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Black History Month


Black artist overcame war injury, personal trials

African-American artist Horace Pippin faced many roadblocks in his life, but he persevered to enjoy a successful career.

Born in West Chester, Pa., he moved to New York as a child. At a very young age he had a passion to draw. But Pippin had to leave school when he finished the eighth grade to work and help his family. The long, hard hours didn’t leave much time for drawing.

In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, Pippin joined the National Guard. He fought in France with the all-black 369th Infantry. Two months before the war ended, Pippin’s right shoulder was shattered by bomb fragments. His right arm was paralyzed.

Pippin was sent home with a medical report that said he was unfit for work. He married and settled in West Chester, living on his disability pension and what his wife earned doing laundry.

All the terrible things he had seen during the war still haunted him. Trying to fight his depression and hoping to give his arm some therapy, Pippin started drawing again. He would use anything he found to create art, including the lids off cigar boxes.

For 12 years he worked at wood engravings. As he became more skilled at using his injured arm, he turned toward painting.

"The End of the War: Starting Home" was his first major work. It showed the horror he had seen in the war. Dr. Christian Brinton of the West Chester Art Center helped Pippin obtain supplies and arranged a showing at the center. A year later Pippin’s work was hanging in the New York Museum of Modern Art.

Pippin also captured scenes of African-American life and the beauty of landscapes and flowers. With the start of World War II, he painted "The Holy Mountain," which showed rows of white crosses marking the dead of World War I. It was Pippin’s way of saying that there was war then, but there would be peace again.

— By Lizabeth Gray


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