Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

'Mad Potter of Biloxi' Gets His 'Temple' - Designed by Frank Gehry, No Less

Nov. 5, 2010, 8:14 a.m., Posted by Marika Lynch

Five years ago, the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum in Biloxi was on a roll. Star architect Frank Gehry had agreed to design the campus, and it was just 11 months away from opening.

Then an unwanted visitor showed up: A casino barge, flung loose by Hurricane Katrina, landed atop a building. The facility was in shambles.

A casino barge lands on the museum's campus during Katrina.

Much like the community that surrounds it, the museum fought for a comeback. This weekend, the East Biloxi museum honoring potter George Ohr opens three of its five buildings to the public.

And Knight Foundation announced it will help complete the most significant structure, the gallery that exhibits Ohr's work. The building, made up of four 'pods' mirroring the twisted shape of Ohr's sculpture, will be named the John S. and James L. Knight Gallery.

From Bilbao to Los Angeles, Gehry's work has shown time and again the power of architecture to transform communities. The museum, bound to become a cultural draw for Mississippi, should be no exception.

As Knight Foundation's Dennis Scholl said as he made the announcement in Biloxi Thursday night: "The museum is the new benchmark for how to engage an audience on their own terms, allowing them to curate their own experience. Visitors to the Ohr-O'Keefe can choose to visit only the ceramics studio, and take a ceramics class. Or to come and visit the latest exhibit on Japanese pottery. Either way, it's up to the visitor to choose, a new and evolving idea."

It's a fitting tribute to George Ohr, a free spirit who called himself the Mad Potter of Biloxi. He dug his own clay from the Tchoutacabouffa River, is known for the paper-thin walls in his work, and having a great influence on 20th and 21st century American pottery.

George Ohr, Mad Potter of Biloxi

He also had a sense of his value to the art world ' which he didn't keep secret, the Sun Herald reported.

'Someday, they will build a temple in my honor,' the paper said he told folks.