By Kathie Farnell
Bay St. Louis, a charming little town on the storm-wracked Mississippi Gulf Coast, is becoming an arts destination for travelers seeking a respite from the casino-glitz ambiance of Biloxi. Four years after Hurricane Katrina, the town’s shops, galleries and cafes are open for business. The ornate 1928 train depot (which had a supporting role in the 1966 film This Property is Condemned) weathered the storm and today is headquarters for the Hancock County Tourism Development Bureau as well as the centerpiece of the Historic Depot District.
Just across the street, a bright-blue Creole cottage houses the Alice Moseley Folk Art and Antique Museum, headquarters for one of the most interesting collections of folk art on the Gulf Coast. A genuine character, Miss Alice didn’t take up painting until she was in her 60s and having to care for a mother who had Alzheimer’s. Her colorful artwork, originally an attempt to distract herself from a grim situation, gave her an emotional outlet and eventually brought her fame. She moved to Bay St. Louis in her 80s, selected her startling blue paint color, and adopted as her motto “the house is blue, but the old lady ain’t.” Miss Alice had a healthy work ethic. After her husband died, at which time she discovered his pension had died with him, she responded by, as she put it, “painting a lot faster.”
Once she got settled in her blue house, she painted her idyllic Southern folk art scenes seven days a week, pausing only to tell stories to the many visitors who announced their arrival by clanging the huge bell that stands on her porch. Miss Alice died in 2004, but her home, restored since Katrina, remains the artistic focal point of the area. Local artists are represented in the gallery here, Miss Alice’s colorful prints are on sale in the shop, and visitors can see the artist herself on video. (She introduces herself with “Hello, I’m Alice Moseley and I’ll still be making people laugh long after y’all are dead and gone.”) The antique section of the museum holds the expansive collection of majolica, art glass and art pottery amassed over 35 years by the artist’s son Tim.
Folk art is not the only game in town. Balstrop Gallery, nearby at 131 Main Street, represents a number of Southern Mississippi artists and features paintings, prints, pottery and sculptures.
The Shops of Serenity Place , at 126 Main Street, includes art galleries as well as a cafe, Lulu’s What’s for Lunch. Some of the artists maintain studios here where they teach as well as display their works. Handmade crafts from around the U.S. along with clothes and jewelry are also showcased here.
The Chamber Art Gallery, a collaboration between the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce and The Arts, Hancock County, is an innovative place for local artists and artisans to display their work; artists are contacted directly regarding sales.
Art even finds its way into the local dining scene. The Mockingbird Cafe, at 110 South Second Street, features local art on its walls and hosts local musicians at the weekly showcase known as Thursdays at the Bird.
Plan a visit
Bay St. Louis is located forty miles east of New Orleans on U.S. Highway 90. For more information, visit the website or telephone 1-800-466-9048. For more information on the Alice Moseley Folk Art and Antique Museum, located at 214 Bookter Street in Bay St. Louis, visit the website.