Holly Springs art treasure comes to Ole Miss museum

Published 4:02 pm Thursday, August 27, 2015


A treasure from Holly Springs makes its way to Oxford this month at the University of Mississippi Museum.

Kate Freeman Clark: A New Look at a National Treasure features paintings by the renowned painter Kate Freeman Clark, who was born in Holly Springs in September 1875.

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Moving to New York City in her adolescence exposed her to art on a much grander scale. She enrolled in the Art Students League in 1894 and was mentored by the painter William Merritt Chase who died in 1916. She signed many of her works with Freeman Clark or K. Freeman Clark so her gender was not immediately known. Despite this fact, she did exhibit work in various shows including at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and many other prestigious institutions.

In 1924, the painter put away her paintbrushes and moved back home to Holly Springs. Her work was stored in the Lincoln Warehouse in New York, and she rarely spoke of her painting career.

After 20 years of painting, Kate Freeman Clark gave it all up and never painted again. Many of her closest friends did not even know about her previous career or skill for painting and were surprised to learn after her death of her astonishing talent.

At the age of 81, Freeman Clark died leaving a will bequeathing all of her paintings, home and funds to create a museum in her hometown.

The Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery was completed in 1963 and includes space for displaying paintings along with a storage area which stores approximately 1,200 pieces of work that comprises her collection. The artwork had been stored for 40 years in New York and was quite a surprise to the executors of the estate when they arrived to their new home. They filled the boardroom of the bank and also were stored in a rented house until the gallery was completed.

Though there were not enough funds to add library space, costume displays or lavish gardens as Miss Clark envisioned, the resulting gallery did become a “museum of fine and social arts” as she had wished.

This show at the University Museum is a small taste of work from her massive collection and is hanging now until Feb. 20, 2016. Dr. Theron (Tom) Dewey who is the emeritus professor of art at the University of Mississippi, is the guest curator of the show, and each of the chosen works came from the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery.

It is the perfect opportunity to become familiar with the stunning accomplishments of this great local painter from the 20th century. Her landscape and plein air paintings are beautifully rendered, and the story of her extraordinary life and the mystery that surrounds her decision to give up her painting career only make the paintings that much more interesting.