The Museum at U. Mississippi — Jewel of the Community

Photo: E Connolly

The Museum of The University of Mississippi fulfills so many roles that it is difficult to classify this institution according to the importance of its varied functions.

It is — first — a Public museum housing important exhibits; from artifacts of 
ancient Rome and Greece to a display of scientific instruments dating to the time the university was first opened in 1848. The museum’s displays and galleries endow both adult and children visitors with a fascinating & memorable experience.

Entering the halls of the museum one is met with galleries gleaming with a full spectrum of light, color, glittering metal, colorful mosaics, and materials of woven cloth, canvas, clay pottery, and carved wood and plaster masks. A sojourn here invites the visitor into a journey where the distractions of daily life can he suspended. Here one absorbs the experiences of life in ancient Rome and Greece through the objects most treasured by those societies. The museum contains “The largest collection of Greek and Roman antiquities in the entire South; over two thousand objects “ according to Bob Saarnio, Museum Director. That is a huge distinction that places the U.M. Museum among the most distinguished in America. To experience something similar to what this museum offers you would have to travel to Atlanta or Dallas according to Saarnio.

Photo: E Connolly — Greek and Roam Antiquities section at University of Mississippi Museum

But the Greek and Roman antiquities collection only scratches the surface of what makes this museum unique and important. The gallery housing the antique Scientific Instruments here takes you hack to the Age of Enlightenment in America when scientific knowledge accelerated and became available to the public, giving ordinary people an understanding of our universe and our place in it. The Scientific Instruments Gallery allows the visitor to literally walk through a three-dimensional reconstruction of our galaxy from the vantage point of the sun, planets and moons.

Photo: E Connolly — The Scientific Exhibits Section of the Museum features a model of the solar system

In addition to the above, the museum also houses numerous permanent exhibits.

There are three galleries displaying contemporary art and folk art. The collections in these spaces include works by internationally known artist Georgia O’Keefe and local folk art legend Theora Hamblett. The museum’s galleries make it nearly impossible for the visitor to do just a casual walk through. The observer is drawn in by their own imagination and their mind’s eye that wants to go where the artist’s creation takes it — suspending time and place.

But the museum’s franchise goes well beyond the sole responsibility of operating the museum. It also has responsibility for managing, maintaining and promoting three important historic properties and trails.

Rowan Oak, the home of William Falkner, is well known to Oxford area residents and the university family. This National Historic Landmark comes under the museum’s management responsibility, as does the Walton-Young Historic House — a state historic site. The museum also maintains the Bailey’s Woods Trail, which is an easy 25-minute walk from the museum property on University Avenue to the Rowan Oak property. It has been designated a National Recreation Trail. The museum director superintends all of these properties as lasting treasures to the Oxford community.

Yet another key function of the museum is education. Calling itself a teaching museum it serves the entire education spectrum from early elementary school to the graduate level at the university. In fact, there are permanent classrooms within the museum that provide a great learning and working environment for school age kids which come in nearly every day from the city and county. Emily McCauley is the Curator of Education. Under her purview, the museum serves over 14.000 students in Oxford and within a one hundred mile radius of Oxford.

The education role extends, just as importantly, to serve the university. The exhibits at the museum and properties like Rowan Oak provide research sources and relevance to the studies of students in disciplines ranging from African American Studies to Physics. U.M. English professor Beth Spencer recently brought a class of students to the museum to get inspiration for an assignment titled “Poetry Inspired by Art.”

The museum began with donations by Mary Buie, an Oxford collector and painter who left her entire collection to the city which built the original neoclassical style museum building that dates back to 1939. It was then called The Buie Museum, a name which has stuck with many local residents and university graduates. It is now an annex to the current museum. That original building which has been closed for several years is currently undergoing renovation. When it is completed — estimated at two years or less — it will house all of the Roman and Greek antiquities in the current museum. That will clear new space for additional acquisitions and exhibits in the main museum.

Exterior restoration work was also completed in 2015 on the historic Walton -Young House, a handsome example of a Victorian style home. Restoration of the interior is scheduled to begin soon. Plans are currently in formulation for the post-restoration period. Among the things being considered for the space include: restoration of much of the home with period furnishings; a venue for chamber music; a reception space and dinner venue for university and museum functions; a separate gallery for dedicated or period art; an artist in residence venue along the concept of Yaddo in Saratoga Springs NY, and maybe even an espresso bar.