7 On the Road: Laurel museum built on foundation of tragedy and education

Updated: Mar. 21, 2019 at 4:05 PM CDT
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LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - Nestled in the historic district of Laurel along North 5th Avenue, the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art stands as a centerpiece of art and culture, with a history just as colorful and intriguing as the exhibits inside.

“We’ve always talked about the fact that the people in this area have grown up now almost four generations being able to walk into an art museum,” said George Bassi, who runs the place.

Bassi said attracting new visitors has been the mission of the museum since its opening in 1923. It may have never existed, though, if it wasn’t for the death of a man named Lauren Rogers.

“The family really wanted to make something good out of a tragedy, and so in their mind, in that Victorian context, nothing better than this type of institution,” said Bassi.

Rogers’ family moved to Laurel around 1890, thanks to the timber industry. The family had a big impact in town, building homes, parks and schools.

Family life took a blow in 1921, when Rogers died at the age of 23 from complications with appendicitis. At the time, Rogers was newly married and building a house to start a family. After his death, his family used the foundation of that house to build the museum, which is where it still sits today.

“They really thought that had Lauren lived, he was going to contribute greatly to the community. So, they wanted to build something that was more education-oriented, and in their minds, art in general was kind of, yes, it was from a cultural standpoint important, but it also kind of maybe elevated people’s tastes, and that’s what they were shooting for,” said Bassi.

Rogers’ family is also the reason the museum doesn’t charge admission. Bassi said the family didn’t want anyone to be prevented from learning something because they couldn’t afford to. With a mission to educate, Bassi said that will always be the case, because as the museum’s founding family laid out, education is part of any community’s foundation.

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