The surprising story of the self-taught African-American artist Horace Pippin leaps to life with the surefooted collaboration of writer Jen Bryant and illustrator Melissa Sweet, the award-winning team who created A River Of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams.
A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin introduces readers to an active, good-natured child who would draw on any old scrap of paper he could find. With charcoal in hand, Horace sketched the parade of animals, people and events of his life. He explained his method this way: “Pictures just come to my mind … and I tell my heart to go ahead.” Color came to his artwork the day he won his first real art supplies: colored pencils, brushes, a box of bright paints.
Ms. Sweet’s own pleasing toolbox includes, as is her way, a joyous array of images, materials, textures, hues, and perspectives. For instance, the double-page spread where Horace gets his supplies shows scraps of colored paper, the child’s winning drawing, the luscious new watercolors in their glossy white circles, wooden brushes, and sharpened colored pencils from Acme. In the bottom right-hand corner, Horace grips a paintbrush as he paints a picture of “Hattie and the Rooster.” Such a scene is enough to make you want to run out and buy your own art set.
When Horace was in eighth grade, his father left, and the family needed his help. He quit school and went to work. Undaunted, he kept drawing whenever he had the chance. A few years later, the U.S. entered World War I, and the newly enlisted Horace was sent to France. He filled notebook after notebook with his art, even though he spent much of his time there in cold, dark trenches.
A bullet to the shoulder damaged Horace’s right arm. Home from the war, he and his bride, Jennie, settled near West Chester, PA, where Horace had spent his early childhood. Things had changed, though; he couldn’t lift or move his arm the way he used to, and it seemed Horace’s sketching days were over. Now he could only wish to draw.
Or could he? One night, pondering the many images he longed to capture, Horace reached for a poker that stood by the fire. He grabbed his right wrist with his left hand and was able to scorch lines into wood.
That was the first step Horace took to finding his way back to art. As he practiced, he grew stronger and gained better control. He spent three years painting what he had witnessed during the war. From there, he turned to all manner of subjects, from the milkman on his deliveries to the children playing in the yard.
After years of painting, the famous artist N.C. Wyeth saw his work and told Horace he should have his own one-man exhibition in West Chester. Today, museums across the world display the work of Horace Pippin, praised for his masterful use of color, form, and composition. It doesn’t get much more inspiring than that, does it?
Share this lovely book — and a museum visit — with a child or two or three …
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