Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin

I have been neglecting this blog again although I have been posting on my other blogs, my iPad travel blog and my Beautiful Vancouver blog.  But now that school is back in session even though I am retired but still volunteering in that first grade class, it seems time to blog again.  This time last year school teachers here were still on strike so it wasn't a normal beginning and I was posting madly about that sad situation.  This has been a "normal" school year although I don't think teachers in the public sector have found it a particularly easy set up.  I spent the morning with 22 new first graders and one teacher and I can tell you both of us were busy the whole time.  I couldn't help but think of private schools I know of where there is a teaching assistant in every primary class and often this is actually a certified teacher hoping one day for a real teaching job.  Anyway, I am not going to discuss that right now.

Last year I "won" a book by a favourite author but I never did write about it and even accused one of my friends of borrowing it, but instead I found it tucked away at home recently.  Jen Bryant has been a favourite writer of mine for sometime.  I loved her middle school novel, Pieces of Georgia, about a young girl whose mother, an artist, had died several years earlier, and her own sketches seem to disturb her dad.  She receives an anonymous gift in the form of a free museum membership and this plus a good friend help her family come to terms with their loss.  I love how this is a real museum. Brandywine River Museum of Art, and that Georgia and the book's readers learn about real life artists, Georgia O'Keeffe and the Wyeths whose work is at the museum.  I also like how it looks at communication in its different aspects.  It is also a perfect book to remind teachers to look at their students' whole stories and to help them realize their dreams.

It also has a perfect companion piece, Georgia's Bones, beautifully illustrated by Bethanne Anderson.  This tells a bit of the story of artist, Georgia O'Keeffe, perfect for children of all ages.

Now about the book I won!  I think I actually had a bit of a choice of books and I chose A Splash of Red as it was about an author with whom I was not familiar, Horace Pippin.  And if you hit the link you can actually watch a short video about him.  And here from the National Gallery of Art is a unit of study!

This is a beautiful book illustrated by a favourite illustrator of mine, Melissa Sweet.  I love what she wrote in the dedication- To Jen, whose words make pictures in my mind.  That makes perfect sense to me as I think Jen Bryant is a beautiful wordsmith (not surprisingly as she is a poet too).   But I love how Melissa put those words into pictures!

It is such a beautiful story of a boy who absolutely loved to draw and did so even though he had to quit school in eighth grade to help support his family when his dad left the family for good.  Always people asked him to draw for them and he did so with whatever he could find to draw and paint with until his right arm was injured in the war.  But he even overcame this with sheer persistence and ingenuity.  He tried to sell his paintings at a local shoe store, but no one wanted to buy them until the president of a local artists' club saw Horace's pictures and his friend, the famous painter N.C. Wyeth saw them as well and recognized Horace's talents.

They arranged a one-man exhibition and soon he was famous and selling his pictures easily.

I love the book, the story, and the fact that he always added a touch of red to his paintings.  I would certainly love to use this book with students, and I plan to lend it to my friend who I accused of borrowing it, and see what her students might do with it as a starting point to learning more about his work!

I had so much fun with the first graders last year as they were doing a painting unit and I even got to come in as a local artist to work with them.  I loved how fearless they were with their water colours.  And again we had great fun using picture books with them to familiarize them with some famous artists.

I also love how Jen researches real people and makes them accessible to young readers.  For older students that process is a great entree into writing their own biographies.

 I was thrilled to actually win this book (from following her on Facebook) just as I was thrilled to hear her speak and meet her at a conference long ago.  If you aren't familiar with this award winning author's  books you are missing treasures!!  And I have only given you a sample of her work here!  Happy reading!!!