Marion “Kippy” Boulton Stroud, the founder and artistic director of the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, died on August 22 at the age of 76.
A curator, author, and museum director, Stroud is most widely known for opening the Fabric Workshop, an experimental art space in Philadelphia, in 1977. Stroud originally intended to provide internships and artist residencies for those interested in producing repeat fabric yardage, but immediately welcomed—and soon encouraged—creative deviation from this mission.
According to a 2003 profile in the New York Times, which described her helping with the production of soundproof karaoke pods, “it was prints and fabrics she knew about. She also knew artists were interested in materials beyond paint and watercolors. What she didn’t know was what could happen if you started an experimental space and invited artists in without any preconceived notions of what they had to do.”
Before starting the Fabric Workshop, Stroud was the artistic director of Prints in Progress, a printmaking workshop for inner-city youth. Later in her career she served as chair of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Committee and a as member of the American Crafts Council.
Founding the Fabric Workship, Stroud initially drew inspiration from the history of her hometown, Philadelphia, as the center of the American Arts and Crafts movement. ”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,” Stroud said in the same profile.
Stroud initially signed a two-year lease at 1133 Arch Street, the site of a former pants factory across from Reading Market. “We had 5,000 square feet that used to be Fox Slacks and Trousers on the fifth floor of an industrial building,” she told the Times. “It had great metal shelving, sewing equipment and an entire wall of windows for light.”
Now upwards of 35,000 feet, with a lobby designed by Jorge Pardo and room for three large exhibition spaces, the Fabric Workshop houses an archive of every artist project since the institution’s conception. In 1996, “Museum” was officially added to the institution’s title.
The Fabric Workshop has hosted more than 450 artists in its residency program over the past 38 years, including Claes Oldenburg, Kiki Smith, Faith Ringgold, Marina Abramovic, Doug Aitken, Louise Bourgeois, Christine Borland, Tom Friedman, Ann Hamilton, David Ireland, Robert Morris, Lorna Simpson, Bill Viola, and Howard Hodgkin, and many others.
In 2003, Stroud also published a book with the MIT Press titled New Material As New Media: The Fabric Workshop, containing photos of work by over 50 artists in materials including hog intestines, spider silk, knitted stainless steel, fiberglass, and video. In a statement, The Fabric Workshop and Museum said,
“The Board of Trustees and staff of The Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM) mourn the loss of their beloved founder and director Marion (Kippy) Boulton Stroud. One of the art world’s true visionaries, Kippy founded FWM in 1977 to encourage leading artists to experiment with fabric and ultimately a wide range of materials and methods and to share their creative process with the public. Through her leadership, FWM has developed into an internationally renowned contemporary art museum, distinguished by one of the most innovative artist-in-residence programs in the United States and an acclaimed education and apprenticeship program. For more than four decades, Kippy was a curator, author, editor, educator, administrator and force for positive social change, all at the same time and always at the highest level of achievement. The Board and staff of FWM are making plans not only to maintain her legacy but to advance it, as we know she wished.”
A statement from Stroud’s family said that she is “survived by a large and devoted family of Rosengarten, Sims, and Stroud cousins, and a multitude of friends across the U.S. and around the world.”