Should you have a need for a coffee table book with a fascinating story and beautiful paintings, I have a recommendation. The Artist’s Sketch by Carolyn Brown sheds light on an artist who was known in an entirely different way in Holly Springs, Mississippi, where I graduated from high school. Teenagers whispered about “the cat lady” as they passed the overgrown yard of Kate Freeman Clark. Neither kids nor adults at that time had any idea of the treasure she had created that was stored in New York until her death.
Carolyn’s research uncovered a child of privilege in a small Southern town. Her lawyer father, elected to the Senate while they were living in Vicksburg, traveled to Washington but turned ill and died before Kate and her mother could join him. Mother and daughter returned home to Holly Springs and for the next eight years lived with her grandmother, Mama Kate, for whom she was named and who took her in hand to produce a genteel young woman.
Moving to New York with her mother, Kate began a life in art, studying the plein air technique and shining as one of its finest practitioners. They spent time in the New York and its surroundings and in DC and were eventually joined by Mama Kate. She seldom did official shows since her mother thought that was unseemly for a young woman, and signed her paintings “Freeman Clark,” perhaps for the same reason. She did enjoy her companions and mentors in the art community and a bit of romance.
First her grandmother and then her mother took ill, and after their deaths, she moved back to Holly Springs where she lived for the last quarter century of her life. She gave a few art talks and participated in the life of the ante-bellum Southern town before becoming the reclusive “cat lady” with the overrun yard.
Only after her death and the reading of her will did local people learn of her immense talent. Her paintings, warehoused in New York, were left to the city of Holly Springs. In addition to her fascinating story, the book contains a wealth of photographs of her art. And if you’re like me, it will inspire a desire to return to Holly Springs to see them in person in the Kate Freeman Clark Art Gallery.