On February 28, 2023, the Mississippi Museum of Art announced its 2022 acquisitions which include a significant collection of quilts by crafters from Mississippi and beyond. The 131 quilts generously gifted through the Kohler Foundation, Inc. greatly enhance MMA’s holdings of quilts by African Americans.
“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,” MMA Director Betsy Bradley said. “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 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.
About the Mississippi Museum of Art
Established in 1911, the Mississippi Museum of Art 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.