As the director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book, one of my favorite tasks is choosing a children’s or young adult title to represent Pennsylvania at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously. I consult with colleagues and search for information about children’s and young adult books by Pennsylvania authors or illustrators. I look for titles with topics that have some connection to the Commonwealth.
I’m delighted to share that this year’s selection is a picture book biography—"A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin”written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
Horace Pippin was the grandson of a slave, born in West Chester, Pennsylvania on February 22, 1888. He died in 1946 and is buried in the Chester Grove Annex Cemetery. He began and ended life in Pennsylvania.
As a child, Horace was always drawing pictures. He won a drawing contest and the cherished prize—colored pencils, a pair of brushes, and a box of paints—inspired him to draw through his adulthood while doing other jobs such as stacking grain, shoveling coal, and mending fences.
As the title alludes, Horace painted scenes of every day happenings always adding a splash of red.
When the United States entered World War I, Horace joined the army and was sent to France. He was shot in the right arm and he couldn’t lift or move it, making drawing impossible. It also made it difficult to find employment. He worked odd jobs and helped his wife’s laundry by delivering clean clothes. He missed creating the art he loved.
Courageously, Horace began to draw again by lifting his right wrist with his left hand. The more he did this the stronger his arm became and soon he was drawing again every day and night.
It wasn’t long before Horace’s pictures were noticed and brought to the attention of N.C. Wyeth, another famous American artist. This encounter led to an exhibition of Horace’s art in West Chester which led to all kinds of attention and acclaim—magazine articles, photographs, and the sale of his work to museums, galleries, and art collectors.
The illustrations in the picture book are in watercolor, gouache, and collage which illustrator, Melissa Sweet says were inspired by the deep rich colors Horace used in his paintings. Throughout the text, quotes from Horace are hand-lettered and incorporated into the collage.
“A Splash of Red”is an exceptional, gorgeous picture book about a self-taught American artist who used his observation of everyday life and adversity to create art that is enjoyed in museums across America.
Karla Schmit is the director of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book. The 19th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival will be held Saturday, August 31, 2019 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The event is free and open to the public.