The oldest art museum in Mississippi, Laurel’s Lauren Rogers Museum of Art (LRMA) was founded in 1923 as a memorial to Lauren Eastman Rogers, who had died suddenly two years earlier. Rogers was the only heir of his parents and his maternal grandparents, who had a substantial timber fortune. In the wake of Rogers’s death, the family created the Eastman Memorial Foundation “to promote the public welfare by founding, endowing and having maintained a public library, museum, art gallery and educational institution, within the state of Mississippi.” The LRMA’s Georgian Revival building was designed by Rathbone DeBuys of New Orleans and completed in 1923, with major additions in 1924 and 1983. Ironwork inside was created by noted craftsman Samuel Yellin. The LRMA was originally both a museum and a public library, but most library holdings not related to art were transferred to the Jones County Library in 1978–79, leaving the museum to focus solely on promoting, teaching about, and exhibiting the fine arts.
LRMA maintains five collecting areas: American Art, European Painting, Native American Basketry, Japanese Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints, and British Georgian Silver. All except the silver collection originated with major early gifts from Rogers’s extended family; the silver collection originated with a gift in the 1970s from Thomas and Harriet Gibbons, owners and editors of the local newspaper, the Laurel Leader-Call. The museum continues to collect works in these five areas, with a permanent gallery devoted to each. Highlights include works by Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Camille Corot, Jules Adolphe Breton, Hiroshige, Hokusai, Paul Storr, and Hester Bateman. The Native American basket collection is one of the finest and most representative in the Southeast. In addition to historic basketry, the museum continues to collect contemporary Choctaw basketry, in keeping with the LRMA’s location in lands historically inhabited by the Choctaw.
The LRMA also hosts numerous exhibitions. In addition to featuring internationally known artists such as Ansel Adams, Sam Gilliam, and Dale Chihuly, exhibitions have been devoted to textiles, ceramics, glass, basketry, watercolors, pastels, paintings, and sculpture. The LRMA has always participated in Mississippi arts community, holding early exhibitions of works by Walter Anderson, Andrew Bucci, Kate Freeman Clark, Marie Hull, John McCrady, and Karl and Mildred Wolfe, among others. Involvement in arts education has led to exhibitions of the Mississippi Art Colony and of work by college students and professors. The LRMA Library is today devoted to art reference books and clipping files, local history archives, and a small collection of rare Mississippiana. Highlights of the library collection include a rare 1840 edition of Audubon’s Birds of America and first editions of several William Faulkner novels.
Efforts to reach out to the surrounding community are ongoing, with free admission, a docent program, and a busy art education schedule for both children and adults. Notable publications include the Handbook of the Collections, By Native Hands: Woven Treasures from the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, The Floating World, and Mississippi Portraiture.
- Lauren Rogers Museum of Art website, www.lrma.org