Howard W. and Jean Lipman shared a lifetime sponsorship of art. The Lipmans' personal art collection, acquired throughout their marriage, was eventually divided into three separate parts: The Howard W. Lipman Foundation collection that was donated and merged into the modern sculpture holdings of the Whitney Museum of American Art; an American folk art collection that was later sold through two separate auctions in 1950 and 1981 and is now part of the holdings of the New York Historical Association and the Museum of American Folk Art; and a personal collection that was retained and displayed in the Lipmans' various residences in Connecticut, New York, and Arizona.
Married in 1933, the Lipmans began jointly collecting American folk art at a time when few art museums or institutions recognized the historical and artistic value of early primitive, self-taught artists. By the late 1940s, the Lipmans had amassed a large, significant collection that was highly regarded for its quality and scope.
During the early 1950s, the Lipmans also began actively collecting sculpture, focusing upon American contemporary sculptors. In the late 1950s they created the Howard W. Lipman Foundation, with an initial inventory of forty sculptures and three paintings by contemporary American artists. The purpose of the foundation was to acquire significant works by emerging American sculptors and to make them available through loans or donations to various art institutions.
In 1965 the Howard W. Lipman Foundation approached the Whitney Museum of American Art with a proposal to coordinate the foundation's efforts and goals with the museum's contemporary sculpture program. The foundation offered a majority of its growing collection of sculpture and acquisition funds towards the development of the evolving permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Thereafter, the Howard W. Lipman Foundation served in an advisory role to the museum's acquisitions, and the foundation supplied the necessary funds to acquire works of sculpture desired by the Whitney for its permanent collection.
In addition to their folk art and foundation collections, the Lipmans also acquired important works by Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, and David Smith, through their lifelong association and friendship with these artists. Many of these pieces were retained in the Lipmans' personal collection throughout their lives.
Individually the Lipmans also expressed their interest in art through various means. Jean Lipman served as editor of Art in America magazine from 1940 to 1970, which provided her with continuous exposure to emerging artists and trends in American art. Jean Lipman's abiding interest in folk and contemporary art was also expressed through her voluminous writings. Throughout her life she wrote and edited highly acclaimed books and articles about major themes and artists in American art, and she was a recognized folk art authority and connoisseur. Some of her best known works include: The Flowering of American Folk Art; Rufus Porter, Yankee Wall Painter; and Calder's Universe.
Jean Lipman, born in 1909, was also an amateur artist in her later years, creating paintings and assemblages that often dealt with the theme of "art about art." She was represented by a gallery in New York City, as well as one in Arizona, and she had several solo exhibitions.
Howard W. Lipman, born in 1905, showed an early interest in art. By the mid 1920s he had gone to Paris to study painting, but Lipman found himself more attracted to sculpture and he began studying with a German wood carver. In the late 1930s, after returning to the New York City area, Lipman began stone carving with the Clay Club on Eighth Street, adjacent to the Whitney Museum of American Art. He was represented by a New York City gallery and participated in local exhibitions.
Deciding that his sculptural talent was not sufficient for professional pursuit, Lipman began his business career as a stockbroker in Neuberger and Berman, a prominent New York investment management firm that he helped to establish in 1939. Lipman subsequently channeled his artistic endeavors toward collecting and supporting the work of established and emerging American sculptors. He also served on the boards of both the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Archives of American Art.
Howard and Jean Lipman maintained long and close relationships with three prominent American artists: Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, and David Smith. Jean Lipman, in particular, was involved in promoting and documenting Calder and his works through numerous articles, books, and exhibitions that she helped produce as editor of the magazine Art in America and publications director for the Whitney Museum of American Art. Calder's Universe, which she edited to accompany a major Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective exhibition of his works in 1976, was considered by Calder to be his "official" biography. The book went to fourteen printings, one of the largest ever, in the history of art books.
The Lipmans were also great admirers of Louise Nevelson and her work. They purchased her artwork for their own collection, as well as donating pieces to various art museums and institutions. Jean Lipman wrote articles about Nevelson and edited the book, Nevelson's World.
David Smith and the Lipmans established a friendship in the late 1950s that lasted until Smith's untimely death in May 1965. The Lipmans purchased several Smith sculptures, which they placed on the grounds of their Wilton, Connecticut, home. They also purchased Smith works for donation to public institutions, such as the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
The Lipmans retired to Carefree, Arizona, a private residential community renowned for its sensitivity to ecologically-based, architectural design. Howard Lipman died in 1992. Jean Lipman remained active in art and community affairs until her death in 1998.