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Patchwork Primitives

July 2024
1min read

The teasingly familiar scene above is not, as one would suppose, the work of an anonymous nineteenth-century folk artist. It is a painting done in 1951 by none other than the first lady of American folk art, Jean Lipman, who, for over thirty years as the editor of Art in America and author of countless articles and books on the subject, has done more to make folk art “a major chapter in the history of American art” than any other enthusiast of the genre.

Pennsylvania Past was Jean Lipman’s first painting, and the relatively few done since then have been unknown except to a small circle of friends. One of these admirers insisted last year that she bring fifteen of them out of her attic and into the Wilton Heritage Museum in the Lipman’s Connecticut hometown. As they are now back hidden away in the Lipman attic, AMERICAN HERITAGE was most pleased when the artist consented to their reproduction here.


In creating them, Jean Lipman did not start from scratch. Calling on paintings in her own outstanding collection of folk art and on photographs and clippings from major public and private collections filed over the years, she selected favorite items and, somewhat in the manner of a patchwork quilt, combined them with humor, affection, and considerable skill. No fewer than eleven examples of folk art went into Pennsylvania Past, ten of which are reproduced above; the eleventh is the frame on the opposite page with lettering based on the style of the well-known nineteenth-century painter Edward Hicks. As Lipman sees it, her pictures could be described as “recycling our American heritage.”


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