Every day, thousands of drivers pass the blank concrete slabs at Exit 13 on Interstate 10, originally created to mark the high-water level of Hurricane Katrina. Now, the City of Bay St. Louis is working with local artists to revitalize the landmark with murals.
- by Steve Barney
Soon after the memorial was constructed, an ironic controversy ensued. The adjacent area of Stennis Airport was being developed and marketed to attract large businesses as an economic development zone with major efforts from county and state agencies, led by the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission. What was intended as a memorial to one of the worst natural disasters to hit the United States became a potential detriment to business recruitment and economic development.
The markers sit at the edge of Bay St. Louis Ward Six, a strip of low-lying land north on Route 603, the highway linking Waveland and Kiln; the area was annexed by Bay St. Louis after Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, the City of Bay St. Louis took responsibility for upkeep and maintenance of the slabs. The high waterline graphics were immediately painted over.
Mayor Les Fillingame planned to work with the City Council to paint the slabs with graphics welcoming visitors to Hancock County and Bay St. Louis – a plan that never came to fruition. For the last 10 years, the obsolete memorial has become a dilapidated eyesore, overdue to be repurposed or obliterated.
Bay St. Louis native Michelle Fleming is an administrator at Waveland’s St. Clare Church. Fleming, a lifelong learner, holds advanced degrees in human capital development and geography. In spring 2020, she was enrolled in her final geography class at The University of Southern Mississippi in Long Beach. It was a class taught by fellow BSL resident, Professor Joby Bass.
The capstone seminar integrates all aspects of geography: political, geographic, economic, cultural, cartography, topology and physical features. Through her research, Fleming learned that while memorializing is part of human nature, it is also common for changes to be made over time at these memorialized sites. Professor Bass gave Fleming the assignment of researching the Katrina high-water markers.
Bass challenged Fleming to “examine the markers as open-ended, conditionally malleable symbols that are rooted as much in the present as the past.” Her final project was titled “Culture or Politics: Why Did the Gateway Katrina Monuments Fade Away Beneath a Layer of Paint?”
It became Fleming’s mission to follow through and see something done. Fleming explains, “It just wasn’t right to keep them as blank concrete slabs. There is an opportunity to change them from a liability to an asset, welcoming people and reflecting the character of Bay St. Louis."
In December 2021, the extensive research, planning and passionate presentations finally paid off: the Bay St. Louis City Council awarded a grant to the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce for the Katrina High Water Mark Revitalization Project. The project will enable local artists to design and paint “Welcome to BSL” murals on the decaying concrete slabs.
Hancock Chamber of Commerce executive director Tish Williams stated, “We have a long history of partnering with the City of Bay St. Louis and our local artists to create opportunities to beautify our landscape, showcase our diversity and engage our community. Building on that history, it’s a great time to take on this project. I am glad to see this vision to beautify the I-10 entrance mural become reality, thanks to a grant from the City.”
Calling all local artists: Mural designs needed
Two designs will be selected for the project, one for the north-facing eastbound ramp and one for the south-facing westbound ramp. The contest will be comprised of two divisions: Youth and Adult.
Selected muralists will receive an honorarium of $500 to paint the murals with logistics and volunteer support. All materials will be provided.
The youth division is open to any student who is enrolled as a student in an accredited public or private secondary school within Bay St. Louis City limits. Home-schooled students residing in Bay St. Louis are eligible for the youth division.
The adult division is open to all residents of Bay St. Louis. Professional and amateur artists can apply.
Artists are asked to create a “Welcome to BSL” design in the popular vintage postcard style popularized in the 1940s and ’50s by German immigrant Curt Teich. Smithsonian Magazine describes Teich’s work: “His linen-style postcards depicted an optimistic view of America, creating a unique record of national tourism and documenting the U.S. landscape from its smallest towns to its grandest natural wonders.“
The cards reflect a time when car travel to beachfront destinations was booming. The iconic designs have had a resurgence as public murals across the country.
During her extensive research over the past few years, Michelle Fleming discovered a traveling postcard mural project called Greetings Tour. It was created by mural artist Victor “Ving” Fung and photographer Lisa Beggs, an artist duo who have traveled the United States since 2015 creating interactive postcard-inspired murals as destination landmarks.
There are several of these style murals in South Mississippi. A background depicting the shoreline/skyline will comprise the backdrop, with the block style lettering BSL. Each letter would contain a scenic description of the historical, cultural and geographic things that are unique to Bay St. Louis.
Artists are asked to consider a variety of themes representing the diversity of our city’s culture, heritage, and people. Each artist may submit one design for consideration. The design should be fully rendered in color.
Original artwork can be created in any medium (such as marker, colored pencil, acrylic, watercolor or digital). The deadline for submissions is February 25, 2022.
Call for Submissions, including all contest rules
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy this feature?
Enjoy the Shoofly Magazine? Reader donations help underwrite correspondents who write about and photograph our community.
Use the button below to join our Readers’ Circle!