Published: April 28, 2020
By Greg Smith
BILOXI, MISS. – “The Mad Potter of Biloxi” George Ohr (1857-1918) is getting some high praise in his hometown as a large mural goes up on a wall of historic Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant. Artist Zach DePolo was commissioned by the Biloxi Public Mural Project, a cultural initiative organized by Corey Christy, to do the mural.
Christy said the goal of The Biloxi Public Art Project is to create a collection of murals and sculptural installations created by local artists that will be strategically placed throughout the East Biloxi Peninsula, including but not limited to Downtown Biloxi. These murals and sculptural installations are designed to share the rich and diverse heritage of Biloxi through colorful and engaging visual art. The Biloxi Public Art Project includes partnerships with local businesses and the city of Biloxi.
“George E. Ohr is the mad scientist of pottery and we are lucky enough to have his legacy here in a town where I grew up,” DePolo told Antiques and The Arts Weekly. “The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum Of Art was still in the library back when I started going into his magical space. I had my first show there when I was 18 with my student portfolio work I submitted for an art scholarship.”
After that, DePolo became an assistant pottery teacher centering 200 pots a day for the Mud Daubers camp at the museum. “I was quickly hypnotized by the immediate reaction clay had on the wheel and how it acts when you handle it. Soon to follow I dove deep into as the science behind temperatures, fire atmosphere, clay bodies and glaze formulations.”
That experience launched DePolo on a path to a degree in ceramics and painting from the University of Southern Alabama, followed by seven years of teaching art. He is now a self-employed artist and works in the film set and prop design business.
The Ohr-O’Keefe Museum Of Art opened in 2010 in a five-building campus designed by architect Frank Gehry.
In addition to the mural featuring Ohr and a few pots, DePolo is going to make another on the side featuring the artist’s cipher found on a promotional pamphlet he took to New Orleans in 1895 to sell his puzzle mug. The cipher, which requires rotation to read, spells “GEO OHR PRO” one way and “BILOXI ART POTTERY” the other.
“Ohr is a Biloxi boy, I’m a Biloxi boy,” said Billy Mahoney, owner of Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant. “Ohr was a genius and I have four of his pieces. My friends are his great grandchildren. I’m just a big admirer of him. I had been wanting to put something up there, maybe ‘Welcome to Biloxi’ or ‘Have a Nice Day,’ but when Biloxi Main Street asked if we’d be interested and showed me what they wanted to do, I knew this was it. Every time you drive by this thing, you’re going to tilt your head and say ‘did you see that?'”
“The cipher will be next to the mural” Mahoney added. “It’s a hell of a conversation piece. You have to tilt your head to read it, and when you see it, it hits you like a ton of bricks.”
As to his technique, DePolo said, “I used just two size paint rollers for the first mural as part of a new technique I am really enjoying. I can stand farther back from the large-scale image with a 20-foot extension pole. It feels a little more natural, like I am standing at an easel. It really helps in seeing the entire image while painting, making it cohesive while creating and reacting to other marks made in other areas of the composition.”
Other Biloxi Public Mural Projects include those that tell the story of the ghost of Horn Island, the sunken island of Capris, Hidden Coast cemeteries, the Civil Rights movement, the seafood and gaming industries and more.
For information on the Biloxi Public Mural Project, visit https://www.downtownbiloxi.com/post/downtown-biloxi-art-murals-public-art.
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