The Fulton home of internationally recognized photographer Stuart Klipper is packed with sculptures, ceramics, plants, posters, instruments, books, weavings and other treasures.
Visitors to the little house on Xerxes Avenue find the residence has earned its immodest nickname, the Klippersonian — a name bestowed by Klipper’s “DC” (Darling Companion), Kathleen Richert.
Indeed there is a museum quality to the abode, bursting with objects that each have a place, a person and a story attached to them. The assorted oddities and curiosities housed inside the Klippersonian serve as signposts for those looking to understand the curious nature of their garrulous, globetrotting owner. You sense yourself becoming part of the story, as Klipper’s generous nature quickly draws you into a sprawling, larger-than-life narrative. As an artist, and as a person, he is a seeker, always ready to share his collected knowledge and digressive history while collecting new gems along the way.
Klipper’s wanderlust has taken him to every corner of the earth, including both the North and South poles; he jokes that he’s “bipolar” and has journeyed to the South Pole a half dozen times. His arctic panoramas of Greenland, Iceland, Norway and Alaska have documented the planet’s changing climate. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, he photographed the Sápmi region of Scandinavia, where radioactive fallout contaminated the pastureland and Klipper had to use radiation distribution maps to navigate. Klipper has also used his wide-scope photographic technique to capture Central and South America, Australia, South Asia and all 50 states.
In the entrance to the Klippersonian, a collection of World War I propaganda posters is displayed beside photographs Klipper took of World War I cemeteries in 1984, during a trip he took along the Western Front in France and Belgium. “It was this historical event that determined the era of time I would live my life out, and so I went there,” he said. “It’s something that haunts me still.”
His interest in war history started as a kid growing up in the Bronx during the 1940s and ’50s, surrounded by World War II military surplus. Later, he’d become fascinated with the Great War, and he has shelves of literature and history about the period. “It really changed the world for me looking at the aftermath of that war,” he said.
Yet, Klipper’s interest in military history has nothing to do with glory or patriotism, but rather with the devastating impact of war. He himself avoided serving in Vietnam, obtaining a 4-F from a sympathetic psychologist, who wrote a letter saying the young artist, covered in clay from the pottery studio, was physically and mentally unfit for duty.
Stepping into the Klippersonian living room, a striking abstract painting by well-known opera and theater designer Bob Israel hangs on the far wall. Southwestern art and textiles cover tables and walls throughout the first floor, and the Klippersonian is home, Klipper said, to the world’s largest collection of works by Mari Newman, a Minneapolis-based outsider artist known for her eccentric “House at the End of the Rainbow” abode at 51st & Penn.
The walls of the Klippersonian are blanketed with photographs by Edward S. Curtis, Ansel Adams, Jack Delano and his friend Lee Friedlander. A backroom of the home is filled with Sami apparel, a dulcimer Klipper built himself, one large ostrich egg and Inuit craft pieces from Greenland.
One of the most remarkable finds in the Klippersonian is hung high in the hallway, just below the ceiling: Klipper’s portrait of the Argentinian essayist and short-story master Jorge Luis Borges at Minnehaha Falls.
During a trip to Buenos Aires in the early 1980s, Klipper visited a local woman whose aunt he had met a few months earlier at an art gallery party near Loring Park. While talking to the woman’s fiance, Klipper offhandedly mentioned how much he revered Borges, and the man responded that Borges happened to be his father’s best friend.
“Word got to me that [Borges] loved coming to places, and he’d never been [to Minnesota],” Klipper said. “So he needed a local contact.”
In 1982, Klipper booked Borges at the Walker Art Center, and served as his guide to the Twin Cities.
“He was a real devotee of Longfellow, so he had to go to Minnehaha Falls to see the statue,” Klipper said.
Borges was in his 80s at the time of the visit and almost totally blind. The day they visited the falls, Klipper remembers picking up the latest issue of the New York Review of Books, in which Gore Vidal quipped: “Like so many blind people, my grandfather was a passionate sightseer.”
While walking around the falls, Borges explained to Klipper the differences between tango and milonga music.
“I want to have my ear cast in gold because he sung a tango in my ear,” Klipper said.
Life in Minneapolis
Sipping tea in his dining room, where the table’s centerpiece is a sculpture made of beer cans, Klipper noted that if he were drinking something stronger, his Bronx accent would probably be more pronounced.
Unlike many from the East Coast, he has always had romantic notions of the Midwest. In 1970, fresh from a breakup with a Swedish woman with whom he’d lived in Stockholm, intrigued by all things Viking-related and bearing a job offer from MCAD, Klipper made his move to Minneapolis.
The job didn’t last, but Klipper stayed.
Over the years, he picked up jobs here and there and got lucky with grants, receiving two Guggenheim fellowships and grants from the Bush Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation and the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. He was also awarded prestigious commissions and exhibited his work both internationally and at the Walker, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
But at Armatage Montessori School, where he’s volunteered for 14 years, he’s known simply as Uncle Stinky.
Klipper started out as a reading partner, which later morphed into more classroom work. The Minneapolis school district has praised Klipper as being an “extraordinary volunteer” who “shares his insights and skills by tying in his experiences with the genres the students are reading about in class.”
Klipper said he enjoys acquainting his students with the Klippersonian’s collections.
“The house is just filled with stuff I [can] bring in and talk about,” he said. “When I was in public school, I could kick every other kid’s butt on show and tell —
and I still can.”
The Uncle Stinky moniker came from a children’s book Klipper picked up at the Walker’s bookshop about a portly penguin whose hat gets stolen by an odiferous seagull named Stuart. “I needed a nickname, so it became Uncle Stinky,” Klipper said.
While Klipper, 78, is known for photographing global landscapes, he also shoots photos locally.
He enjoys walking along Minnehaha Creek, pointing his camera up- and down-stream. And he likes to shoot the nearby intersection of 50th & Xerxes, capturing newly exposed trolley tracks and freshly forged potholes. Last year, he discovered a long brick wall in Fulton. “[The bricks] bore decades worth of scratched-in graffiti inscriptions,” he said. “I thoroughly documented them as a telltale of lives lived around where I live.”
When not taking photographs, globetrotting or regaling young people with tales from his travels, Klipper loves to dance with his DC, Kathleen. “I caught the bug in the ’80s,” he said.
He’s versed in swing and tango and, if someone starts playing salsa music, he said he can rise to the occasion. Formerly a regular at Lee’s Liquor Lounge, Klipper now frequents the Fraternal Order of the Eagles club in Seward. He also gets to New Orleans at least once per year to practice Cajun zydeco dancing (though Minneapolis has its own scene). “We have more Cajun zydeco going on up here than any place outside of Louisiana,” Klipper said.
Dancing came late in life, but he’s always been a music fan, from his days growing up in the Bronx to his years as a college student in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is where he saw Bob Dylan play one of his first concerts after leaving Minnesota.
“He was some kid with a guitar like the rest of us,” Klipper said. “Whatever the internecine understandings of what our definitions of folk music were, he didn’t fit.” He remembers thinking: “He’s not doing what anyone else is doing.”
Klipper ran into Dylan two years later in Greenwich Village, and he claims Dylan recognized him as “Stuart Klipper from Ann Arbor.” “That wouldn’t happen again,” Klipper said.
Not long after the Greenwich Village run-in, Klipper took over a woman’s apartment in Ann Arbor where Dylan had recently stayed. There he found a harmonica that he is sure must have belonged to Dylan.
“If I only can get a cheek swab from him, I’m sure that something can be scraped out of the harmonica, and I can sell it for a few hundred thousand dollars,” he said. “It’s my relic of the true cross. I choose to believe.”
See Klipper’s work
Klipper’s photography will be featured in Gallery 360’s 20-year anniversary show this summer.
When: Opening reception, 7-10 p.m. Saturday June 6
Where: Gallery 360, 3011 W. 50th St.
Info: gallery360mpls.com, 612-925-2400