Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin by Jen Bryant (Illustrated by Melissa Sweet) A Schneider Book Award Winner

Published in 2013 by Alfred A. Knopf
Picturebook: Schneider Book Award Winner for 2014 (Ages 0-10)

Jen Bryant's A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin is based on the true story of Horace Pippin (1888-1946), an African-American, who was shot in the shoulder while serving in the trenches during World War II. This debilitating injury left him with little mobility in his right arm, preventing him from pursuing his passion: painting.

Original Pippin Painting

The painting "Saying Prayers" inspired
Bryant to learn more about Horace
Pippin's work and write this book. 

In one of the most inspirational stories I've read this semester, Horace Pippin overcomes his disability and goes on to become a famous painter through hard work and sheer determination. This book is about his life, his work, and his art. Today his art work can be seen in museums around the country, such as The Art Institute of Chicago; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania; Chester County Historical Society in West Chester, Pennsylvania; and The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Other cities, such as Baltimore, New York City, Minneapolis, Wichita, and Charleston, also display his work.

Bryant writes in the historical note at the end of her book:

"When someone asked the self-taught artist about his
Original Pippin Painting
work method, he replied, 'I paint it . . . exactly the way I see it. . . . A curious and observant man, Pippin found his subjects almost everywhere. He produced roughly 140 works of art based on childhood memories, family stories, historical reports, movies, current events, and biblical Scriptures, as well as his own West Chester, Pennsylvania, neighborhood. Pippin's masterful use of color, form, and composition (how the elements of a picture are arranged) is considered his greatest artistic strength." He is also considered a folk artist, a primitive painter, and an American master. Most of his works are done in brilliant colors with just "a splash of red," thus the title of the book.

Original Pippin Painting
Bryant's book is unusual in that the author and illustrator worked together tirelessly researching the artist and his work by traveling all over Pennsylvania visiting museums and art galleries. They were passionate about this project, and their passion is clearly demonstrated by the quality of both the text and the illustrations.  The illustrations were rendered in watercolor, gouache, and collage, inspired by Pippin's deep, rich colors. Sweet writes in her illustrator's note:
When it came time to illustrate the art supplies [Horace] won in the contest, I knew the actual ones were long gone. But I was so struck by that moment--it brought back all the excitement I felt as a child with a new box of crayons, a ream of construction paper, or a tin of colored pencils lined up in consecutive hues. I re-created the brushes and pencils, which I carved from basswood and painted to look as realistic as the ones Horace might have received. I learned, too, that once he got those art supplies, Pippin used them to make small oval paintings on muslin of Bible scenes. I've imagined one of the those paintings on the title page.
One of the things I love about Pippin's art is how he limned his subject matter, making it all the more brilliant. But it was not only Pippin's paintings that inspired me--it was his words. Lettering Pippin's quotes within the illustrations gave me a way to illuminate his simple and heartfelt approach to making art.
I am grateful for the chance to look long and hard at Pippin's life and work. And I'm sure I will never use the color red in quite the same way again (end of book).
I found this book to be of such high quality that I immediately decided to read it to my high school
students. After their reaction, I made a commitment to buy a copy of the book for my personal library and recommend it to everyone I know. I plan to use the book in all of my classes, but I will especially use it for my English Language Learners and my students with learning disabilities. After reading it to my classes, one of my students asked if he could use the book for his response journal.

Original Pippin Painting
Although this book is recommended for students ages 5-8, I believe it could be used with older students with a little creativity and imagination.

Learn More About Horace Pippin (Video)

Jen Bryant's Books

More Horace Paintings (Source of Images)

Find This Book In Your Local Library

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