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ASLEEP, by Horace Pippin, 1943, oil on canvas.

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Horace Pippin Superimposing Life On History

West Chester's Self-Taught African-American Folk Painter And World War I Veteran Is One of Twentieth Century's Most Remarkable Artists

This month commemorates 75 years since the loss of a local artist whose creations held modern art's fundamental characteristics:  unmodulated, sharply delineated colors, along with flat, shadowless forms.

Horace Pippin was a Black American primitivist artist born in West Chester. His work collection depicts his personal experiences, from being a World War I soldier and landscapes of places he lived to segregation and racism in the United States. He's known for using a hot poker on wood to create pieces and also oils on canvas.

Born on Feb. 22, 1888, he died at age 58 years on July 6, 1946. His body is buried at Chestnut Grove Annex Cemetery in West Goshen Township. A Pennsylvania State Historical Marker at 327 Gay Street in West Chester identifies his home at the time of his death and commemorates his accomplishments.

As a boy, Horace responded to an art supply company's advertising contest, and won his first set of crayons and a box of watercolors. He often drew racehorses and jockeys.

During Horace's service in WWI (369th infantry, Harlem Hellfighters), he was shot and the resulting injury hindered the use of his right arm and hand. Although he struggled, he reportedly used art to overcome this challenge. He was awarded a French Croix de Guerre in 1919 and a retroactive Purple Heart in 1945.

Horace left a painting called "The Park Bench" unfinished in his studio at this death in 1946. Fellow artist Romare Bearden said of that painting: "the man, I think, symbolizes Pippin himself, who, having completed his journey and his mission, sits wistfully, in the autumn of the year, all alone on a park bench."

Chester County History representatives indicate they plan to have some of Horace's more unique pieces on display in West Chester at 225 N. High St.

  • Horace Pippin/Courtesy of Chester County History Center
  • ASLEEP, by Horace Pippin, 1943, oil on canvas.
  • SELF-PORTRAIT II, by Horace Pippin, 1944, oil on canvas.
  • VICTORIAN INTERIOR I, by Horace Pippin, 1945, oil on canvas.