On the Shoofly - July/August 2017
A Take on Two Coast Museums
Seasoned reporter and new coast resident John Branston weighs in on two popular visitor attractions - with a fresh perspective.
I had a miniscule part in this deal. In 2003, 2004, and 2005 I was working as a freelance writer for the state of Mississippi Department of Tourism, writing stories for their annual magazine, which printed an astonishing number of copies in the hundreds of thousands and therefore paid an astonishing – by journalism standards – amount of money for a two-week paid vacation from my regular job in Memphis.
The Ohr museum, as it was then called, was just coming to fruition before Katrina hit. My editor had a gentle hand, and advised me to put a little something into the mix along with casinos when I got to the coast. I was one of the wordsmiths who jumped on the “mad potter of Biloxi” with the wild eyes and elegant handlebar mustache as eye candy for my hackneyed travelogue, just as casinos aspire to be more than, well, casinos.
As everyone on the coast knows, internationally famous architect Frank Gehry was hired and came up with those stainless-steel pods. Take that, Ocean Springs and Shearwater Pottery!
The trouble is, as even an art dilettante like me could foresee, giant pods trump giant pots every time.
You can drive by or park in the parking lot and walk around the grounds and admire Mr. Gehry's creations without setting foot inside the main building to see Mr. Ohr's creations.
Never mind, said the editor in Tupelo, the story is swell the way it is. Let Biloxi worry about the turnstile count and the balance sheet.
And this is where the O'Keefe name comes in. My guests (and fellow art dilettantes and crossword puzzle buffs) all assumed, as I did the first time, that art works of painter Georgia O'Keefe would be on display along with ceramics. Later on we learned about benefactor Annette O'Keefe. Good citizenship and good marketing, but not enough to make the museum a moneymaker going up against slot machines, singers, and sand. No snarkiness intended, but a benefactor named Elvis Anything might have helped more in the naming department. Believe me, it has worked in Memphis and Tennessee for 40 years.
Which brings me to another museum less than a mile away, the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. What a glorious collection of schooners, trawlers, speedboats, and sloops. What a tribute to shrimpers, sailors, shuckers, immigrants, guts, unbelievably hard work, recovery, compassion, and the human spirit.
Worth an hour, an afternoon, a day of a visitor's time. Essential crash course in local history for any newcomer. And a triumph of substance over style and marketing.
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