooka section of Scranton in 1866, the son of poor Irish immigrants. He had no formal training or education as an artist, instead honing his skills by reading and studying art books. At the time Costello began his engrossing work, there were only about 200 engrossers in the country.

Using photographs of prominent stage figures for reference, Costello created hundreds of pen portraits in black ink and umber or rose-colored watercolor pigments. Cross-hatching, stippling and brushed, layered washes were trademark elements of his portrait work.

“It took him a couple decades to develop a style. The exhibit shows his refinement of a cross-hatching technique that he mastered by the early part of the century,” said Thomas Costello.

Costello’s peers in the profession considered him to be one of the best engrossers and illustrators in the country. He was a self-taught artist whose career in Scranton spanned a total of 45 years. Through correspondence courses and detailed, published art instructions, he dedicated himself to the education of young pen artists. 

On Tuesday, March 27, at 6 p.m. in the Heritage Room of the Weinberg Memorial Library, Thomas Costello will speak on his great grandfather’s career, and Michael Friedman, Ph.D., professor of English and theatre at The University of Scranton, will speak on Shakespearean performance at the turn of the 20th century.

To learn more about Scranton’s master penman, visit scranton.edu/library/costello to read Thomas Costello’s biographical essay, “The Life and Art of P.W. Costello” and to view a digitized version of the exhibit.

For additional information, call 570-941-6341 or email archives@scranton.edu.

Breanna Forgione ’18, Levittown, is a strategic communication major at The University of Scranton.
Breanna Forgione ’18, Levittown, is a strategic communication major at The University of Scranton.
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