OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - A broken-down chiller threatens to damage an irreplaceable collection at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. The chiller is part of a heating and air conditioning system that helps control the temperature and humidity at the Ocean Springs museum. A temporary solution is in place, but the museum needs money to permanently fix the problem.
Right now, two temporary units are helping to cool and control the humidity in the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. They were installed after the huge chiller on the roof broke down in June.
"I panicked. It's very important and very distressing," said John Anderson.
John Anderson worries about the potential damage any extra heat and moisture can cause to his late father's art collection. The museum houses more than 1,000 pieces of artwork, including those on loan from the Anderson family.
The smaller chiller units aren't working at the same capacity as the old 40 ton chiller.
"If we go through a period when the relative humidity is very high, and those systems aren't functioning perfectly, it would be very destructive to the artwork," said Anderson.
That's why the museum's curator tracks the temperature and humidity of the building several times a week.
"Wide fluctuations in temperature and humidity can wreak havoc with works on paper. It can cause buckling, splitting. All sorts of things can happen, and I want to say nothing has," said Doug Myatt. "We not only have works on paper, we also have a number of oils on board and oils on canvas. The large murals that came from the Mary C. O'Keefe Museum that Walter did in '35 are here in our care. Yeah, it makes me really nervous."
Fixing the problem won't be cheap.
"We are getting prices now, but it's going to be a minimum of $180,000 to repair," said WAMA Executive Director Rosemary Roosa.
She said it's money the museum doesn't have since it relies on admissions, membership fees, donations and grants to operate. This week, museum leaders went before the Ocean Springs Board of Aldermen, asking the city to help cover half of the cost.
"It's artwork that you can't find hardly anywhere else. On hand, in our permanent collection, it's valued at $10 million. On loan, probably $20 million or more," said Roosa. "People come here to look and view Walter Anderson's art. It's critical that we maintain the museum, its temperature, its pleasantness to our visitors, and to preserve the artwork."
Roosa hopes to have a new unit in place by October. Museum leaders say they should know by next Friday whether to repair or replace the chiller. They say Jackson County has agreed to match the amount of funds that come from the city.