Lauren Rogers Museum Of Art Celebrates 100 Years in Laurel, Mississippi

For 100 years, a small Mississippi town has been the unlikely home of a world-class art collection.

Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, Mississippi
The museum hosts rotating exhibitions throughout the year, and several are planned in 2023 to mark its centennial. Photo:

COURTESY Lauren Rogers Museum Of Art / WALTER R. AVERETT

The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art sits beneath a canopy of live oaks at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Seventh Street in Laurel, Mississippi. The striking Georgian Revival building looks right at home among the surrounding neighborhood’s stately mansions, which were designed in an unexpected array of architectural styles. Even at 100 years old, this facility remains Laurel’s crown jewel. 

But the story of how this special place came to be was born out of a family’s tragedy. Lauren Eastman Rogers (the only child of Nina Eastman Rogers and Wallace Brown Rogers as well as the only grandchild of Sarah Elizabeth Gardiner Eastman and Lauren Chase Eastman) died at the age of 23 on July 3, 1921, after undergoing an appendectomy. His sudden death ended his dream of running the family business, a lumber company that was established in Laurel during the 1890s, when the town was an abundant source for towering yellow pine trees.

On May 26, 1922, the grieving family created the Eastman Memorial Foundation. Its original purpose was “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.” Less than a year later, on May 1, 1923, Mississippi’s first art museum opened to the public in a building that was erected on the site of what was to have been the home of Rogers and his wife, Lelia Payne Hodson Rogers Hynson.

The structure itself, designed by New Orleans architect Rathbone DeBuys, is just as beautiful as the collections and paintings that now reside in its galleries. Materials to build it came from across the country as well as from local sources, like the Laurel Machine and Foundry, and every detail was meticulously carried out. 

Catherine Marshall Gardiner, Rogers’ great-aunt, donated some 500 Native American baskets and artifacts, which represented more than 80 North American tribes. Following the museum’s founding, Rogers’ family gave it an assortment of works by painters including Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, and John Frederick Kensett.

Over the years, the museum and its collections have grown. There are now five individual galleries featuring European, American, Japanese, and Native American art as well as Georgian silver. Temporary exhibits have included “Medieval to Metal: The Art and Evolution of the Guitar” and a selection of images by renowned photographer Walker Evans. The library is a treasure trove of reference books, historical photographs, archival documents, and vintage postcards from the early 20th century, with surprises around every corner.

In this small town with a population of around 17,000, generations of schoolchildren have been educated and inspired just as the Rogers and Eastman families hoped over a century ago.

Plan Your Trip

The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art is free to the public and open Tuesday through Sunday. For groups of 10 or more, enhance your visit with a guided tour. (Be sure to book it at least two weeks prior.) The museum hosts rotating exhibitions throughout the year, and several are planned in 2023 to mark its centennial.

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