Pippin's Story

Grade Level: K–4

Students will learn about the life and painting style of African-American artist Horace Pippin. They will discover how to "read" the clues in his painting Interior and write a story about the work. By solving counting and time problems, students will also create their own "secret number" painting.

pippin-interior

Horace Pippin
American, 1888–1946
Interior, 1944
oil on canvas, 61.2 x 76.6 cm, 0.2 cm (24 1/8 x 30 3/16 in., 1/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Meyer P. Potamkin, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art

 

NAEA Standards

1-C Students use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories.
1-D Students use art materials and tools in a safe and responsible manner.
2-A Students know the differences among visual characteristics and purposes of art in order to convey ideas.
2-B Students describe how different expressive features and organizational principles cause different responses.
2-C Students use visual structures and functions of art to communicate ideas.
3-A Students explore and understand prospective content for works of art.
3-B Students select and use subject matter, symbols, and ideas to communicate meaning.
4-B Students identify specific works of art as belonging to particular cultures, times, and places.
5-B Students describe how people’s experiences influence the development of specific artworks.
5-C Students understand there are different responses to specific artworks.

Curriculum Connections

  • Math (numerals, counting, addition, subtraction, time)
  • Language Arts (storytelling, writing)

Materials

  • Smart Board or computer with ability to project images from slideshow
  • Art paper
  • Pencils
  • Poster paints, crayons or oil pastels

Warm-Up Questions

Is this painting happy or sad? What do you think? Have students look at the colors, the way the people and things in the painting are arranged, and their imagination to picture the mood of the people in the room.

Background

Artists tell stories with color, line, and shape. They paint people, places, and things. They even paint numbers and counting, if you look closely enough. You'll find all these things in Interior, a small painting by African-American artist Horace Pippin.

pippin-wife

Photograph of Pippin and his wife Jennie
Chester Historical Society, West Chester, Pennsylvania

Horace Pippin was an African-American painter. He was born around 1888—just twenty-three years after the Civil War and the end of slavery. His grandparents were slaves, and his parents were domestic workers.

Pippin liked to draw and would illustrate his spelling words in school. But his family could not afford art materials. At age ten, he won a box of crayons in a magazine drawing contest and started coloring. He left school at age fourteen to help his family. He worked on a farm, as a porter at a hotel, and as an iron molder in a factory.

In 1917, Pippin went to France to fight in World War I. His right arm was badly injured in the war. He returned home, married, and settled in Pennsylvania. Because of his injury, he worked odd jobs and barely made a living.

At the age of forty Pippin found a way—even with his crippled right hand—to draw on wood using a hot poker. He made many burnt-wood art panels. Pippin decided to try painting with oil. He used his "good" left hand to guide his crippled right hand, which held the paintbrush, across the canvas. It took him three years to finish his first painting.

Pippin went on to paint his memories of soldiers and war, and scenes from his childhood. He said, "The pictures . . . come to me in my mind and if to me it is a worthwhile picture I paint it . . . I do over the picture several times in my mind and when I am ready to paint it I have all the details I need."

He also painted historical subjects, such as Abraham Lincoln and John Brown, and scenes from the Bible. At first, he made only about four paintings per year.

SLIDESHOW: The Paintings of Horace Pippin

  • The Paintings of Horace Pippin Lessons & Activities http://media.nga.gov/public/objects/7/2/1/7/4/72174-primary-0-740x560.jpg

    Horace Pippin
    American, 1888–1946
    Interior, 1944
    oil on canvas, 61.2 x 76.6 cm, 0.2 cm (24 1/8 x 30 3/16 in., 1/16 in.)
    National Gallery of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Meyer P. Potamkin, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art

  • The Paintings of Horace Pippin Lessons & Activities /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/education-lessons-activities/pippin/pippin-domino-players.jpg

    Horace Pippin
    American, 1888–1946
    Domino Players, 1943
    oil on composition board, 32.385 x 55. 88 cm. (12 3/4 x 22 in.)
    The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., acquired 1943

  • The Paintings of Horace Pippin Lessons & Activities /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/education-lessons-activities/pippin/pippin-lincoln.jpg

    Horace Pippin
    American, 1888–1946
    Abe Lincoln, The Great Emancipator, 1942
    oil on fabric, 24 x 30 in.
    The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of Helen Hooker Roelofs (142.77)

  • The Paintings of Horace Pippin Lessons & Activities /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/education-lessons-activities/pippin/pippin-endofwar.jpg

    Horace Pippin
    American, 1888–1946
    The End of the War: Starting Home, 1930–1933
    oil on canvas, 66 x 76.4 cm (26 x 30 1/16 in.)
    Philadelphia Museum of Art, Gift of Robert Carlen, 1941

  • The Paintings of Horace Pippin Lessons & Activities /content/dam/ngaweb/features/slideshows/education-lessons-activities/pippin/pippin-harmonizing.jpg

    Horace Pippin
    American, 1888–1946
    Harmonizing, 1944
    oil on canvas, 62.2 x 77.2 cm (24 1/2 x 30 3/8 in.)
    © Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio. Gift of Joseph and Enid Bissett, 1964

Pippin was called a folk artist because he had no formal art training. He used bright colors, flat shapes, and straight lines. He did not use shading or complicated perspective. His art is also called primitive, naive, or innocent.

In 1938, when he was around 50, the Museum of Modern Art included four of Pippin's paintings in a traveling museum show. He took art classes for the first time. Pippin became more and more well known. Galleries showed his paintings, and museums began to buy his work. He made 75 paintings during the last years of his life. Just as he became famous, Pippin died.

Pippin painted this interior scene—the inside of a house—from his childhood memories. He said, "Pictures just come to my mind and I tell my heart to go ahead."

Guided Practice

Have students "read" the painting by looking carefully at all the details as clues to help tell the story:

  • What do you see? Who is in the room? What is each person doing? (A little boy, maybe seven years old, is reading, writing, or drawing by candlelight on the left side of the painting. A little girl, maybe three or four years old, is cradling a doll on a rug in the center of the room. The mother or grandmother is smoking a pipe and warming her feet at the potbelly stove.)
  • How would it feel to be in there? Is it warm or cold? (Snow on the windowpanes means that it is cold outside. The stove with the teakettle boiling suggests that it is warm inside.)
  • What time is it? Is it evening or morning? (It must be late because it is dark outside. The clock reads six o’clock.)
  • Is the room crowded or full of space? (The artist showed a lot of empty floor and wall space. This makes the room seem big and somewhat empty.)
  • Is the interior modern or old-fashioned? (There are cracks in the walls. You can see lath—thin strips of wood used behind plaster walls. The chair next to the boy is broken but hasn’t been thrown away. This is a scene from the past. The family has no electricity for light or heat. They use candles and a wood-burning stove. Also, they are wearing old-fashioned clothing. Remember, the artist painted from his childhood memories. He grew up in the late nineteenth century, more than 100 years ago, in a poor rural area in Pennsylvania.)

Interior's "Secret Number": What number can you find again and again in Interior?

  • Count the striped rugs.
  • Count the people.
  • Count the cracks in the walls.

The magic number is 3. Several things appear in sets of three. Can you find other things that appear in threes? (Hint: Can you find triangles in the painting? How many sides do they have?)

Now have students count by threes. Can they make it to 30?

Activity

Students will write a short story based on the people and things they see in Horace Pippin's painting Interior. They will:

  • Give each person a name.
  • Include what they see in the painting, then use their imaginations to write what will happen next in the story.
  • Give their story a new title—not Interior.
  • Sign their name on the back and contribute their story to a class book of Interior stories.

Extension

Following the folk-art style of Horace Pippin, students will paint a room in their house. They will also practice counting by including a "secret number" in their work of art. Students will:

  1. Pick one room to draw.
  2. Choose a secret number between two and six and draw things in sets of the number they chose. (Remember, sets of three were counted in Pippin's Interior.)
  3. Include people, furniture, toys, and decorations. For example, for number four, you could include four books, four pets, and four windows, along with any number of other objects and people.
  4. Keep your painting simple. Use only three or four colors. Fill the whole paper with the wall and floor of your room. Set the objects within the space.
  5. Trade paintings with a partner when they are finished. Start counting! Can you figure out your partner's secret number? Did your partner figure out yours?
  6. Put your painting in a class counting exhibit. Can you figure out the secret numbers in all the paintings?

Related Resources

View the online tour “African American Artists: Collection Highlights”

Explore the Film Information and Study Guide “Horace Pippin ‘There Will Be Peace’”

Contact

Questions or comments? E-mail us at classroom@nga.gov