Local artist Bobby Whalen is literally making history.
In conjunction with The Mississippi Department of Archives and History, he has been commissioned by the Museum of Mississippi History to produce several panels of original artwork that will be on display in one of their “breakout galleries” called “The Soul of the State.”
The Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum are interconnected facilities set to open in Jackson on December 9. Museum Director Rachel Myers said they will be made up of thematic galleries throughout and Whalen’s work will be featured with a group of others who have contributed to the cultural history of the state.
One of the features of the Soul of the South exhibit will be a re-creation of a Mississippi juke joint, patterned after the Cozy Corner Café on Church Street in downtown Indianola. Myers said it was hard to re-create an authentic juke joint because it has so much soul.
She said they consulted with design teams located in various areas that scoured the Internet looking for suitable structures to base their re-creation on and the Cozy Corner was the best looking, “Mainly because of Bobby’s murals,” she said. In the museum gallery the replica will be called “Lucille’s Place” but like the Cozy Corner, it will feature Whalen’s artwork.
His paintings depict famous local musicians and entertainers as well as well-known national figures. Myers said the café owners were excited about their club being featured, even though it won’t bare the same name, but there will be a panel on the wall that mentions their name and how Lucille’s Place was based on their business.
The panel will describe the Cozy Corner Café, the significance of Church Street and information about the artist, she said, “By the time they leave our museum, they'll know they have to go to Indianola to see the real thing!”
Myers said, “Getting to work with someone like Bobby on this was particularly important because of his experience, not only as a visual artist but a blues musician.” She said as they were .discussing who should go up on the wall, Whalen would mention all of the famous musicians that he's played with. “He knows them personally and I think it's why he does such a great job with their faces,” Myers added.
She noted that the museum had worked with blues historian Scott Baretta to help guide their imagining of the juke joint and he had worked with Whalen in the past and recommended him. “If we wanted the look of the Cozy Corner Cafe, there was no one better or more authentic then commissioning Bobby to do the work,” she said.
A written statement from the museum promotes the complex as an experience that “Will take visitors through the sweep of Mississippi history and the state’s role as ground zero in the Civil Rights Movement.” Myers said they hope the museums can serve as an outpost for tourists, sending them from Jackson out to the places described in the museum.
The Mississippi Legislature provided $90 million to build the two museums and donors gave an additional $17 million for exhibits and endowments. The conjoined structure includes a shared lobby, auditorium, temporary exhibit galleries, classrooms, collection storage, and exhibit workshop, covering 200,000 square feet—the equivalent of three and a half football fields.
According to a press release, visitors can expect a state-of-the-art interactive experience with exhibits showcasing a variety of artifacts from a 500-year-old dugout canoe to a set of flip flops worn by a Freedom Rider while imprisoned in the Hinds County Jail.
Each division will have its own unique features, visitors to the Museum of Mississippi History will explore the state from prehistoric times to present day through twelve galleries.
The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum boasts eight interactive galleries that show the systematic oppression of black Mississippians during the Jim Crow era and their fight for equality that transformed the state and nation and it will be the only state-operated civil rights museum in the nation.
The Delta is featured throughout the museum, the theme One Mississippi, Many Stories is represented geographically from the coast up to the Delta and through the hills.
B.B. King is featured, as is the story of the 1927 flood and other stories from people throughout the Delta. One gallery has artifacts from Caroline Benoist, including an incubator and crib she designed in the 1930's that helped lower infant mortality rates, she was a public health nurse in Sunflower County.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History is the second-oldest state department of archives and history in the United States and it collects, preserves, and provides access to the archival resources of the state, administers museums and historic sites, and oversees statewide programs for historic preservation, state and local government records management, and publications.
For more information call 601-576-6850 or see www.mdah.ms.gov.