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Artistic Appeal

Discover amazing art in all its forms woven into the fabric of life in this trio of Southern cities.
Story By Sally M. Snell | Photos by Michael C. Snell

Whether it’s the desire for a coastal getaway that initially draws visitors or a vibrant nightlife, these Southern destinations also feed the creative spirit of artists and patrons. Each community offers a bounty of opportunities to make or appreciate art from a wide range of disciplines.

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In Title: Painted chairs at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center in Ocean Springs, Miss.

Above: The Host Gallery in the Lower Dauphin (LoDa) Art District, which overlooks Mobile Bay on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Below: The Mobile Carnival Museum preserves the history of Mardi Gras with its artifacts and elaborate costumes.

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Mobile, Ala.

Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa is situated at the eastern end of the Lower Dauphin (LoDa) Arts District overlooking Mobile Bay. The work of Alabama artists dresses the hotel’s public corridors.

“It’s about cotton, earth, nature, old architecture, log cabins and driftwood, and the mix of cultures that form Alabama,” said the collection’s curator, Nall, of the aesthetic. Regional work displayed is available for purchase. The historical Battle House Hotel boasts the luxuries modern travelers seek, including a full-service spa, lounge and restaurant.

Art galleries, boutique stores and shade-drenched public parks dot the Arts District, which is in the midst of a gentrification. As the former capital of colonial French Louisiana, this and other areas of Mobile still bear the distinctive hallmarks–such as architecture–of antebellum French settlements. The LoDa ArtWalk is held on the second Friday of every month, showcasing such galleries as the Host Gallery, which features contemporary fine art and gifts.

A few blocks west of Battle House, the 1927 Saenger Theatre resembles European opera houses, incorporating Italian and French Renaissance motifs. Faux details, plasterwork, frescos and gilding are found throughout the lobby and theater. Live theatrical and musical performances, as well as film presentations, are scheduled year-round.

Space 301 is a contemporary arts and education center. Housed in the former Mobile Press Register building, the high ceilings and curtain wall construction translate into a flexible space for changing exhibits, diverse classrooms and event rental space. Classes and workshops include yoga, glass weaving, bookbinding and pottery. The Saenger and Space 301 are operated by Centre for the Living Arts, an organization that promotes visual and performing arts in downtown Mobile.

Carnival is a thriving industry here. Robes are heavily detailed and hand-embellished, reaching upwards of 15 feet in length. Mobile’s Carnival celebrations are purported to pre-date those held in New Orleans.

Visitors throughout the year can admire examples of the elaborate ornamentation and learn more about the history of Mardi Gras at the Mobile Carnival Museum. Throws and masks may be purchased at the museum’s gift shop.

More local art is displayed at the 219 Restaurant, a weekday lunch destination a few doors down from the theater. The restaurant primarily serves pizza, salad, panini and wraps to the weekday lunch crowd, but it opens in the evening with a more upscale menu for select Saenger events.

Ocean Springs, Miss.

Peter Anderson founded the fabled Shearwater Pottery studio in 1928 in Ocean Springs. An estimated 100,000 visitors are expected to flock to downtown Ocean Springs for the 33rd Annual Peter Anderson festival that’s slated for Nov. 5 and 6. The festival boasts 350 national juried fine arts and crafts exhibitors, plus a food court and live music.

“It is definitely one of the top ‘things to do’ in Mississippi,” said Cynthia Dobbs Sutton of the Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce-Main Street-Tourism Bureau. “Some attendees plan their vacation around the festival, and some attendees plan their holiday shopping during the festival.”

The Anderson family includes two additional artists: Peter’s brothers. James McConnell Anderson was a noted painter and ceramist, and Walter Inglis Anderson a respected painter, naturalist and writer. Eight hundred examples of their work in oils, ceramics and watercolors can be seen at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. An exhibition of works by the Anderson brothers is on display through Dec. 31. Walter’s largest mural covers the interior walls of the adjacent Ocean Springs Community Center.

An art market is held on the first Saturday of each month at the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center for Arts & Education. This former public school, built in 1927, is the setting for classes, while diverse musical, theatrical and dance performances are held on the school’s stage.

More than 100 galleries and boutique gift shops are sprinkled throughout downtown and within walking distance of the Phoenicia Restaurant. Specializing in Mediterranean cuisine, the menu includes a medley of kabob options, hummus and sambousek–Lebanese meat pies–alongside Mexican favorites, such as fajitas.

Five minutes north of town, guests of the secluded Gulf Hills Hotel & Conference Center unwind like Elvis, who summered here from 1951–57. A formation of white rocking chairs lines the hotel’s shady front porch. Inside, a grand staircase leads up to the Love Me Tender Suite that’s decked out in Elvis memorabilia and contains the original bar from the Gulf Hills Hotel villa where Elvis stayed.

Shreveport, La.

Set in a residential neighborhood, the R.W. Norton Art Gallery offers a stunning collection of paintings and sculptures from Renaissance masters to contemporary neo-realists. Of special note in the museum’s rare book collection are the double elephant volumes of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.” There also are sculptures by Auguste Rodin and an extensive collection of paintings by Felix Kelly, who became known for his work depicting Steamboat Gothic architecture of the South.

Special exhibits are held year-round. Be sure to leave time for a stroll through the 40-acre sculpture and water gardens behind the gallery. More than 15,000 azaleas burst into bloom in the spring, but the carefully selected specimen plants assure color and interest year-round.

Artspace, in the Downtown West Edge Arts District, serves as a canvas for the work of local and regional artists in multi-media and performing arts disciplines. Saturdays, professional artists guide children through a hands-on art program connected to the current exhibit. On the loft overlooking the main exhibit space, the café serves up Southern classics like pecan pie and chicken salad sandwiches. A gift shop is stocked with pieces by local artists.

Across the street, the Robinson Film Center screens independent and foreign films (as well as campy and classic ones) in the center’s two theaters.

“The Robinson Film Center has brought a new life and energy to downtown,” said Chris Jay of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau, citing the variety and scope of their programming. “From late-night Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings to guest appearances by the likes of Val Kilmer, Nicolas Cage and Matthew Broderick–they’ve given us a lot of great new reasons to head downtown.”

Rosemary Cornish hen and seared duck breast are on the menu of Abby Singer’s Bistro, located on the second floor of Robinson. Food and drinks purchased at the bistro may be consumed anywhere on the premises, including the two theaters and public dining balcony.

A few blocks north of the bistro and 12 stories up, the rooftop saltwater swimming pool of the Hilton Shreveport gives a sweeping view of the Arts District and commercial historic district of downtown. A complimentary shuttle serves a two-mile radius of the hotel, which is connected to the Shreveport Convention Center and two blocks from the riverboat casinos.
If a weekend in one of these Southern cities is music to your ears, draw up plans for your getaway.

Sally M. Snell and Michael C. Snell are contributors from Lawrence, Kan.

Nov/Dec 2011 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact:

• Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 566-2453, www.mobile.org;

• Ocean Springs Chamber of Commerce, (228) 875-4424, www.oceanspringschamber.com;

• Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, (888) 458-4748, www.shreveport-bossier.org.

To visit Mobile, Ocean Springs or Shreveport, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. View a list of offices to serve you.

Order free information about Louisiana and Mississippi through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.


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