Horace Pippin: The Artist of No Man's Land

Guiding Question:

How were the realities of trench warfare reflected in the memoir and art of Horace Pippin?


This 90-minute activity will allow students to learn about the war experiences of Horace Pippin. Through his memoir and art, students will analyze Pippin’s experience of trench warfare. African-American soldiers lost many battles along the racial frontlines due to the persistence of racial inequality and violence in the immediate aftermath of World War I. However, their sacrifice, courage, and military accomplishments laid the foundation for a more racially just society for all Americans.


Historical Context

The art of Horace Pippin emerged from the trenches of World War I. Pippin was shot in the right shoulder and arm on September 26, 1918, and left for dead. He was immobilized, hungry, and thirsty for an entire night before being rescued. When Pippin returned home from the war, he no longer had use of his right arm due to his injury. Despite the physical disability, Pippin began painting by holding a brush with his right hand and using his left arm to move the canvas. He was one of the first African-American artists to address social justice and political issues in his paintings. For Pippin, painting was a form of emotional and psychological healing from the scars of the war.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Analyze a painting;
  • Analyze and interpret a memoir excerpt; and
  • Write an argumentative essay about the painting and memoir excerpt.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear among the key details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.6.9-12. Analyze the ways in which the perspectives of those writing history shaped the history that they produced.
D2.His.15.9-12. Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.

Lesson Preparation


Activity One: Anticipatory Set (15 minutes)

  • Display the painting The End of the War, Starting Home.
  • Ask students to look at the painting and answer the following questions:
    • What is going on in the painting? What makes you think that?
    • What objects seem to be emphasized in the painting? What makes you think that? Why might the artist have included them?
    • How does this painting reflect what you already know about World War I?
    • How does the painting reflect the African-American experience in World War I?

    Activity Two: Analyzing Pippin's Memoir (45 minutes)

    • Direct students to read the excerpt from Pippin’s memoir.
    • Ask students to outline the events that took place in the memoir excerpt and any personal details that Pippin included on a piece of paper.
    • Ask students:
      • Why are Pippin’s details important?
      • How do they help the reader understand fighting in World War I?
      • What do they tell us about Pippin?
      • What questions do you have about the writer?
    • Direct students to view and analyze the photographs from the excerpted pages of American Armies and Battlefields in Europe (Blue Book).
    • Ask students to discuss what the photographs reveal about the setting in which Pippin fought.
    • Direct students to compare and contrast three photographs from the Blue Book with The End of the War, Starting Home on the Analyzing Horace Pippin’s Memoir Handout.
    • Discuss as a class the similarities and differences among the memoir excerpt, the painting, and the photographs from the Blue Book excerpt.

Assessment Materials

  • Direct students to construct a 1- to 2-page paper answering the following question:
    • How do the art and memoir reflect Pippin’s experiences as an African-American soldier? What might this tell us about the experiences of other African-American soldiers in World War I?

Methods for Extension

  • Students may find and analyze other pieces of art by Pippin.
  • Students may compare and contrast art by Pippin and works by other white and AfricanAmerican service members.


  • Students who struggle with essay construction could be given an essay organizer.