Ohr-O'Keefe museum celebrates grand opening in Biloxi

By Krystal Allan – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - This weekend is all about culture in south Mississippi.  And no where is that more obvious than under a canopy of oak trees in east Biloxi.

It's where art blends with architecture in eye-catching splendor.  The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art converges the artistic legacy of George Ohr's ceramics with the architectural wizardry of internationally-renowned architect Frank Geary.

It's a combination, Former Biloxi mayor Jerry O'Keefe, says will, no doubt, put Biloxi and the Gulf Coast on the map.  O'Keefe, who led fundraising efforts for the museum, says it was a collaborative effort with support from government at all levels, individuals and foundations.

"They're gonna visit here and go back home and say how can a little community like Biloxi, MS do this. It makes me bursting with pride really. It's a triumph during my lifetime of 87 years.

Museum visitor Dawn Stough agrees saying a museum of this caliber will become draw far beyond Biloxi's borders.

"I guess it says we're just as cultured as everybody else. Things like this, getting media attention, it really exposes what Mississippi is all about," says Stough.

Visitors get their first taste of Mississippi's cultural flavor by way of the Mississippi Sound Welcome Center.  It features Mississippi artists.

The area's cultural heritage is also explored by recognizing the ethnic diversity of the Gulf Coast. Artists like Bay St. Louis' Richmond Barthe are featured in The Gallery of African-American Art.  The gallery celebrates art about or by African-Americans and honors the ethnic diversity of  the Gulf Coast.

But, it's not just about Mississippi, the IP Casino Resort Spa Exhibitions Gallery features artistic luminaries like Andy Warhol.

"You also want to people from other places to understand the quality of artwork here in Mississippi," says the museum's executive director, Denny Mecham.

Mecham says, beyond its artistic draw, the Ohr-O'keefe is also making a statement about what the Mississippi Gulf Coast represents, resilience.

"I have come to respect and understand, in part, what it means to not give up and rebuild, and I believe for the people today this was another step."

The campus includes a museum store and the Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center, which honors the work and life and emancipated slave Pleasant Reed.

When Geary's distinctive metallic, silver pods are completed, they will feature George Ohr's work.  For now, the work of the Biloxi's "Mad Potter" (George Ohr) is on display at the Gallery of African American Art.

Construction is still underway on the City of Biloxi Center for Ceramics.  It will be the largest building on the campus.  Work throughout the campus is expected to wrap up in the fall of 2012.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.