Horace Pippin notebooks and letters, circa 1920, 1943

A Finding Aid to the Horace Pippin Notebooks and Letters, circa 1920, 1943, in the Archives of American Art, by Eric P. Frazier and Erin Corley

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Table of Contents:

Biographical Information

Born in West Chester, Pa., in 1888 Pippin was a self-taught primitive painter. His fighting experiences in France during World War I greatly influenced his later paintings. During the war, he was wounded and lost the use of his right arm. When painting, he had to use his left hand to guide his right. He gained a national reputation as a "true American primitive" in the 1940s, when his bold narrative paintings of childhood memories, war experiences, heroes, African American genre scenes, and religious subjects were widely exhibited, including his famous painting of the hanging of John Brown. Pippin died in 1946.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

Collection consists of three notebooks, notebook fragments, and two letters created by African American primitive painter Horace Pippin. The notebooks recount Pippin's World War I experiences, including his being wounded. One of the notebooks is illustrated.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into one series.

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:


  • Carlen, Robert, 1906-1990


  • Folk art -- United States
  • African American painters
  • Painting -- United States
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Personal narratives, American
  • African American soldiers
  • Self-taught artists -- Pennsylvania
  • Painters -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia

Types of Materials:

  • Diaries


Horace Pippin's war memiors/notebooks and one letter were purchased from Robert Carlen, Pippin's dealer, in 1956. The 1943 letter from Pippin to Carlen was donated by Dr. and Mrs. Matthew Moore in 1983.

How the Collection was Processed

The Horace Pippin notebooks and letters were microfilmed in the order that they were donated on reels 138 and 4306. The collection was digitized in 2006 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Horace Pippin notebooks and letters are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The collection was digitized in 2006 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website.

How to Cite this Collection

Horace Pippin notebooks and letters, circa 1920, 1943. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Horace Pippin Notebooks and Letters, circa 1920s, 1943
(Box 1; 8 items)

This small collection consists of three notebooks and notebook fragments written by Pippin in the 1920s about his World War I experiences while serving in the 15th New York Infantry and as a corporal in the 369th Colored Infantry Regiment at Chateau-Thierry, Soissons, the Argonne, and elsewhere in France. One of the notebooks is illustrated by Pippin with six pencil and crayon drawings of war scenes. Also found are two letters written by Pippin in 1943 and circa 1943. One of the letters is written to Dear Friends and is entitled "life story of art"; the other is written to dealer Robert Carlen.

Box Folder
1 (pam) 1 Handwritten and Illustrated Notebook entitled, "Horace Pippin's Autobiography, First World War", (illustrated), circa 1920s
(62 numbered pages, pages 37-40 have been cut out)
Pippin recounts his World War I experiences in detail from the time he left the United States on November 17th, 1917 with the 15th N.Y. Infantry for France. Pippin writes of life in the trenches and dug-outs, night forays and traveling through enemy territory, details of days and nights of battles and getting shelled, gassed, and machine gun fire by the Germans, and his perceptions of fighting alongside French and Algerian soldiers. He also recounts the details of getting shot in the shoulder and right arm, lying in the trench too weak to get up, having a French soldier get shot and fall upon him dead and not being able to move out from under the dead man, getting some bread and water from the dead body, and finally being rescued and moved around in the field until being loaded onto an ambulance and taken to one hospital and being transferred to another one. Illustrated with six pencil and crayon drawings of marching and battle scenes.
1 (pam) 2 Handwritten Notebook, October 4, 1920
(50 numbered pages)
A second handwritten account of Pippin's World War I experiences in France. In this notebook, Pippin recounts arriving in France, the cold and the snow, and his perception of the feelings of the French civilians. He also recounts an intense battle with the Germans, apparently the same battle as in the first notebook, but ending before he is shot.
1 (pam) 3 Handwritten Notebook entitled, "[t. Mihiel, Heaviest Champagne Argonne, Hear]", circa 1920
(18 numbered pages)
A third handwritten account of Pippin's World War I experiences in France. In this notebook, Pippin again recounts a battle with the Germans in France, most probably the same battle as in the other two notebooks. Note, however, that he spells Argonne as Oregon in this notebook, which differs from the writing on the cover. In this account, he recalls more conversations with fellow soldiers and orders from his officers. Again, this notebook ends before his injury occurs.
1 (pam) 4 Notebook Fragments, circa 1920
(3 loose pages)
Handwritten fragments, possibly from another notebook, recalling the same intense World War I battle in France but prefaced with some of his thoughts on war and soldiering.
1 (pam) 5 Letters, circa 1943, 1943
One letter, circa 1943, is addressed to "My Dear Friends" and begins with "my life story of art. that is my art, and no one el[c]...." wherein Pippin recounts a childhood memory of creating artwork for a Sunday school sale and how the "war of 1917... brought out all of the art in me" and how he paints from it today. A second letter dated February 1, 1943 is to Robert Carlen, his dealer. Pippin apologizes for Mr. Carlen thinking that he does not treat his friends or Mr. Carlen's friends "right, in my home, if anyone comes in to [see me] art." Pippin will see to it that Mrs. John D. Hamilton is treated as nice as possible. He goes on to say that he wants Carlen to send his Domino game painting to a show so Dr. Albert C. Barnes can see it.