The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, located on a four acre campus in Biloxi, Mississippi, was designed by Frank O. Gehry, Gehry Partners LLP, Los Angeles, California. Set within a grove of ancient Live Oak trees, Frank Gehry designed the Ohr-O’Keefe project as a series of six small pavilions woven among the trees and connected by an open brick plaza, creating an inviting and lively arts campus that maintains the existing park setting and encourages pedestrian circulation throughout the site. The entire project employs a micro-pile foundation system intended to minimize impact on the root systems of the Live Oak trees. The use of local materials, the use of references to the local vernacular, and the scale and placement of each of the pavilions on the site, represent sensitive responses to the conditions of the site and to the context of the surrounding area. The 25,000 square foot Ohr-O’Keefe Museum campus provides facilities for art exhibition and education, and cultural and community events.
The design process took four years: 1999-2003. In 2004, construction began. August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina heavily damaged or destroyed the buildings which were 18 months from completion.
Rebuilding began in 2008 and Phase I of the campus opened November 2010. Three of the five Gehry designed buildings and two historical structures opened to the public including:
Mississippi Sound Welcome Center
IP Casino Resort Spa Exhibitions Gallery
Gallery of African American Art
Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center
Phase II opened in 2012 and includes the City of Biloxi Center for Ceramics which house the residential ceramic studio, meeting space, and administrative offices. The first section of the John S. and James L. Knight Gallery (the “Pods”) which will house the permanent George Ohr exhibition opened in 2014.
The Mississippi Sound Welcome Center
The Welcome Center serves as the primary entry building to the campus. The main volume of the Welcome Center consists of a large brick and glass main hall housing the ticketing foyer, a café, and a small gallery. A plaster element recalling the shotgun vernacular contains a kitchen, administrative offices and support facilities, and a more sculptural element clad in stainless steel panels houses the retail store. Recalling the shoofly vernacular, the Welcome Center is topped by an overlook that is sheltered by a roof clad in stainless steel panels, providing visitors with views of the campus and the Mississippi Sound.
Gallery of African-American Art
The Gallery of African American Art is a pavilion clad in brick and stainless steel panels. The provides 1,700 square feet of exhibition space divided between a main gallery and a collection of smaller alcoves or apses intended for the display of smaller works.
IP Casino Resort Spa Exhibitions Gallery
The IP Casino Resort Spa Exhibition Gallery is a white plaster pavilion with a roof and entry canopy clad in stainless steel panels. The Exhibition Gallery provides 1,050 square feet of flexible exhibition space intended to accommodate works of varying size and in varying media.
City of Biloxi Center For Ceramics
The City of Biloxi Center for Ceramics is funded by a $6 Million Dollar Katrina Community Development Block Grant (KCDBG) through the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The City of Biloxi Center For Ceramics houses the ceramic arts education center, community meeting space, programming space, and administrative offices. The Center is clad in brick, white plaster, and stainless steel panels.
The first floor provides a full working studio and work yard joined with large glass overhead doors and also houses a brick storage vault. The second floor is flexible space appropriate for meetings, exhibitions, and rentals.The third floor houses administrative offices. The fourth floor is a four sided glass meeting room nestled under a shoo fly roof, with a spectacular view of the Mississippi Sound.
The John S. and James L. Knight Gallery (The Pods)
The Knight Gallery consists of four gently sculptural volumes clad in stainless steel panels and connected by a central glass-enclosed gallery. The space provides 2,900 square feet of exhibition space devoted to the display of pottery created by George Ohr in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art Campus is home to a remarkable blend of architectural styles which span over a century of history. The Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center and the Creel House are each examples of 19th century regional vernacular architecture.
The Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center
The Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center is a reconstruction of an original house built by Pleasant Reed between 1887 and 1891 on Elmer Street in Biloxi, Mississippi. Reed was born enslaved on a plantation in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1854. He and his family migrated to Biloxi following the Civil War. The Center features exhibits which focus on the Gulf Coast cultural heritage of African Americans.
A side hall camelback cottage, the house was planned to allow privacy to the rooms by locating the room-to-room circulation in a hallway along one side of the house. The side hall cottage is a common house type throughout the coastal areas of the nation as well as in the entire Mississippi River Valley region, but is found in greatest concentration in New Orleans, Louisiana and the neighboring areas.
The Reed’s house was originally built with only three rooms and a detached kitchen in the rear yard. The two structures were joined to form one building around 1910 when the Reed House was connected to the public water supply, along with much of the rest of the City of Biloxi. The garçonnière or long room above the kitchen was used exclusively as the “dormitory” bedroom for the boys of the Reed family. A garçonnière or camelback plan was not an uncommon element in Gulf South architecture of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. As a carpenter by trade, Pleasant Reed had the skills and means to gradually improve his home by adding refinements such as the stock turned-spindle frieze to the front porch
On August 29, 2005, the Reed House and original furnishings were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, the Museum Board of Trustees voted to replicate the house as the Pleasant Reed Interpretive Center. The interior of the house was altered with the removal of one wall to accommodate tours and exhibitions. The exterior is an exact model of the house Pleasant Reed built.
The Creel House
The Creel House, circa 1895, is used for non-ceramic classes and other activities. The building is a fine example of regional vernacular architecture known as the Biloxi Cottage because the form appeared in more concentrated numbers here than anywhere else on the Gulf Coast. Originally located on Reynoir Street, Biloxi, the house was owned by Jamie Creel. Damaged in Hurricane Katrina, the property was sold to Key Largo Holdings, LLC in August 2006. The house was then donated to the Ohr-O’Keefe and moved to its current address at 370 Meaut Street in 2006.
The single story frame house at one time had a hipped lateral wing added to the rear of the house. It was not original to the house and was not moved to Meaut Street. At the façade of the house, a hipped roof perpendicular to the street extends out to cover a gallery that is supported by four turned posts which in turn support sawn scroll brackets and a spindle band. The four main bay facades have on each of the two center bays finely detailed panel and sash entry doors with transom above. Flanking bays each have 2/2 windows. Major construction was done prior to 1914.
Renovation of the house was made possible by funding designated for restoration of historic structures in the South Mississippi counties affected by Hurricane Katrina:
Mississippi Department of Archives and History
The Gulf Coast Community Foundation
The Sun Herald
IP Mississippi Charities, LLC
After the Storm
This aerial image of the Museum site following Hurricane Katrina, August 29th, 2005, shows the casino barge sitting on top of the Gallery of African American Art. To the left of the image, the Center for Ceramics stands relatively undamaged. The original Pleasant Reed House was destroyed by the surge, not the barge.