Jean Lipman (1909–1998) was the editor-in-chief of Art in America for most of her thirty-five year association with the magazine and the author of the first serious book about American folk painting, American Primitive Painting (1942), as well as numerous other publications on American folk art. With her husband, Howard Lipman (1905–1992), she formed two large collections of folk art and another of American modernist sculpture that principally featured works by Alexander Calder, David Smith, and Louise Nevelson. The Lipmans’ country home in Connecticut was a dramatic blend of their dual interests, with folk art filling the interiors and modernist sculptures on the lawns.
Frederic Fairchild Sherman, the founding editor of Art in America, helped the Lipmans find an old farmhouse in Wilton, Connecticut, which the young couple furnished with American antiques and folk paintings similar to those in Sherman’s collection. “All our vacations were antiquing trips,” Jean reminisced. After Sherman’s death in 1940, Lipman became editor-in-chief and transformed the scholarly journal into a popular magazine covering the current art scene. She also encouraged and published research on folk art—much of it by collectors rather than academics. The Lipmans sold their first folk art collection to Stephen C. Clark, a collector of modern art and old masters, who acquired it for the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. The Lipmans immediately began a second collection, with an emphasis on folk sculpture and paint-decorated furniture. When they moved to Arizona in 1980, the Lipmans sold their folk art again, this time to the American Folk Art Museum in New York City, which retained major pieces and sold the others at auction.
Jean Lipman’s acquaintance with important folk art dealers, collectors, and scholars well equipped her to organize The Flowering of American Folk Art for the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1974. The most comprehensive and influential exhibition of folk art since Holger Cahill’s Art of the Common Man (1932–1933), it launched a new era of interest in the field. In 1980, again at the Whitney, she presented American Folk Painters of Three Centuries, an exhibition devoted to thirty-seven individual artists whose stories had been preserved by the dedicated folk art research she encouraged and practiced during her long career. In collaboration with curator Elizabeth V. Warren, Lipman was the prime motivation behind two major exhibitions at the American Folk Art Museum: Young America: A Folk Art History (1986) and Five-Star Folk Art: One Hundred American Masterpieces (1990).
Source: Stacy C. Hollander, wall text for Folk Art and American Modernism. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2015.