He used red; the art of Horace Pippin

Sometimes I’m wrong.

Last fall, I had the good fortune to visit the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Standing in front of a Horace Pippin painting, I said to a new acquaintance, “He’s from Cincinnati!”

But he’s not.

The artist, born in 1888 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, is known for his depictions of the African-American experience.

Maybe I got mixed up because I had seen his work in the Cincinnati Art Museum. Who knows, but what set me straight was Jen Bryant’s book “A Splash of Red, The Life and Art of Horace Pippin.”

Pippin's painting, Christmas Morning Breakfast. You can see this 1945 work at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Don't worry, I checked!

Horace Pippin’s painting, Christmas Morning Breakfast. You can see this 1945 work at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Don’t worry, I checked!

The title caught my eye on the discount table of a local bookstore. Worth every penny and more, Melissa’s Sweet’s illustrations heighten the great story. Her work is delightful.

Max and Calvin took to the story right away.

Meanwhile, I said to myself, “Huh. I thought he was from Cincinnati!”

Pictures just came to Pippin's mind.

Pictures just came to Horace’s mind.

The book chronicles Horace’s life up until his artistic success. As a child living in poverty, he draws constantly. A lack of money means no supplies but he uses scraps of paper and charcoal. But the enterprising Horace enters an art contest and wins his first box of colored pencils, brushes, and paints.

“That’s my favorite part,” said Max. “When he wins the paint.”

Adulthood comes with responsibility and World War I. Horace is hurt and his right arm  damaged. He stops creating art but misses it. One day thinking of “his grandmother’s slave days, and the Bible stories she’d told made pictures in his mind, he longed to draw them. But how?”

He picks up a poker and uses it and his left hand to guide his right. As he grew stronger, he painted, often using muted colors with “a splash of red.”

“Let’s read the book about the guy who holds his hand to draw, “ Max will say.


Horace overcame his injury and continued to paint.

Horace found success and created many works that hang today in museums around the country. It’s an inspiring story of how he overcame many obstacles – racism, injury, poverty –  to become a respected artist.

My husband (who had the same misconception about Horace’s origins) and I visited the Cincinnati Art Museum recently with our boys. I’ve looked forward to showing them one of his paintings and having some type of deep moment. We ran out of time and didn’t find it.

But we will go back and I’ll be sure to point out the splash of red.

More info
The author and illustrator researched this book together; unusual in the book process. In the back of the book, they share their journey, including a visit to Pippin’s grave. Where they saw a red cardinal in the gray winter landscape.

Here’s a great reading and craft guide to use with the book.