Horace Pippin was born on February 22, 1888, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. When he was still a young child, the Pippin family moved to Goshen, New York. Pippin quickly developed a love for art. Despite having limited access to art supplies, he made a name for himself throughout the neighborhood as a promising artist.
Harlem’s Hell Fighters
In his teen years, Pippin dropped out of school in order to earn an income after his mother fell ill. He worked at a hotel for years while also working other odd jobs that he could find. Like many Black men in the early to mid-1900s, Pippin decided to join the army. He fought overseas in World War I (WWI) as part of the 369th Infantry, or Harlem’s Hell Fighters.
‘Losing the Way’
While fighting in WWI, Pippin was shot in his right arm, losing all mobility in it. He then returned to the U.S. in 1919, living in West Chester where he married a woman named Jennie Wade. He propped his right arm up with a poker that he used to make art. He returned to drawing, using his left hand to guide his right hand. His first post-war piece was titled, ‘Losing the Way’ (1930).
Pippin’s work was soon featured in a home county show. In 1938, his work then became part of a traveling art exhibit with the Museum of Modern Art. Pippin’s art depicted various forms of Black life. Paintings such as ‘Domino Players’ (1943) and ‘Harmonizing’ (1944) epitomize the muse behind his artwork. He also became famous for his many self-portraits.
Pippin was also praised for his artistic renditions of historical figures, like abolitionist John Brown and former president Abraham Lincoln. He and his work went on to be featured in publications, such as Newsweek and Vogue.
Horace Pippin suffered a stroke and died on July 6, 1946, in his hometown of West Chester. He was 48 years old. His work was posthumously displayed in various museums and much of his written work was digitized and placed in the Archives of American Art by the Smithsonian Institute. Pippin was a brilliant, self-taught painter who influences artists to this day.
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