History of the Mississippi Museum of Art
1911: The Mississippi Art Association
The Mississippi Art Association, forerunner of the Mississippi Museum of Art, came into existence at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, October 27, 1911. The State Fair Association had requested artist Bessie Cary Lemly of the Belhaven College faculty, and founder of Jackson’s Art Study Club in 1903, to organize an exhibition of local art for the State Fair. The artists who participated in the 1911 State Fair were so enthusiastic about the outcome that they quickly organized the Mississippi Art Association (MAA), which allowed them to exhibit artwork regularly for public viewing. Members of the MAA included artists and supporters of the arts, all of whom were originally members of the Art Study Club.
The sole purpose of the MAA, at first, was to hold exhibitions at the state fair. Later, shows were held in any available space: the YWCA, the City Auditorium, the Public Library, and the Governor’s Mansion, among others. Aileen Phillips Shannon, the artist who first taught Marie Atkinson Hull, followed Bessie Lemly as president, and in l916 Marie Hull was elected to the position. During these early years, the MAA and Art Study Club lobbied the Mississippi legislature to introduce art classes to the public schools. Success came when Central High School of Jackson became the first public school in the state with an art education program and Mississippi State College for Women (later Mississippi University for Women) became the first college to add art to its curriculum.
The MAA established a permanent art collection in 1911. Taking Marie Hull’s suggestion, members initiated the purchase award system for the annual state fair exhibition. Bettie McArthur, head of Mississippi University for Women’s art department, won the first purchase award for her painting The Poplars of St. Legare. It became one of the first additions to the collection. In 1926 the organization was incorporated and a charter secured, signed by Bessie Cary Lemly, Mrs. R. L. Hogue, and Martha Enochs. This step was inspired when the Gale family home at 839 North State Street (now called the Municipal Art Gallery) was presented to the city of Jackson. Although the MAA shared the house as a meeting place for various clubs, they were able to house the art collection there and in their offices as well.
For the next fifty years, the MAA became increasingly active. An annual watercolor exhibition was established in l931, complementing the annual oil exhibition. In the late 1930s Eudora Welty held a photographic exhibition there. Karl Wolfe, who was MAA president from 1940 to 1942, and William Hollingsworth worked on attracting nationally known artists to the juried exhibitions. In 1949 the first employee was hired: a woman who lived in the gallery, performed light housekeeping chores, and cared for the permanent collection. In l951 the MAA re-filed for a charter of incorporation, having failed to file the required papers in due fashion. Joshua Green, attorney for the MAA, wrote the new charter.
1911: First permanent art collection
Increasing activity through juried exhibitions
Over the years, the organization added children’s art, collegiate work, and Allison’s Art Colony (a group that met several times a year from 1948 to 1963 at a spa in Madison County called Allison’s Wells) to their exhibition agenda. Children’s art classes, teacher-training workshops, scholarships for training, newsletters, contact with the state school system, and workshops sponsored at Allison’s Wells furthered the MAA’s commitment to their original purpose: “to raise the standard of appreciation among laymen, and to stimulate the production of the highest type of work from artists.”
As the 1955 term president, Mrs. Morgan Jones made the first effort to secure an art museum for Jackson. She stated that it would be her main objective to work toward the realization of a full-fledged art institution. Subsequent officers also tried to meet that goal. As early as 1958 the MAA petitioned Jackson’s city planning board to include an art gallery in the proposed new civic center. For the next twenty years the MAA worked toward constructing a museum building. A monumental effort of outreach, fund-raising, and consciousness-raising went into the effort. To assist in this endeavor, The Gallery Guild, Inc., was formed in 1965. In 1967 the MAA’s first professional director, Louis Sedberry, was hired and occupied offices in the Municipal Art Gallery. Following Sedberry’s directorship were Lowell Adams, John Craib-Cox, Michael Ogden, and Dan Matusiewicz as interim director.
The Museum began to take definite form when the city announced that a cultural and educational complex would be built adjacent to the Jackson Municipal Auditorium. Tom Biggs of Jackson was selected as the architect. Jim Czarniecki was appointed first director of the new Mississippi Museum of Art, which would be housed in the complex. Dedication ceremonies for the new building were held on April 22, 1978, followed by two weeks of celebratory programming. When only national and international exhibitions were announced, the state’s art community voiced its disappointment. Many felt that the Museum was made possible in large part because of the support of Mississippi artists; the Museum seemed to have deserted them. In response, in December l978 the Museum created the short-lived Mississippi Gallery. The Mississippi Art Association’s charter of incorporation was amended and the legal entity officially became the Mississippi Museum of Art on November 29, 1979.
Beginning the effort for an art museum
Opening the Museum
Since its opening, the Mississippi Museum of Art has implemented many projects that include The Palette, a café that first opened in 1980; the Open Gallery (1983) that featured avant-garde work; the Impressions Gallery for children (1987-1997); satellite museums, introduced in 1989 (now the Museum’s Affiliate Network of more than twenty-five locations around the state), the T. M. Hederman Memorial Endowment for Exhibitions (1986); and The Annie Laurie Swaim Hearin Memorial Exhibition Series (1992).
After President Jim Czarniecki’s resignation in 1983, Thad McLaurin and Marilyn Harris served as interim directors until Norman McCrummen III was appointed in 1984. His four-month tenure was followed by Alexander L. Nyerges, 1985-1992; Linda S. Sullivan, 1992-1995; Bill Loveless as interim director; Andrew Maass, 1996-2001; Jane Hiatt as interim director; and the Museum’s current director Betsy Bradley, who began her tenure in December 2001.
In addition to a dizzying schedule of changing exhibitions, the Museum offers year-round educational programs for both children and adults and hosts The Scholastic Art Awards Mississippi Regional Competition as well as the biennial Mississippi Invitational. Adults can enjoy monthly programs such as “Unburied Treasures,” which features art, music, and literature and “Jazz, Art & Friends,” which celebrates the merging of artistic disciplines. The Museum also offers entertaining and educational programs associated with current exhibitions and audio tours of select exhibitions. Innovative educational areas are the “Closer Look Gallery” and its smaller counterpart, the “Family Corners.” These spaces, located within the exhibitions themselves, offer visitors of all ages space to reflect on artwork and subjects found within the exhibitions.
With its many programs, diverse exhibitions, and rapidly expanding permanent collection, the Museum outgrew its first permanent home at the Mississippi Arts Center. Planning for the current facility began in 2002, and in June 2007 the plans came to fruition with the opening of the new Museum in the former Mississippi Arts Pavilion. The non-profit organization raised several million dollars from the community to fully fund renovations to the Arts Pavilion building and to support an endowment for its operation—a testament to the community’s dedication to the Mississippi Museum of Art.
The modern Museum
A second phase of the original expansion plans called for the construction of The Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art. In 2010, Museum officials mounted a new campaign to fund a 1.2 acre park that would serve as the Museum’s “front yard.” Opening in late September of 2011, The Art Garden unifies an arts district that includes several of the city’s foremost cultural organizations. Like the Museum itself, The Art Garden is designed to be an inviting space in which everyone can engage comfortably with art.