Horace Pippin’s Helping Hands

I recently reviewed Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s gorgeous children’s book A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. And, trust me, it is truly spectacular. So, obviously, I just had to introduce my students to this amazing and inspiring artist. Before we go any further, I must  admit that I didn’t know anything about Mr. Pippin until my darling friend sent me A Splash of Red (everyone should have a dear friend who sends them children’s books regularly…I’m not entirely sure how I got so lucky…) But now that I know of Mr. Pippin, I can’t tell you how inspired and truly delighted I am to know him.

Born in West Chester, Pennsylvania on February 22, 1888, Horace Pippin showed a love of creating art from a very young age and, at the age of ten, won an art contest. The prize? A collection of art materials that were truly a treasure for a young artist whose family could not afford any such extravagance. After a childhood and young adulthood of working odd jobs to pay his family’s bills, Mr. Pippin joined the army, serving in the trenches of World War I. Fortunately for us, he kept copious journals detailing his time in the army – the atrocities of it, the humanity of it – and illustrated quite a few of his entries. Mr. Pippin’s world changed dramatically when he was severely wounded in battle, losing most of the mobility in his right arm….his drawing arm. For years after, Mr. Pippin thought that his life as an artist was over, with no strength in the hand that held the paintbrush. That is until, one day, he took his right hand in his left and learned to work his paintbrush with two hands. One student, upon hearing this, shouted out in class, “So, that’s what a ‘helping hand’ is!” And she is completely correct. Mr. Pippin went on to work this way, right hand in his left, for many years, garnering the attention of even NC Wyeth who brought Mr. Pippin’s simple, heartbreaking and utterly American art to the public.

Mr. Pippin working
Mr. Pippin working

Here are a few of my favorite Pippin pieces:

Victorian Interior, Horace Pippin
Victorian Interior, Horace Pippin
Christmas Morning, Horace Pippin
Self-Portrait, Horace Pippin

What a delight to  have Bryant and Sweet’s beautiful book on hand to read to my students! It’s really, really lovely. Can’t say enough wonderful things about it. After reading it, we used one of Mr. Pippin’s quotations as inspiration, along with a few of my other favorite quotes from famous artists, and made a four-part watercolor and ink piece. I love the personality the children brought to each of their watercolors, and hope that the sentiments from each of the quotes can be carried forward with the kids – inspiring them to keep creating and expressing themselves! Take a peek for yourself!


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