Uniquely Biloxi: Ohr pod unveiled with ribbon-cutting ceremony

Biloxi celebrates opening of one of museum's pods

pochs@sunherald.com Twitter: PatrickOchsJuly 12, 2014 

BILOXI -- George Ohr was uniquely Biloxi. Known as The Mad Potter of Biloxi, Ohr was a one-of-a-kind personality who many say was far ahead of his time in his mastery of glaze colors and form.

Fittingly, on the day he would have turned 157 years old, a structure as unique as Ohr himself was officially unveiled after more than a decade in the making.

The community turned out Saturday to the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art for the grand opening of the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino Gallery Pod and the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation George Ohr Gallery Pavilion.

"(Seeing the ribbon-cutting) was really a great satisfaction," said Jerry O'Keefe, the museum's tireless benefactor. "Although we have some more work to do, we're going to keep at it until we get it completely built. It will be a great asset to the city for many, many years."

Thelma Ohr Palmer, the oldest living descendant of the famed potter, was among Saturday's guest speakers.

"I'm very proud to be his granddaughter," she said, standing in front of the shapely stainless-steel pods. "… I think it's the best place for George Ohr's mud babies."

Inside Ohr's pod are five glass cases containing a variety of the Biloxian's pottery and other original works.

"He was doing things that had never been done before or never seen before," said noted Ohr collector Marty Shack. "He turned clay into the most contemporary thing that the world has ever seen. Even today, it exists where nothing else like it has ever existed. Other than being different, nobody ever dreamed of putting those colors together -- it's almost like a living object.

"When you look at it, it brings out emotions and everything that is art. It stirs you and becomes emotion and when you walk away you can see it even with your eyes closed. That's what Ohr does to you."

The museum's pods stand out along U.S. 90. City spokesman Vincent Creel said there's no place better for the astonishing Frank Gehry architecture than right across from the waterfront in Biloxi.

"When you would come across the (Biloxi Bay) bridge, the very first thing you would see was the old Coast Guard hangar over there," Creel said. "Then you would look over to the south side and you would see a parrot hanging off of a hotel. And then you would go down a little bit and more and you would see a church that looks like it has a seashell on top of it.

"Then you would come down and run into the Ohr-O'Keefe. Then you go down a little more and see a 60-foot neon guitar. Keep on down the beach and you see all of these Katrina sculptures in the middle of the highway. Go down a little further and there's a big shark coming out of the front of a building and two blocks down there's an alligator.

"So, let me tell you, there is no other place in the world that this museum should be than right here where it is in Biloxi, Mississippi."

Museum Executive Director Kevin O'Brien said the ceremony marks just the beginning for the museum.

"It's a real pivotal point. We have been so obsessed with construction for 15 years that people have sort of had a disconnect in the community about 'What are these guys? Are they a museum or construction site or are they a welcome center?'" he said. "What's happening right now is now it's time to get to work to be a museum and push our classes and art exhibits."

Three of the pods remain to be completed, but O'Brien said future exhibits at the museum will feature topics such as Hurricane Katrina, Cruisin' The Coast and, as Creel put it, "dare I say, baseball."

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