Mississippi Museum of Art Announces Acquisition of Major Collection of Quilts

  • JACKSON, Mississippi
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  • February 28, 2023

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Crossroad Quilters, Strings in Diamond Quilt, 2000. Quilted fabric. Collection of the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS. 2022.9.4.

The Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) today announced its 2022 acquisitions which include a significant collection of quilts by crafters from Mississippi and beyond, along with works by Randy Hayes, Shani Peters, Edgar Praus, and Willie White. The 131 quilts generously gifted through the Kohler Foundation, Inc. greatly enhance MMA’s holdings of quilts by African Americans.

MMA Director Betsy Bradley said, “We are thrilled to be the beneficiary of the Kohler Foundation, Inc.’s extraordinary generosity—receiving this major gift of works assembled by Roland Freeman puts MMA at the national forefront of African American quilt collections. This expands and enriches our already important collection of quilts from Port Gibson and Gwendolyn Magee, among others.”

Known as one of the 20th century’s most important documentarians of Black American culture, Roland L. Freeman (b.1936) worked as a stringer for Time magazine and Magnum Photos, including a stint as a White House photographer. During Freeman’s travels through the American South and as director of the Mississippi Folklife Project, he began photographing and documenting African American quilters and guilds. His interest in craft traditions informed his collection long before others took note of this distinctive but little-recognized artistic tradition.

During his life, Freeman amassed more than 120 quilts and created several of his original own design. In 1979, he published “Something to Keep You Warm,” the first book about quilts made by African Americans, and curated the related national touring exhibition, the first of its kind. As Freeman’s appreciation for the milieu grew, his documentation project evolved and expanded. Freeman came to realize quilts were far more than “just something to keep you warm.” In “A Communion of the Spirits,” his second book published in 1996, Freeman expressed his belief that quilts are magical, stating, “Quilts have the power to create a virtual web of connections—individual, generational, professional, physical, spiritual, cultural, and historical.” 

Many of the 131 quilts were made in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and other Southern states, as well as international locations such as Liberia and South Africa. Several are by quilters in MMA’s permanent collection, including Annie Dennis, Crossroad Quilters, and Hystercine Rankin. Thirteen of Freeman’s photographs are also in MMA’s permanent collection.

Kohler Foundation, Inc., located in Kohler, Wisconsin, and established in 1940, has long supported the arts and education. The work of the Kohler Foundation encompasses five major areas of concentration: art preservation, grants, scholarships, a performing arts series (the Distinguished Guest Series), and the management of the Waelderhaus, a historic home. The Kohler Foundation has preserved art environments across the nation.

Additional 2022 Acquisitions

Randy Hayes (b.1944) was born and raised in Mississippi and began drawing and painting at an early age. After graduating with a BFA from Memphis College of Art in 1968, Hayes worked as an artist in the scenic department at WGBH Television, a PBS affiliate in Boston. He moved to Seattle in 1976 and opened a bookstore where he exhibited both contemporary and vintage photography. There he became steeped in the history of photography and developed a deep appreciation for books as art objects, both of which he now incorporates into his practice in various ways. Hayes paints directly onto grids of photographs he takes on his travels, mainly in the South and especially Mississippi where he currently lives. The photographs are the primary medium of his paintings as well as the subtexts upon which the paintings are made. Kimono and Camera (2010) is an example of this method, complementing six other works by the artist currently in MMA’s permanent collection.

Incorporating aspects of her multi-faceted community-based practice, Shani Peters’ (b.1981) collaborative work considers painful truths and creates opportunities for collective momentum toward learning, wisdom sharing, and community exchange. Her process is informed by her lived experience and in-depth research as she examines the politics of shared society to reveal individual and community approaches to managing the weights on and demands of Black mothers and caretakers. During her year-long Center for Art & Public Exchange (CAPE) residency in 2021 at MMA, Peters built relationships with local Jackson caretakers, women who not only support their families but also support the community through their careers. Through conversation, self-care packages, and questionnaires, the group focused on the best ways to self-sustain to effectively care for their families and communities. A resulting project was Collective Care Companion for Black Life, a publication and installation on the 200 block of Farish Street in downtown Jackson, promoting self-care and honoring Black mothers and caretakers.

Unifying all elements of the residency project was a guiding concept and aesthetic of Peters’ wider practice: a consideration of the balance and relationship between cycles of Black activism and the natural world, namely solar cycles. Sunrise Meditation for Black Life (quilt book) (2022) is a book made of cotton, felt, tulle, and velvet created during her residency in collaboration with local artists and creatives as a meditation guide as the sun rises and sets.

Edgar Praus (b.1948) is a photographer who captures the lesser-known corners of American highways and cities, most recently exploring Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. He seeks to make a record of a rapidly changing and disappearing America both to bring it forth in the current dialogue and to preserve a document for the future. His images are made in the communities on the edges of normalized commercial society, highlighting crumbling, sometimes vacant old-fashioned storefronts with hand-lettered signs before they disappear.

Margaret’s Grocery Store (2005–2011) is a series of ten photographs of a one-of-a-kind beacon of roadside folk art—a country market turned Christian chapel on famous Highway 61 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Between 1959 and 1979, it was the only grocery store owned and operated by a Black woman anywhere along the highway. Five years after Margaret’s first husband was shot and killed in the store during a robbery, she met and fell in love with the Reverend Dennis. He decorated the store with mosaics of pink, red, white, and yellow tiles, transforming it into a folk art ministry. Praus’ photographs document the site before it fell into disrepair after the Reverend’s death in 2012.

Willie White (1910–2001) was a self-taught artist who used felt-tip markers to create a vivid fantasy world. Born in Natchez, Mississippi, he spent most his adult life in New Orleans, acquiring an interest in painting after observing artists at work in the French Quarter in the early 1950s. Using house paint, he decorated his porch and fences with his first artworks. In the early 1960s, he began to work almost exclusively with felt markers and white poster board.

Dinosaur Eating Alligator by a Planet and a Rocket Ship, also known as Dinosaurs, Alligators, and Rocket Ship (ca. 1987), is marker ink on poster board and features many of the recurring elements in White’s diverse and whimsical vocabulary, including crosses, dinosaurs, alligators, rockets, and celestial bodies. White depicted images from his rural Mississippi upbringing, television, and dreams in flat, bold planes of primary colors, creating texture and linear pattern with dynamic cross hatching.

The Peters purchase was made possible through funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The others were gifted to the Museum: Hayes by Jim and Camille Uhlir; Praus by the artist; and White by Dan Piersol and Maureen Donnelly in memory of Steve Edds.

About the Mississippi Museum of Art

Established in 1911, the Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) is dedicated to connecting Mississippi to the world and the power of art to the power of community. The Museum’s permanent collection includes paintings, photography, multimedia works, and sculpture by Mississippi, American, and international artists. The largest art museum in the state, the Mississippi Museum of Art offers a vibrant roster of exhibitions, public programs, artistic and community partnerships, educational initiatives, and opportunities for exchange year-round.

Programming is developed inclusively with community involvement to ensure that a diversity of voices and perspectives are represented. Located at 380 South Lamar Street in downtown Jackson, the Museum is committed to honesty, equity, and inclusion. The Mississippi Museum of Art and its programs are sponsored in part by the City of Jackson and Visit Jackson. Support is also provided in part by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. For more information, visit msmuseumart.org.

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