Sumner’s Maude Schuyler Clay Photo Exhibit to Open at the State Museum in October


JACKSON — The Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) will present “Maude Schuyler Clay: Portraits of a Place,” an exhibition of nearly 100 photographic works by the artist from the early 1980s to the present, including intimate family portraits, still life images of fruit, haunting landscapes and glass plate images taken by Clay’s grandfather, Joseph Albert May.

Judge May was a photo enthusiast and an influence on Clay’s career. The glass plates featured in an exhibit for the first time document the agrarian lifestyle of the Mississippi Delta of the 1920s. “Portraits of a Place” will also feature selected images from Clay’s “Highway Memorial Series.”

A fifth-generation Mississippian, Clay records local history as a visual archivist, capturing domestic, agricultural and civic subjects unique to the Mississippi Delta – a section of the state known for an array of cultural traditions unique to Mississippi.

Maude Schuyler Clay, photo by Terri Loewenthal

On view from October 29, 2022 to March 5, 2023, the images are drawn from the artist’s personal collection of his black and white and color photographs.

The exhibit is curated by MMA Visiting Curator Phoenix Savage, Associate Professor of Art at Tougaloo College and Visiting Professor of Art at Brown University and a longtime friend of Clay’s. The Coordinating Curator is Ryan N. Dennis, Chief Curator of MMA and Artistic Director of the Museum’s Center for Art & Public Exchange.

Savage said, “It’s an honor to work with Maude and Ryan on this special project. The exhibition examines four areas of Maude’s work: the artist’s biography as seen in Little Gems, her intimate portraits of her family and friends; chronicles of the social milieu of the Mississippi Delta told through a timeline of images of people who worked for Maude’s family for decades; Fruit Suite, an ongoing series of still life images; and his allegorical landscapes conveying a deep sense of place and time. The Delta carries implications of mystery and otherworldliness, but for Maude, it is her home. They are true portraits of a place.

The family portraits are presented in an intimate scale to convey the bond between the artist and her subjects, her husband, her children and her pets, in her dual role as mother and chronicler. By documenting his immediate family, Clay transcends the boundaries of domestic life to record daily activities.

Works depicting the social sphere contain poignant historical contexts. Clay lives in Sumner, Mississippi, site of the infamous trial of the two men accused and then acquitted of the 1955 murder of Emmett Till. The trial was a pivotal case in the civil rights movement. Sepia toned images of Tallahatchie County reveal the hold history still has on the landscape.

Clay’s photography traces the disappearance of time in our present to inform us of a people, their social placement and their declining vernacular architecture. Several images from his “Highway Memorial” series are included, marking both the loss and the memory of life.

Maude Schuyler Clay (b. 1953), “Highway Memorial 011”, undated. printed on aluminum. 30 x 30 in. Collection of the artist.

Regarding his book “Delta Land” (1999, University Press of Mississippi), Clay described the collection as “a photographic project that involves the recording and preservation of Mississippi’s landscape and its endangered native structures fast: mule barns, country churches, cotton gins. , commissaries, crossroads stores, tenants, cypress sheds and railway stations.

“Fruit Suite”, a set of six large-scale fruit images, is an ongoing work in which Clay captures the spontaneity of these objects in relation to light.

The exhibition features an installation, “Erasing Sally Mann”, which shares with the public Clay’s relationship with American photographer Sally Mann dating back to the 1980s. Mann frequently sends personal notes to Clay on the back of his discarded photographs which still bear the smell of processing chemicals. In Erasing Sally Mann, Clay chose to broadcast an image on his clothesline. Returning to Robert Rauschenberg’s famous conceptual work Erased from Kooning Drawing (1953), Clay left Mann’s image hanging on the clothesline for an entire year. Clay photo-documented the deterioration of Mann’s photography. The remains of the photograph are displayed on a clothesline in the gallery along with Clay’s documented images.

“Maude Schuyler Clay: Portraits of a Place” will be accompanied by a brochure and a list of public programs. For more information, visit msmuseumart.org.


About Maude Schuyler Clay

Maude Schuyler Clay was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1953, and attended the University of Mississippi, the Allende Institution in Mexico, and the Memphis Academy of Arts in Tennessee. She began her photography career in Memphis learning from American photographer William Eggleston, a cousin and widely regarded as the father of modern color photography. In the 1980s, she moved to New York and worked as a photo editor for Esquire, Fortune, Vanity Fair and other publications. Clay was photography editor for Oxford Americanmagazine from 1998 to 2002.

She resides in her hometown of Sumner, Mississippi, where her family has lived for generations. A five-time winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Photography Award, Clay has published three books and her work is in the collections of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC; Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans; and, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Organization and support

This exhibition is curated by guest curator Phoenix Savage. The Coordinating Curator is Ryan N. Dennis (her), MMA’s Chief Curator and Artistic Director of the Museum’s Center for Art Exchange and Public Exchange.

“Maude Schuyler Clay: Portraits of a Place,” a presentation from the Myra Green and Lynn Green Root Memorial Exhibition Series, is presented with support from the Thomas G. Ramey and Peggy Huff Harris Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi.


The Mississippi Museum of Art

380 South Lamar Street, Jackson

Visitor information

Opening hours:

Tuesday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Sunday: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Entry fee :

$15 Adults

$13 Seniors (65+)

$10 Youth* (5-17 years old) and college students (with ID)

Free for members

Free for children 5 and under

*Free for K-12 students on Tuesdays through Feild Co-Operative Association and Thursdays through Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi.

Founded in 1911, the Mississippi Museum of Art (MMA) 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, photographs, multimedia works, and sculptures by Mississippi, American, and international artists. The largest art museum in the state, the Mississippi Museum of Art offers a dynamic list of exhibitions, public programs, arts and community partnerships, educational initiatives and exchange opportunities throughout the year. Programming is developed inclusively with community input to ensure a diversity of voices and perspectives are represented.

Located at 380 South Lamar Street in downtown Jackson, the museum is committed to honesty, fairness, and inclusion. The Mississippi Museum of Art and its programs are sponsored in part by the City of Jackson and Visit Jackson. Support is also provided in part by funding from the Mississippi Arts Commission, a state agency, and in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

For more information, visit msmuseumart.org.

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