Clara Sipprell

American Annual of Photography 1927

Sipprell, Clara Estelle (1885-1975)

A leading photographer of her day, Clara Sipprell was a short, stout woman who thought of herself as tall and thin. She smoked cigarettes, cigars, and pipes; liked bourbon and driving fast convertibles; and never cut her hair but often tucked it under a fedora, safari helmet, or cloche hat. She preferred capes because of their drama and freedom of movement, jewelry with large stones in heavy settings, and embroidered Slavic clothing.

. . .

n 1915, Sipprell, then thirty, moved to New York City with Jessica E. Beers, with whom she lived until 1923. She opened a photographic studio in Greenwich Village and eventually became a contract photographer for the Ethical Culture School, where Beers was a principal.

A Russian immigrant, Irina Khrabroff, was first her student and later her traveling companion, close friend, and business manager. As a student, Khrabroff spent her winters living with Sipprell and Beers in New York City. In 1923, when Khrabroff married, Beers moved out of the apartment, but Sipprell continued living there with Khrabroff and her husband until 1933.

Around 1937, Phyllis Fenner (1899-1982)–a writer, librarian, and anthologist of children’s books–became Sipprell’s housemate and traveling companion. This relationship continued through the final thirty-eight years of Sipprell’s life. In the mid-1960s, they had Harold Olmstead build them a house in Manchester, Vermont.

Clara Sipprell died in April 1975 at the age of eighty-nine. Her ashes are buried in a plot near an outcropping of rock in Manchester. Attached to the rock is a small bronze tablet on which, in accordance with her wishes, are engraved her own name along with the names of Jessica Beers and Phyllis Fenner.

It is not clear whether or not Sipprell’s relationships were sexual or even romantic, yet their length and stability, and the evidence of the memorial marker, indicate an extraordinary level of commitment.

From an article by Tee A. Corrine

Clara Sipprell Papers at Syracuse