Thursday, June 21, 2012

Kate Freeman Clark

Holly Springs, Mississippi, is rightfully known for its antebellum architecture and for Earl Van Dorn's raid in December 1862. Less well known, perhaps, Holly Springs is also the home of an incredible collection of paintings by an artist whose talent and achievements largely went unnoticed by her fellow citizens until after her death. 

Kate Freeman Clark (right) was born in 1875, the daughter of Edward Clark, a Vicksburg attorney, and Cary Freeman Clark, a descendant of the Walthall family of Holly Springs (and the grand-niece of Confederate General Edward Cary Walthall). After her father died in 1885, she and her mother moved into the Walthall house in Holly Springs, known as the "Freeman Place." In 1891, Kate’s mother enrolled her in the Gardiner Institute (a school for girls) in Memphis in order to broaden Kate's education.  It was during the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, however, where Kate viewed the art exhibits, that she found inspiration and decided to pursue an art career. 

Kate enrolled in the Arts Students League in New York City, where she studied under John H. Twachtman and William Merritt Chase, both highly regarded Impressionist painters. The Arts Students League was founded in 1875, and was somewhat unusual at the time because the school accepted women as students. In 1892, the League moved into its new headquarters on West 57th Street, a location still in use by the League. At the school, it was William Merritt Chase, in particular, who influenced Kate Freeman Clark. Chase (right) was a contemporary and colleague of Winslow Homer and Augustus Saint Gaudens, among others, and is considered by many to be the greatest American Impressionist. In New York City, he was also known for his eccentricities and flamboyance in an era prone to such extravagance. In particular, his studio was as much an attraction as his paintings, as it was filled with lavish furnishings, oriental carpets, stuffed birds, and other assorted oddities. In this sense, he was perhaps the model for the fashionable members of the New York City art world of the late 19th century. The portrait above is of Kate Freeman Clark, and painted by Chase.

Beginning in 1896, Kate attended six consecutive outdoor summer courses taught by Chase at Shinnecock Hills in Long Island (Chase was an advocate of European-inspired "open air" art). It was during these sessions in New York that Kate began to develop her own style of painting, although her technique was heavily influenced by Chase. Encouraged by her teacher, Kate began submitting her paintings to art exhibitions. To disguise her gender, however, she used the name "Freeman Clark.” Over the course of the next twenty years, Clark was recognized by the art world for her talents, and her works were shown in some of the finest galleries, including The Corcoran, The Carnegie Institute, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and The New York School of Art. Unfortunately, several devastating losses would soon put an end to her career. To the right are two of Clark's works. At the top is "Return from the Shore" (1896) and, below, "Work-out in Mississippi Grove," (1890) completed before she went to New York. At top left is Kate Clark in her studio.

In 1916, William Merritt Chase died in his New York townhouse at age 67, leaving behind his wife, their eight children and his many devoted followers. Devastated by the loss of her mentor and perhaps sensing a change in artistic styles (specifically the growing influence of Cubism), Clark's art career, once so promising, collapsed. After losing her grandmother in 1919 and her mother in 1922, Kate gave up painting entirely and put her completed works in storage and moved back to Holly Springs, never again to return to her beloved New York. Moving back into the old Walthall house, Katie resumed the life of a small town Southern lady, and adapted herself so well to her environment that many never knew about her art career. She never married.

In her will, Kate Freeman Clark gave both her home and several hundred of her paintings and drawings to the town of Holly Springs. When she died in 1957 at the age of 81, many of her neighbors were surprised by the gift of her paintings to the city of Holly Springs, as few realized her level of accomplishment as an artist. In addition to the house and the artwork, she also left enough money to build a museum to house her collection. Today, the Kate Freeman Clark Gallery is located next to her family home. With more than 1,000 of her paintings, it is believed to be the largest collection of paintings by a single artist in the world. 

Kate Freeman Clark is buried in the Hillcrest Cemetery in Holly Springs.

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Kate Clark photo:
(2) Kate Clark portrait:
(3) William Merritt Chase:
(4) Clark in studio:
(5) (6) Clark paintings:
(7) Art gallery:


  1. Very interesting. Have you read Dorothy Shawhan's book _Lizzie_? Kate Freeman Clark is a peripheral character. Thanks!

  2. Very interesting. I first became interested in Kate Freeman Clark as a result of reading Dorothy Shawhan's book _Lizzie_. Clark is one of the peripheral characters. Have you read it?