Ohr Urn Comes Home

George E. Ohr's largest pot and first indicator of his ambition is coming to Biloxi. The Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art announced recently that Ohr's largest piece of work, a 61-inch-high relief urn, circa 1892, has been donated to the museum by collectors Marty and Estelle Shack of Boynton Beach, Fla.

The urn is expected to arrive this month and will be available for public viewing in October. The donation comes in the midst of the museum's drive to raise a final $7 million for its new $16 million complex in Biloxi. The museum is designed by architect Frank O. Gehry. ``When we bought it from Ojo, we saved it from destruction,'' Marty Shack said. The urn was kept in ``a falling-down house with a hole in the roof you could see the sky through,'' Shack said. Newspapers stuffed in holes didn't keep water from dripping through. ``In the corner stood this 5-foot pot right beside the opening in the roof. We said to each other, 'We have to save this or it will be destroyed.' At the time, Ojo said he wanted a museum to buy it for $100,000,'' Shack said.

The Shacks were able to negotiate and buy it only because a friend of Ojo's was there at the time and told him to sell it before it was destroyed by people breaking in, Shack said. Shack declined to discuss the monetary value of the urn. ``The value of the piece is in the aesthetics, the sculptural effect, the emotions. As the museum grows and as it takes on scholarship,'' he said, there is ``a very, very good possibility'' that he and his wife would donate more from their Ohr collection.

Ohr biographer Eugene Hecht of New York described the urn as festooned with all sorts of molded motifs that show Ohr when he was essentially a folk potter. ``He makes a transition to art potter later on, but he ain't no sculptor yet,'' Hecht said. ``This is his very earliest self-awareness being expressed.''