Kippy Stroud: A Grand Accumulator

by Patterson Sims

My cousin Marion Boulton Stroud (called from childhood Kippy) was a grand accumulator. She vigorously assembled people, experiences, prize-winning dogs, art, and many properties and buildings. She filled her several houses with works of art and design, a selection of which are distributed in several Wright sales. As it was located in many places, the extent of her personal art and design holdings were unknown to even her closest associates.

Kippy had as many phone numbers as a small town and collected gadgets and the appliances she liked in astonishing numbers (she seriously, if somewhat inexplicably, brought six coffee makers with her when we traveled to the opening of the 2015 Venice Biennale). The conventions and rituals of her genteel suburban upbringing as an only child gave way in her adult life to a peripatetic existence devoted to art and artists, creative thinking, and public service, all fueled by a tireless work ethic and her extraordinary generosity.

Kippy (1939-2015) descended on the Stroud side from a family and English town famous for the cloth it made. In the late 1960s in her life-long base of Philadelphia she began her professional life as director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s art sales and rental program. She then worked at and later was artistic director of Prints in Progress, a program that brought inner-city youth and practicing artists together. In 1977 she founded Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop (which added “and Museum” to its name in 1996). Its proclaimed and realized purpose “was to stimulate experimentation among leading contemporary artists and to share the process of creating works of art with the public.” FWM has also served as an education center for Philadelphia’s youth who, as printing apprentices, learn technical and vocational skills along with approaches to creative expression. The Fabric Workshop reflected and emerged at the height of “Pattern and Decoration” art, art made for everyday use, a fusion of furniture and sculpture, and a significant breakdown of the rigid demarcation of art and craft. As Kippy noted of those early years of the Fabric Workshop, “The question of high vs. low and art vs. craft became irrelevant once we began to work with artists, since their work could be all of these at once.”

To the very end of her life, working with an expanded and hardworking staff, Kippy functioned as the FWM’s chief funder, artistic director and curator, publications director, educator, and administrator. More than 600 artists have been invited there to use its studio facilities, equipment, and expert technicians to create work in all media. Its prescient vision and prodigious artistic range is suggested in this very partial list of artists who have worked at FWM: Marina Abramovic, Doug Aitken, Janine Antoni, Christine Borland, Louise Bourgeois, Chris Burden, Willie Cole, Tom Friedman, Theaster Gates, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Ann Hamilton, Howard Hodgkin, Cai Guo-Qiang, David Ireland, Joan Jonas, William Kentridge, Robert Kushner, Tristin Lowe, Virgil Marti, Robert Morris, Claes Oldenburg, Faith Ringgold, Sarah Sze, Yinko Shonibare, Lorna Simpson, Kiki Smith, Ryan Trecartin, Richard Tuttle, Bill Viola,, Ursula von Rydingsvard, William Wegman, Karl Wirsum, Betty Woodman, and Claire Zeisler. The FWM’s permanent collection includes not only completed works of art by these artists, but also material research, samples, prototypes, and photography and videos of artists making and speaking about their work and its production.

The same year Kippy started the Fabric Workshop, she joined the Board of Directors at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. She was attracted to the museum by her love of art and close friendship with Anne d’Harnoncourt, the museum’s legendary modern art curator and, starting in 1982, Director. Kippy remained on the Board for the rest of her life. She served on four of its art acquisition committees, and was the chair of the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Committee. She donated or gave funds to the Philadelphia Museum of art for the acquisition of 320 art works and was also affiliated with and generous to many other US museums and arts initiatives. 

Kippy’s other consuming activity was what she called Acadia Summer Art Program, abbreviated to ASAP or, as it was more affectionately known, Kamp Kippy. This summertime residency program was located on Mount Desert Island in Maine. Famed for its natural beauty and Acadia National Park, this where Kippy and many of her relatives maintained summer places. On the least occupied side of the island, Kippy established a small campus of several lively buildings decorated and designed by her friend Steven Izenour of the Philadelphia architectural firm of Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates. Through her lifetime, she “curated” and hosted an international mix of visual artists, curators, museum directors, patrons, and other creative thinkers with their partners and offspring. They stayed in the numerous properties she owned and rented on the island and congregated on the ASAP campus for dinners with lectures, all carefully documented for the vast Kamp Kippy archive, and went on boat trips with lobster sandwich picnics.

Kippy profusely commingled her friendships with artists and her numerous acquisitions of art. Many artists responded to her generosity by giving her examples of their work. She venerated and was delighted to live with furniture by past masters like Donald Deskey, Ray and Charles Eames, Warren McArthur, Isamu Noguchi, Eero Saarinen and Philadelphia’s underappreciated Wharton Esherick, but she was most devoted to the art and artists of her own time. Her taste was inclusive, she owned in depth examples of austere Shaker design while esteeming the post-modern ornamentation of Robert Venturi, from whom, along with architecture, she commissioned major pieces of furniture. She found the intersection of art and design and sculpture and furniture in the work of Scott Burton, Jorge Pardo, Richard Tuttle, and Franz West fascinating. The medium of clay had particular appeal to her, abetted by her close friendships with Jun Kuneko, Richard Devore, Mineo Mizuno, and Betty Woodman. Buying innovative lighting fixtures and designs was yet another way for her to integrate art into her everyday domestic life.

In her later decades Kippy’s role and presence in the art world greatly expanded, and she traveled more widely. The Fabric Workshop and Museum moved to its new, much larger, space and pursued even more ambitious projects with artists. In her final acts of generosity, Kippy authorized that the majority of her art, real estate, other assets, including all the work in these sales, be sold and the funds go to the foundation she had established before her death. The primary role of the Marion Boulton Stroud Foundation is to provide financial support to the Fabric Workshop and Museum and then, as possible and in whatever form it may take, Acadia Summer Arts Program/Kamp Kippy. All who knew and cared for Kippy are committed to keeping her crowning artistic programs and vivid, munificent personality remembered, honored, and alive.