Thursday, April 30, 2009

"I bought it yesterday" The Lipman Folk Art Collection Comes to Cooperstown

By: Paul D'Ambrosio, Vice President and Chief Curator
Two years after the purchasing the Nadleman collection of American folk art, in 1950, Stephen Clark made his usual Saturday morning visit to the Fenimore Art Museum in Cooperstown, ending up as always in Lou Jones’ office, where he said, “Have you heard of the Lipman Collection?” Jones replied that he had, having known the Lipmans for some time. “Well” said Clark, “What do you think of it?” Jones said, “Next to Nina Little’s it’s the great collection.” Clark replied “I did something I shouldn’t have done without consulting you first. I hope you don’t mind. I bought it yesterday.”

Jean Lipman was well known as the long-time editor of Art in America, in which she had featured Clark’s Henri Matisse collection in 1934. Lipman was also a pioneering collector; and her pieces among others had illustrated her influential books American Primitive Painting and American Folk Art in Wood, Metal, and Stone in the 1940s. Clark purchased 334 paintings and sculptures from the Lipmans for $75,000, exactly twice what Mrs. Lipman had paid for each item.
As Clark set about collecting folk art, he did so with an eye honed from years of collecting Modernism, and recognizing in folk art the aesthetic similarities to modern art, which Lipman described as “the unselfconscious ability to develop the purely aesthetic qualities of abstract design.” In this regard it makes perfect sense that he would be enthralled with the works that Lipman had collected.

All of a sudden the museum’s folk art collection was one of the largest and most important in the country. The Lipman collection included landscapes, townscapes, schoolgirl pieces, weathervanes, cigar store figures, nautical carvings, and trade signs.

One of Lipman’s favorite pieces, Winter Sunday in Norway, Maine, was purchased from an antique dealer for 50 cents and sold to Mr. Clark for one dollar.
Lipman owned two great Peaceable Kingdoms by the Quaker minister and artist Edward Hicks, the earlier one incorporating a border with the paraphrased verse from Isaiah, and the later noteworthy for its unified and dramatic composition.
The Lipman Collection was especially strong in sculpture, and included a unique Cigar Store Figure with African features, reportedly made by a freed slave by the name of Job in Freehold, NJ.
After the acquisition of the Lipman Collection, the lower level of Fenimore House, a former swimming pool in Edward’s mansion, was filled in to create state-of-the-art galleries for all of the folk art holdings. (see photo below)

Top: Winter Sunday in Norway, Maine, ca. 1860, Artist Unidentified, Collection of Fenimore Art Museum, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, Cooperstown, NY, N0321.1961.

Middle: Peaceable Kingdom ca 1830-1835, Edward Hicks (1780-1849), Collection of Fenimore Art Museum, gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0038.1961.

Bottom: Cigar Store Figure, Female (African American) ca.1850, attributed to Job, an African American carver from Freehold, NY. Collection of Fenimore Art Museum, Gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0145.1961

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