Horace Pippin, visual artist, was born in Westchester, PA on February 22, 1888. His grandparents were born into slavery and his parents worked as domestics. Pippin spent most of his childhood in Goshen, NY. He began drawing as a boy, and often painted on wood or fabric. Pippin held numerous different jobs before enlisting in the infantry during WWI. During the war, he was injured and earned a Purple Heart. Pippin used his war experience for inspiration and used art to rehabilitate his injured shoulder, though his right arm was partially paralyzed for the remainder of his life.
Pippin was largely self-taught and he created beautiful artwork despite his handicap. His themes included religious subjects, landscapes, war, domestic life. Frequently, he centered these themes around African American experience. For most of his life Pippin created in obscurity. He was already 43 when he was initially encouraged to show his work by a school principal, and then by art critics and artist N.C. Wyeth. Pippin made his national debut at the Museum of Modern Art in 1938 at the age of 50 and had very successful solo exhibitions throughout the country in the 1940s.
After his “discovery,” Pippin was often acclaimed the greatest Black painter of his era, though the correct characterization of his work has posed a challenge to art critics. His artwork was described as “plain spoken” and “primitive” (a term ascribed to many untutored, self-taught artist in the early twentieth century). However, as observed by Prof. Cornell West “Pippin’s paintings are neither monumentalist in the modernist sense nor political in a post-modernist way…[His work sidesteps] today’s sterile ‘quality v diversity’ debate.” West call’s Pippin’s art Emersonian because it exalted the commonplace in the lives of regular Black people. New York Times article “Art View: The Improbable Career of Horace Pippen,” by Michael Kimmelman (March 20, 1994). Pippin’s collection included over 140 paintings, drawings and wood panels. Black artist Jacob Lawrence credited Pippin as having been an influence.
Pippin was the subject of the monograph, Horace Pippin: A Negro Painter in America and was eulogized in the NYT as the “most important Negro painter in American history.” He died where he was born in 1946 at the age of 58.
See “The Self-Taught American Painter Horace Pippin – Has Long Been Overlooked by Museums and the Market. Here’s Why That Should Change,” by Kate Rothstein (August 4, 2020)
Jessie Carney Smith, The Handy African American History Answer Book (2014)