Friendship between A.E. Backus and ‘Kip’ Kiplinger examined

The A.E. Backus Museum presents an enlightening exhibition exploring the close friendship between artist A.E. “Bean” Backus and publishing magnate “Kip” Kiplinger. The exhibition, Kindred Spirits: Paintings & Letters from the Kiplinger Family Collection, will be on view November 17, 2023 through January 7, 2024 at the museum located at 500 North Indian River Drive in Fort Pierce, FL.

W. M. Kiplinger (1891-1967), a famed Washington journalist with a home on Sewall’s Point, FL discovered the art of A. E. Backus and the two became friends in the 1950s. Despite great differences in their lifestyles, the two shared a charitable mind-set when it came to support for the community. Kiplinger found Backus to be a close counterpart in many ways.

He also admired Backus’ work and commissioned a number of significant paintings by the artist included in the exhibition. One of the important works he commissioned is a nearly 9-foot long, mural-sized painting of the St. Lucie River from his Sewall’s Point estate. The view from the estate, Bay Tree Lodge, was perfect for and certainly destined to become a Backus painting. 

When Martin County built its first library on land that Kiplinger donated to the community, he also donated the Backus mural-sized painting to the library. The painting, which is kept at its permanent home at the Blake Library in Stuart, will be part of the Kindred Spirits exhibition. This will give Backus Museum visitors the opportunity to appreciate the painting up-close for the first time since 1999, as it will be installed at eye-level for ideal viewing.

Kiplinger, who was also a tireless letter writer, corresponded with his friend “Bean” as well as with other artists he met at the Backus Studio, including a surprisingly candid exchange with Alfred Hair (1941-1970). Kiplinger provided encouragement to Hair, a talented young artist who would go on to become famous in his own right as one of the original Florida HighwaymenKindred Spirits is the first public showing of selected works from the Kiplinger Family Collection including rare letters like the one to Hair. Paintings on view from the collection include works by Al Black, Walter Cole, Willie Daniels, James F. Hutchinson, Kevin Hutchinson, Therese Knowles, Roy McLendon, Harold Newton, and Sam Newton.

To continue the legacy of both Kiplinger and Backus, the Kiplinger family has endowed a space in the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery to be known henceforth as The Kiplinger Gallery.

Like Backus, Kiplinger was well-known for being a humanitarian, particularly for his generous donations to the community. Kiplinger’s grandson, Knight Kiplinger, who cherishes the Treasure Coast region as much as his grandfather did, came up with an idea of how best to continue the legacy of his grandfather’s friendship with Backus and other gifted artists from the area. Through a generous gift, the Kiplinger family has endowed part of the museum which will now be known as the Kiplinger Gallery.

The Kiplinger Gallery is the larger space hosting all of the Backus Museum’s changing exhibitions every season; consequently, it is the most highly-trafficked gallery on a daily basis. For generations to come, the new Kiplinger Gallery will be a fitting testament to the interest and appreciation that both Kiplinger and Backus had for the arts in the community.

Kindred Spirits: Paintings & Letters from the Kiplinger Family Collection’s opening reception will be held on Friday, December 1 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm, with remarks at 6:30 pm. Current members are always free; not-yet members are $20.

A.E. Backus (American, 1906-1990). Tornado of April 15 1958, Fort Pierce, Florida, 1958. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 in.
A.E. Backus (American, 1906-1990). Tornado of April 15 1958, Fort Pierce, Florida, 1958. Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 in. Kiplinger Family Collection.

About the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery

Since its founding in 1960 and the first day the doors opened in 1961, the A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery has been a center and catalyst for creativity and culture in our region.

The Museum houses the nation’s largest public presentation of artwork by Florida’s preeminent painter, A.E. “Bean” Backus (1906-1990), and also continues its more than sixty-year tradition of exhibiting and celebrating the paintings of the original Florida Highwaymen, who got their start here.

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