By Eliza Ward
New world-class art donations and endowment support expand the reach and impact of the George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum. The museum now houses one of the world’s largest collections of equestrian textiles, thanks to the donation of 100 historic saddle blankets and other horse paraphernalia, along with an accompanying endowment, from university friends Allen R. Freedman and Judy Brick Freedman, a former administrator of the Textile Museum.
The museum also received a generous bequest from Joseph W. Fell, another former trustee, to bolster the Textile Museum’s endowment. Together, these donations will expand opportunities for students, faculty, scholars, and the public to learn about world cultures through their textile traditions.
“The philanthropy of the Freedman and Fell families has raised the global profile of The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum and secured its future as a destination to experience art and textiles from around the world,” said Mark S. Wrighton, president of GW. We express our gratitude for their support and commitment to the museum.”
A lifelong horse rider and competitor, Judy Freedman has amassed her collection of equestrian textiles 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 the horse was part of those events,” said Judy Freedman. “Each piece represents cultural history. Overall, the collection shows the extent of diversity in the use and admiration for the horse.
Sumru Belger Krody, senior curator of the textile museum’s collection, noted that the horse has played a key role in world cultures since the dawn of civilization and is revered accordingly. “The equestrian textiles have been embellished with the utmost care and attention using high quality materials, design, colors and technical skill, all of which are present in this diverse collection of textiles through time and geography,” Krody said.
When considering the ultimate placement for her equestrian textiles, Judy Freedman was confident that curators at the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum would be able to interpret both the geographical and technical diversity of these works of art. The museum’s academic setting was also a draw, as Judy Freedman valued “the relationship with students and training, so it becomes an area for future study.”
This semester, Freedman’s funding supported a part-time position for Emma Cieslik, a master’s student in GW’s Museum Studies program, who helped prepare the Brick Freedman collection for archiving at the Resource Center on conservation and the collections of the Future Museum Foundation.
“The opportunity to gain hands-on experience preparing objects to enter the Textile Museum’s permanent collection provided me with a wealth of technical and practical skills that strengthened and strengthened my classes,” Cieslik said. “As a student wishing to pursue a career in collections management in anthropology, the opportunity to gain this experience in a museum affiliated with my university allowed me to integrate this position into my learning.”
Bridal shawl (abochhini), Thar Parkar, Sindh, Pakistan, late 19th century-early 20th century. Silk, cotton, plain weave, embroidery. The Textile Museum Collection 2006.25.1. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Fell.
To maintain attention and activity with these works of art, the Freedmans created the Brick Freedman Endowment for Equestrian Textiles. Their endowment will support the exhibition, storage, conservation and digitization of these works of art as well as student internships and graduate scholarships to enable emerging scholars to research the Brick Freedman Collection and related works of art. It also supports conferences, symposiums, publications, digital initiatives and other educational activities inspired by this work.
To celebrate this influential donation, the museum is organizing a major exhibition on the theme 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 leading scholarly resource on global equestrian textiles.
“The best decision collectors can make is to determine the most appropriate long-term home for their collection, develop a plan with that museum to maximize its educational and cultural potential, and commit financial resources to realize that potential. “said John Wetenhall, director of The George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum. “The endowment that Judy and Allen Freedman have established, along with their funding for the 2026 exhibition and publication, will ensure that these magnificent works will be studied and exhibited for generations to come.”
Joseph W. Fell (1936-2021) was also a keen collector who, along with his wife, Judy Fell, donated 65 textiles to the Textile Museum during his lifetime. The Fells’ collection included carpets and textiles from regions as diverse as Iran, Anatolia, and Myanmar. This winter, a significant bequest from Fell’s estate added new funding to the Textile Museum’s endowment, providing continued support for museum staff, collections, exhibitions, scholarship and education.
“Endowment support is key to sustaining a museum’s impact over the long term,” Wetenhall said. “We are honored that Joe Fell has named the Textile Museum as one of the principal beneficiaries of his estate. “His legacy ensures that our museum can continue its work to celebrate cultural diversity while training future generations of textile scholars and museum professionals.”
Fell was known by the museum community for his refined taste and extensive knowledge of antique carpets and textiles. From 1970 to 1998 he owned Joseph W. Fell Ltd. Antique Oriental Rugs in Chicago. A former magazine editor, Fell has shared his knowledge with the textile community through articles in Hali Magazine and lectures at national and international Oriental rug conferences.
“The George Washington University Museum and Textile Museum is one of the treasures of our university, providing unique hands-on experiences for our students and faculty,” said Donna Arbide, vice president of development and alumni relations at GW. “The art is also accessible to the public, not just locally, but globally through the museum’s strong online engagement programs. We are grateful to the Freedman and Fell families for their philanthropy, for their support, and most importantly, for giving our museum permanent residence to care for the personal art collections they have spent decades building.
Beyond fundraising, the Freedmans and Fells have demonstrated their commitment to textile studies through philanthropy and volunteerism. Joseph Fell served on the Textile Museum Advisory Board from 1992-1997 and on the Textile Museum Board of Trustees from 1999-2005. Judy Freedman served on the Textile Museum Advisory Board from 2004-2010 and on the Board of administration of the textile museum from 2010 to 2015.