Kate Freeman Clark's Gift to Holly Springs
Inside a tin box tucked away in a linen closet in her home, Kate Freeman Clark laid out her wishes for the disposition of 1,200 pieces of art – her life's work – and plans that would make herself and her family remembered. The revelation of what was contained in that document cast a state of wonderment over her fellow townspeople who considered themselves to know everything about everybody.
This they did not know: That she had studied art under the American art masters of the day; that she was a star pupil and friend of William Merritt Chase, the main proponent of American Impressionism; that she had become not only accomplished but had become noted in her colorful plein air landscapes; that her art had been featured in some of the most prominent venues in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.; that she was a prolific painter, and over a thousand paintings were stored in a warehouse in New York and they had been there for 40 years.
After her death on March 3, 1957, her will set forth that she was leaving the town her paintings, her house and money to build an art museum to finally reveal her artistic importance to those at home who knew her but didn't know who she really was.
Inside the tin box documents were found entitled, "Suggestions for my executors as to housing and disposal of my paintings."
She desired that on the lot located east of the Walthall home, there be built a fire-proof building with a skylight and storage space for excess paintings. In the center of the gallery, she requested exhibition cases for display for the Edward Russell Freeman oriental collection.
She envisioned another room arranged as a library for her and her father's books, magazines or art and prints with reading tables. In another place she wished for displays of costumes and apparel to illustrate fashions and manners. "They will show the amazing changes between 1914 and 1933 in minds, modes and manner. There should be enough back to the childhood of my grandmother, of both men and women's apparel," she noted in her suggestions.
Harris Gholson, president of the Bank of Holly Springs and a cousin of Kate Freeman Clark and executor of the estate, took charge of overseeing the renovation of the Walthall home and construction of the art museum.
Gertrude McAlexander, who handled Kate Clark's banking matters, recalls when executors of the will requested delivery of the paintings from the Lincoln Warehouse in New York.
"We had no idea she was so prolific," she said. "When the paintings started to arrive, we filled up the Board Room of the bank and had to rent a house to store the rest."
Construction was completed on the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery in 1963. The resulting building and lavish gardens she envisioned were not achievable with the funds that were left for that purpose. The Gallery is today composed of three rooms where Kate Freeman Clark's paintings hang alongside a few William Merritt Chase paintings.
There was not enough space to fulfill her wishes for a library and fashion exhibition. Kate Freeman Clark's papers, her jewelry, dresses, photograhs and other artifacts are located at the Marshall County Historical Museum.
The Gallery storage room contains the remainder of the 1,200 paintings, drawings and watercolors that compose her collection. A kitchen for food service was later added when the Gallery became a popular venue for holding social events, thus completing Kate Freeman Clark’s wish that there be a “museum of fine and social arts.”