BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Elizabeth Vowell – email
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) – On Friday night, invited guests will see George Ohr pottery dancing among the oak trees. The next day, the public gets its chance to marvel at the Mad Potter's art in its brand new, waterfront home.
The story of the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art is just as rocky as that of the artist it's dedicated to.
"In so many ways the difficulties we've had in getting the museum constructed are similar to things that happened to George Ohr," said the museum's construction committee chair Larry Clark. "He lost his studio, lost everything he had, he had to decide whether or not he was going to start back and continue with the pottery and he did, and we did and here we are,"
Among the difficulties was finding funding to complete the construction designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. The museum used insurance money, grants and donations to restart the project after the storm.
"Then came the question of should we come back to the beach? Should we risk this art? The answer was almost a unanimous yes. George Ohr was the gulf coast, he was Biloxi, and this is where it needs to be: right along the beach, in this live oak grove. It makes a statement that can't be made any other way," said Clark
That statement is blending together the culture and art of the coast, something the architect tried to do by intertwining the buildings and surrounding oak trees. According to Clark, Gehry actually had all the oak trees on the property mapped, so that he could incorporate the limbs in the building design.
Now the museum campus stands almost finished, with three of the five buildings complete and ready to be unveiled. A $3,000,000 donation from the Knight Foundation will provide the needed funding to complete the two final buildings.
"Hopefully this is a spring board to bring people to the coast, get our tourism going again and jump start our economy on the coast," said Clark.
Clark says the architect's fame has created international buzz, and having a Gehry building throws Biloxi into ranks with New York, Chicago, London, and other major cities that are home to his creations.
"I think it will give us an opportunity to attract people to the gulf coast that will come no other way. All the sudden we have something that could help make us a tier one tourist destination," said Clark.
With the final funding, Clark hopes to have all the buildings on campus completed within two years.