Gift of equestrian items underscores equine role in cultural history

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Emma Cieslik, an M.A. student in GW’s Museum Studies program, prepares an equestrian textile from the Brick Freedman Collection for storage at the museum’s Avenir Foundation Conservation and Collections Resource Center.
Emma Cieslik, an M.A. student in GW’s Museum Studies program, prepares an equestrian textile from the Brick Freedman Collection for storage at the museum’s Avenir Foundation Conservation and Collections Resource Center. © Gabrielle Rhoads/George Washington University Museum

A donation of 100 historical saddle blankets and other horse trappings has made The Textile Museum at George Washington University one of the world’s most significant collections of global equestrian textiles.

To celebrate the influential gift, the museum is organizing a major exhibition on the subject of equestrian textiles for 2026, which is the Year of the Horse, according to the Chinese zodiac. The museum will publish an accompanying catalog that will become a prominent scholarly resource on global equestrian textiles.

The donation of the equestrian items is from Allen R. Freedman and Judy Brick Freedman, a former trustee of the Textile Museum. They have also created the Brick Freedman Endowment for Equestrian Textiles, to sustain care and activity with these artworks.

A longtime rider and competitor, Judy Freedman assembled her equestrian textiles collection over 30 years in recognition of historical horse costumes as markers of place, identity and migration.

“For millennia, horses were central to cultural, social, military and spiritual events, and dressing up the horse was a part of those events,” she said. “Any single piece represents cultural history. Altogether, the collection shows the breadth of diversity in the use and admiration for the horse.”

Sumru Belger Krody, senior curator of The Textile Museum Collection, noted that the horse has played a key role in world cultures since the dawn of civilization and is revered accordingly.

“Equestrian textiles were embellished with utmost care and attention using high-quality material, design, color and technical skill, all of which are present in this diverse collection of textiles from across time and geography,” Krody said.

When considering the ultimate placement for her equestrian textiles, Freedman felt confident that the curators at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum would be capable of interpreting both the geographical and technical diversity of these artworks. The museum’s academic setting was also a draw, as Freedman valued “the relation with students and training, so this becomes an area for future study.”

The Freedman endowment will also support the display, storage, conservation and digitization of the artworks as well as student internships and graduate fellowships to allow emerging scholars to research the Brick Freedman Collection and related artworks. It also supports lectures, symposia, publications, digital initiatives and other educational activities inspired by these works.

​This semester, funding from the Freedmans supported a part-time position for Emma Cieslik, an M.A. student in GW’s Museum Studies program, who helped prepare the Brick Freedman Collection for archival storage at the museum’s Avenir Foundation Conservation and Collections Resource Center.

The museum has also received a $5 million bequest from the estate of Joseph W. Fell (1936-2021), another former trustee, to boost the Textile Museum Endowment. Fell was a discerning collector who donated 65 textiles to The Textile Museum during his lifetime.

John Wetenhall, director of The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum, said the best decision collectors could make was to determine the most appropriate long-term home for their collection, make a plan with that museum to maximize its educational and cultural potential and commit financial resources to fulfill that potential.

“The endowment that Judy and Allen Freedman have established, together with their funding for the 2026 exhibition and publication, will ensure that these magnificent works will be studied and displayed for generations to come,” he said.

Reporting: Eliza Ward

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