Marion “Kippy” Stroud (1939–2015)

Marion “Kippy” Stroud, c. 1995.

SEVERAL TRIBUTES APPEARED immediately after the sad, distressing news of Kippy Stroud’s death, paying due homage to her achievements as a creative force—artistic director, arts entrepreneur and producer, patron—while trying as well to capture something of her mercurial personality. An only child but with a substantial extended family of origin, Kippy also, by instinct and design, created an extended family of affinity within the organizations she founded, and within the larger art world. Each of us has our Kippy stories, our own understanding and interpretation of who she was. My relationship with her, as colleague and friend, spanned over thirty years, encompassed many kinds of interactions, and had its inevitable highs and lows. Even so—or maybe as a result—it’s a challenge to produce a fully dimensional portrait of this brilliant, complicated subject.

What do I remember most vividly about Kippy now? A partial list: Her discerning eye for talent and beauty, her acute intelligence, her generosity and hospitality, her willfulness, her courtesy and sense of obligation, her reflexive self-effacement when in the spotlight, her steadfast loyalty to those she cared for and about, her affection for the children of her staff and friends, her turbulence, her late arrivals at every event laden with bags and often with her beloved dogs waiting in her car, her essential aloneness, her funny superstitions, her lucky number, her favorite color, her unique sense of style. Who else, after all, would or could wear cowboy boots with Issey Miyake, and complete the ensemble with rolls of blue tape as bangles? She was unmistakable; it’s hard to think of all that restless, creative energy stilled.

There was a saying that Kippy liked, picked up, I believe, from the artist Robert Kushner, who often repeated it: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Of course, the irony is that she did things exceedingly well, on her own terms, and with a level of ambition, vision, and drive that was formidable. Those achievements spanned the founding of the Fabric Workshop and Museum, which grew from its origins as an educational, print, and textile workshop to an internationally recognized museum with an extensive collection and active exhibition program, to the establishment of Acadia Summer Arts Program, aka Kamp Kippy, which developed out of her long-standing habit of hosting friends at her summer home in Maine and became an extensive residency program and think tank for cultural practitioners, available by coveted invitation only.

These organizations mirrored each other, or, better said perhaps, functioned as two sides of the same coin, fostering creativity and the creative in complementary ways. At the FWM, a who’s who of contemporary artists from around the world came to Philadelphia to be in residence. There, Kippy encouraged each of them to imagine broadly, to conceive of “fabric” as any medium or material, and then ensured that they would be assisted by a highly expert production team in realizing new, often heretofore undreamed of, projects of sizable scale and impact. At Acadia, Kippy offered cultural practitioners both solitude and community, nurturing curators, administrators, friends, and artists in legendary comfort, in a group of houses and studios each more picturesque than the others, and in a natural setting so beautiful that she might be said to have invented “glamping” there, avant la lettre.

Kippy certainly put her substantial fortune to uses bigger than herself, although everything she touched was marked by her animating presence. She leaves a considerable gap in the cultural landscape here in Philadelphia and in the field at large. Yet visions can survive visionaries. And in her intensely art- and artist-centric focus and approach—offering the gift of extraordinary possibilities and resources, enabling making at an exceptional level along with time for rich reflection—can be located, I believe, the values that might figure as an empowering legacy. Those values can transcend the immediately personal while permeating what is left behind, and inspire a transformed, stable future in which her important work might be reinvigorated and continued.

Paula Marincola is the executive director at the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, Philadelphia.