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Ohr-O’Keefe Museum Moves
Toward the Future

Ohr Museum News Release   Filed 10/21/05  GCN

Over the past six weeks, the Board of Trustees of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum has twice voted to continue the Frank Gehry-designed project to completion. The board and staff have consolidated operations and are working on a focused plan to tackle the reconstruction of the campus, with the goal of having the Center for Ceramics open within 18 months to two years.  Additionally, a fundraiser for the George Ohr Gallery is now scheduled for December 9 in New York.

Craig Webb of Gehry Partners, who has worked with the project for over five years, visited with the board in a roundtable discussion October 11 at the Gulf Coast Business Technology Center. Webb reconfirmed Gehry’s commitment to the $30 million project.  Webb, with board members, sees the Ohr-O’Keefe project as a central force in retaining and celebrating the coast’s cultural and artistic heritage.

Assessments are still being made of the damages to the construction site, and no firm plans will be set for the timetable of rebuilding for several months. In the meantime, however, plans are moving ahead for offering classes in art to the community by winter 2006 at an offsite location.  A Pleasant Reed House task force is also being formed, with the first meeting scheduled for November.

The apparent damages include the African American Gallery, and some structural damages to the Contemporary and Ohr galleries. For the most part, the four-story Center for Ceramics appears to have withstood the storm. The Reed House structure was lost.

All of the George Ohr pottery remained intact and guarded throughout the storm, and the pottery plus all archival records of the Pleasant Reed House were moved the week after Katrina to the Mobile Museum of Art.  Heroes of the move were Anna Stanfield, Director of Exhibitions, and Bob Brooks, Exhibitions Specialist, who were assisted by Tommy McPherson, Director of the Mobile museum. The preservation of the pottery and records of the museum were guided by the museum’s longtime disaster preparedness plan; additionally, registrar Barbara Johnson Ross had led the packing of the pottery prior to Katrina, and the records of the Reed House were saved by Reed curator Dora Faison. The pottery and records will remain on loan to Mobile for a number of months, according to Ohr-O’Keefe executive director Marjie Gowdy, who expressed gratitude for the generosity of the sister museum.

Saving the Arts

In addition to the move of the pottery and records, Stanfield, Brooks and security guard Victor Humphrey have also been working for several weeks on preserving loaned collections of art in nearby storage units, including a significant collection of African and African American art. The Ohr-O’Keefe staff members were aided by volunteer conservation scientists from the Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, during the last week of September. The conservators, who also worked at Beauvoir, were funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

At the time of the storm, plans were being finalized for the Inaugural Exhibition of the George Ohr Gallery exhibition. Working on the exhibit were Frank Gehry and his team; Ohr scholar Eugene Hecht; and Marjie Gowdy, as well as New York artist Debbie Taylor, representing the late David Whitney, who was the original consulting curator for the exhibit.  At least three books are in the works, including a major catalogue for the opening exhibit, “The Greatest Potter on Earth: The Maverick Life, Art and Legacy of George E. Ohr”, being written by Eugene Hecht and Garth Clark. Additionally, a major book on Ohr is being written by New York collector Robert Ellison, and a reprint is being published of the 1973 “George Ohr and His Biloxi Art Pottery” written by the late Robert Blasberg.

New York Fundraiser

A group of New York curators, artists and major arts patrons are planning a fundraiser specifically for the new George Ohr Gallery on December 9 at the contemporary Gagosian Gallery on Madison Avenue.  Money raised will go to the David Whitney Memorial Building Fund for the Ohr Gallery. Whitney, who died in June, was the chairman of the museum’s National Council and the original consulting curator for the Inaugural Exhibition, which is planned for the eventual opening of the Ohr gallery. Frank Gehry will be guest of honor at the fundraising event.

Serving the Community

Though currently operating out of a trailer at the city of Biloxi’s MLK Building, the museum staff is already fielding inquiries about services for the community.  Business administrator Charlie Evans, Administrative assistant Tracy Wills, Director of Operations Holly Zinner are available at the MLK building trailer in Biloxi, and phone service is expected soon. Volunteers and docents from the previous museum are still participating, and several are working on an inventory of the museum store and studio. Active volunteers during the recovery process include: Kathy Bristol, Suzanne Guice, Ron Walker, Genevieve Cowan, Juanita Thorson and Gigi Gunter.  Classes are in the planning stages, and trained instructors are being sought from the community. A training program in preserving art work is also in the planning stages.

Out of respect for the humanitarian needs of the coast, the museum will not be actively soliciting donations for several months. However, information on ongoing campaigns such as the brick drive is on the website at www.georgeohr.org.

For further information, contact Marjie Gowdy, 228.424.3261.