Kate Freeman Clark gallery houses wealth
On College Avenue sits a plain Jane, flat-top, conventional brick building that goes without much notice. With its humble exterior, the structure looks a little out of place among the many renovated noble homes that dot the residential street.
But beauty is only skin deep for the simple building known as the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery. Its wooden double doors open up to a breathtaking palace flanked with the town’s own priceless inheritance.
Nearly 1,500 paintings, authored by the late Holly Springs native Kate Freeman Clark, are harbored in the four-room gallery. From small still lifes of fruit bowls to life-size self portraits and landscape scenes, the nearly 50 pictures on display in the gallery show off the artistic diversity of the prized William Merritt Chase student.
“She did every medium, everything you could do watercolors, landscapes, oil, pen and ink and charcoal,” Bea Green, chairwoman of the board of trustees of the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery, said.
The main three-room showcase is astounding with its wall-to-wall colossal paintings by Clark that, along with five Chase works, account for every inch of the exhibition room. But what is even more astonishing is the plethora of art work that is unaccounted for, lying tucked away in a minuscule storage room in the back of the gallery. Limited space and funding forces the gallery to rotate Clark’s paintings, leaving more than 1,000 paintings always hidden from the public eye.
“The saddest thing about the story is there is no money to maintain the paintings or the gallery,” Green said.
The paintings came to Holly Springs after Clark’s death in 1957. The works had been stored in a warehouse in New York, where Freeman studied and painted under renowned artists Irving Wiles and Chase. In her will, Clark specified her paintings be hung in public places, and she designated funds to build an art gallery in her hometown.
“She had very grand ideas,” Green said. “She wanted a reading room; she wanted a display case with clothing that had belonged to a number of generations in her family; she envisioned very elaborate gardens.
“I think she was very down to earth about it,” Green added. “These were things she wanted if it were possible.”
After her estate was settled, a gallery was constructed in Holly Springs but not quite to the expectations of which Clark had dreamed. “There just weren’t funds available. I guess she thought what she was leaving would be enough to do it,” Green said.
Sharing the wealth
Since the gallery’s construction, the board of trustees has been working to reframe and restore the paintings. “She’s an excellent painter and a natural resource for Holly Springs,” Green said. “When you have someone that is that gifted and well-respected in the art community, you certainly should be able to share that with the public.”
Because the gallery is not endowed, and the only source of income is through private donations and the rent of the Kate Freeman Clark family home, most of which goes to upkeep the old home place, sharing Clark’s wealth of art has become a difficult task.
Green said it costs hundreds to thousands of dollars to restore a painting and framing can cost equally as much. Currently, only two paintings have been restored and plans are under way for the restoration of three more.
One of the paintings is being restored by the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, the first and oldest art museum in the state. Green contacted George Bassi, director of the museum, for some consulting work. Bassi visited the gallery last April and was amazed at what he found. “We were really overwhelmed at the collection,” he said. Bassi realized the potential of the gallery and its desperate need for funds and publicity.
“If they don’t do something with it, some of it will be lost forever,” he said. Bassi said restoring the Clark paintings could cost anywhere from $500 to $2,500 apiece. “It depends on the condition of the paintings. Hers really vary,” Bassi said. While some of Clark’s paintings have little damage, others have holes, tar prints and need touch-up paint jobs. “There are probably some beyond repair that will never be able to be used for anything,” Bassi said.
The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art took the Kate Freeman Clark Gallery under its wing and established a development and publicity plan, identified pieces that needed repair and launched off the gallery’s first inventory of the paintings. To get the gallery and Clark circulating again in the art community, Bassi will feature several of Clark’s paintings along with her teacher’s (Chase) in an exhibition this summer at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art titled, “Summers of 96: Shinnecock Revisited: The Inspiration of Kate Freeman Clark by William Merritt Chase.”
In addition to the Lauren Rogers exhibition, one of Clark’s paintings will get international exposure this summer at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Ga., during the Olympics. The museum is hosting an exhibit titled, “Echoes and Late Shadows: The Larger World of Southern Impressionism,” which will examine impressionism in the South in the context of national and international movements. The Atlanta museum will take one of Clark’s pieces out on loan and, in return, will have the painting framed and restored.
“We were absolutely delighted to have that opportunity, and it has led to the fact that they are going to have an exhibit of her work in 1997 at the Morris Museum of Art,” Green said.
Green and other concerned Holly Springs citizens aren’t just sitting around letting out-of-towners do all the work. A local book club, Belles and Books, adopted the gallery three years ago as its main service project. The book club held its first fund-raiser in December with “High Tea with Kate Freeman Clark.” As a result of that fund-raiser, Green said a private citizen made a donation. “[The tea] generated a surprising amount of interest,” Green said. Also, local banks have recently donated funds to frame some watercolors and provide the gallery with chairs.
The board of trustees along with help from Belles and Books continue to garner attention for the Kate Freeman Clark gallery. On Feb. 26 the two will sponsor a lecture by Quintin Rankin, a conservator from the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution and Estill Curtis Pennington, widely recognized artist and authority on Southern art who is also the curator of Southern paintings for the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Ga. The lecture on Southern art will begin at 7 p.m. at the gallery. There is no admission charge, but seating is limited to 60 people. Reservations can be made by calling Green at 252-4211.
“We are looking to the future with a great deal of anticipation thanks to all the help we’ve received from our friends at the Lauren Rogers Museum. We feel we are on the right track to make the right decision as to how best deal with the collection of Kate Freeman Clark,” Green said.