If you’ve driven along the Biloxi beach at any time, you’ve probably seen all the construction going on near Kuhn Street and beach Boulevard. You might have even wondered about the unusual looking buildings being erected there. According to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art’s chief curator, Denny Mecham, the buildings are a perfect reflection of the unique works of art that will be housed there.
f you’ve driven along the Biloxi beach at any time, you’ve probably seen all the construction going on near Kuhn Street and beach Boulevard. You might have even wondered about the unusual looking buildings being erected there. According to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art’s chief curator, Denny Mecham, the buildings are a perfect reflection of the unique works of art that will be housed there. The museum is scheduled to open to the public on November 8th of this year, and there is still plenty of work to be done. The Ohr-O’Keefe staff is on schedule, and their offices are buzzing with activity. Barbara Johnson Ross, curator of collections, is finalizing the plans for the opening exhibits. Exquisite collections from Richmond Barthé of Bay St. Louis, Jun Kaneko and Andy Warhol will be on featured at the opening, as well as ceramic artist Helene Fielder of Booneville. “It’s a long process to open a museum,” Denny said. “So, we tag team!” The structural concept of the museum is designed by Frank Gehry, an architect who is well known for his unique buildings that sometime appear to defy gravity. Former Biloxi Mayor Jerry O’Keefe and Gehry had a mutual friend that put them together in 1998. Gehry accepted the assignment to design the museum to reflect the ceramic masterpieces of Biloxi’s own Mad Potter, George E. Ohr. Construction began in 2003. Many of the ancient live oaks on the property were ravaged during Hurricane Katrina, but the buildings and the busy construction works around them. In fact, the building placements were designed to give way to the mighty oaks and feature them as nature’s most precious sculptures. Denny said Gehry considers the buildings and live oaks to be a single entity connected by brick paving. All of the buildings are designed to withstand 140mph winds. The most striking structures on the new site are the metal “pods” on the southwest side of the museum compound. Denny said the pods, officially named the Star Gallery, are “a very fitting tribute to Ohr’s pottery.” In fact, Gehry twisted the pods in the same manner as Ohr’s signature pots, cups and vases. The pods will be finished with a tiled stainless steel surface (representing the scales of a fish) and will become part of a single glassed in building. The 30 foot high ceilings of the pods are designed to allow diffused light into the exhibit space without giving access to the extreme heat of our Mississippi summers. To the northeast of the Star Gallery, the Mississippi Sound Welcome Center features a shoo-fly observatory at the top of the building. The roofs are at different heights and angles, much like traditional Biloxi architecture. “All handcrafts at the gift shop and museum store are the works of Mississippi artists,” Denny said. It is the primary focus of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art to feature the artists in our own state. “There are so many artists in Mississippi, even we don’t know them all!” she said. To the west of the Star Gallery is the Center for Ceramics. “The museum has a very strong emphasis on ceramics,” Denny said, “and Mississippi ceramic artists will always be featured in the galleries.” The Center for ceramics features an open courtyard with a kiln shed in the back. The building has community meeting space perfect for special events, gatherings and weddings. And what bride wouldn’t want to make her entrance descending the “Marilyn Staircase”? A name given to the long curvy stairway that pours out into the brick courtyard, reminiscent of the feminine charms of Marilyn Munroe. Two of the buildings at the Ohr-O’Keefe compound are historical structures and part of South Mississippi’s cultural heritage. The Creel House holds the museum’s administrative offices. It was moved to the northeast side of the property from Reynoir Street after Katrina and restored. The Creel House was built in 1895 by one of Biloxi’s most prominent fishing families. The traditional “double shotgun” style allowed for a family to live on one side of the house and give quarters to the servants with their own private entrance. The Pleasant Reed House was destroyed during Katrina, but was carefully replicated near its original site. The “single shotgun” house was built by a freed slave named Pleasant Reed right after the Civil War. Reed worked as a carpenter to earn the money to build the home for his family. The replica is called the Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center and houses exhibits that tell the story of South Mississippi’s African American history. This tiny house tells a big story, and Denny considers it and the Star Gallery to be, “the heart of the center.” You can keep an eye on the museum’s progress by visiting their website at http://www.georgeohr.org. And plan to be a part of the grand opening onNovember 8th.