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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art

The Ohr-Okeefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, Mississippi today.
During the week of Christmas, 1965, I was an Airman Basic enrolled in tech school at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. My parents drove down from Ohio to spend the holiday with me. We spent Christmas day touring the beautiful gulf coast. I arranged for us to stay at the landmark White House Hotel (actually, we were in a bungalow out back). Almost four years later, the hotel disappeared, completely wiped out by Hurricane Camille on August 18, 1969. The hotel rebuilt.
Hurricane Katrina attacks an art museum--2005.
Then, on August 29, 2005, another vicious Hurricane (Katrina) took out the famous hotel again. The jury is still out as to which storm was the worst, but if you were to ask those at Biloxi's Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, which was still under construction at the time, I've no doubt they would choose Katrina. You see, they ended up with an enormous casino barge in their front yard, while the storm destroyed much of the ongoing construction work.
The Grand Casino barge, pushed by a 27-foot storm surge across U.S. 90 onto the museum construction site.
In continuing my series of articles on this country's smaller, less well-known art museums, there are a few unique items you should know regarding the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of art. First of all, it has no paintings, and precious few other art items besides ceramics; and then only those of the oddball ceramicist George Ohr. Second, despite its name, the museum has nothing to do with the painter, Georgia O'Keefe. The O'Keefe reference is to Rose Annette Saxon O’Keefe, the wife of a generous benefactor, and former Biloxi mayor, Jeremiah O'Keefe. He, along with his family, helped establish the museum in 1998.
Some have labeled showman George Ohr the
Salvador Dali of ceramics.
The five-building museum campus was designed by architect Frank Gehry to "dance" with the ancient live oak trees on the 4-acre site (top). Construction started in 2004, then, thanks to Katrina, started again in 2006. Since then the various buildings have opened gradually beginning with three galleries on the east side of the campus including the George Ohr pottery from Gulf Coast collections. The Mississippi Sound Welcome Center, the IP Casino Resort & Spa Exhibitions Gallery, and the Gallery of African American Art, in addition to the Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center. The City of Biloxi Center for Ceramics opened in 2012 while The John S. and James L. Knight Gallery, housing the George Ohr pottery opened in 2014.
Biloxi Art Pottery, 1890s, William Woodward
Ten years in the making, the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art celebrates the innovative, independent and creative spirit of its namesake, George Ohr. Born in 1857, he overcame devastating personal and professional losses to create an extraordinary body of work much as the Ohr-O’Keefe has risen from the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Ohr's pottery was fantastic in the most profound sense of the word, but there's also the man himself. Starting with Ohr's trademark moustache, his wild and creative designs, and his flair for eccentric showmanship, George Ohr'z work then, and still today, is incomparable. He quickly earned the reputation as "The Mad Potter of Biloxi," and there's little doubt anyone will soo challenge him for that designation.
Ohr's work was a little too creative (and costly)
for the times in which he lived.

The Story of George Ohr continues tomorrow
(the item just above).

Ceramics with a twist.


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