Imagine you’re a veteran of the terrible trench warfare of WWI, a steel plate serving as your shoulder joint after you were shot by a German sniper. Back home in Pennsylvania, suffering from PTSD, you somehow manage to return to your childhood love of drawing and painting. You and your wife live on your meager soldier’s pension and the money she makes doing laundry for rich folks. You trade your work for haircuts, sell it for five dollars in the shoe store window.
Then one day, a local art critic and his friend (a famous illustrator) happen to see your work in town. They ask you if you have more . . . you show them what you’ve made. They encourage you to enter the local art show, and you do. Two weeks later, these men organize your first one-man show at the West Chester Community Center, where visitors see seven of your wood-burnt panels and ten of your paintings, all made with materials you’ve scavanged from the alleys of your neighborhood. At the show’s opening on June 8, 1937, those men—N.C. Wyeth and Christian Brinton—speak about the quality and integrity of your work. The future civil rights leader Bayard Rustin sings. Art lovers flock to see the exhibition. Reporters ask for interviews.
Your name is Horace Pippin, and after today, your life will never be the same.
June 8th marks the 76th anniversary of Horace Pippin’s first one-man show. Held at the West Chester Community Center in West Chester, PA, this exhibit launched his career as an artist.