LAUREL — It’s the home stretch for the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, with officials poised to unveil exciting new additions for next week’s 90th anniversary celebration.
Last week, Jeannette Walker peered eagerly through the glass top of the doors leading from the museum’s American Gallery to the Stairwell Gallery.
Fixed in her gaze was a Medusa’s head-like chandelier, under delicate construction by Jeff Gerber of Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans, to hang over the stairwell.
“It’s so exciting to see it all come together,” said Walker, an LRMA board-member, of the intricate, all-day process in setting up the chandelier’s 85 individual pieces.
The chandelier, created by noted glass sculptor Dale Chihuly and titled “Aventurine Green with Copper and Gold Leaf,” will be on full display May 1, along with $3 million worth of renovations.
As with all best-laid plans, the opening won’t be perfect. Delays in construction mean that there will be, in LRMA executive director George Bassi words, some “cosmetic touches” missing.
There are cork floors that still need to be replaced, as well as some exterior landscaping and lighting remaining on the horizon.
“Nothing major,” said Bassi of the future alternations. “I don’t think most people will even notice them.”
What museum supporters will notice is the new wing with 3,400 square feet of gallery space that will provide precious exhibition space to the permanent collection. It also will host concerts, lectures and videos aided by state-of-the-art technology.
For those artworks that don’t see the light of day, there’s another 2,000 square feet of badly needed vault space added underneath the new galleries.
As for the new wing’s exterior, Arthur Roger noted the copper of the chandelier is intended to match the bright copper panels that decorate the wing.
It makes for startling interplay with the old building’s original brick.
“Is the copper bright or what?” laughs Bassi. “I have to say we have not had anyone say they don’t like it. Most people have said they think it’s pretty cool.”
This is the first major renovation to the museum since 1925, just two years after it opened. The changes weren’t just constricted to the addition. The old museum also has gotten a touch-up, with new cork floors, retrofitted LED lighting that will give more light to the interior galleries while lowering the museum’s energy bills and a splash of blue paint given to the gallery space holding the British Georgian Silver collection.
But it won’t change the feel of the gallery. Kenny Harrell, who regularly attends museum events with his wife, Glenda Miller, said he loves its charming, laid-back quality.
“I think it’s comfortable,” said Harrell, a retired union organizer for California firefighters who lives in Hattiesburg. “I think it falls in line with the overall atmosphere of the South. You’re not in a hurry. You come in and you see what you want to see.
“Anything that they do to give more vitality to this venue is good for the community and good for the area,” he said of the additions.
Bassi shows little regret in stating that the capital campaign and construction that began in summer 2010 and January 2012, respectively, will probably never be duplicated.
The campaign raised more than $5 million from more than 250 donors, including a $250,000 grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission. More than $1.5 million of that total will go toward the museum’s endowment.
The LRMA is flanked, now even more snugly in the back, by city streets and buildings on all four sides, including St. John’s Episcopal Church to its right.
“There will never be another addition, because there is no other place to go,” said Bassi, before correcting himself that the building is fitted for a third floor.
“This is the first capital campaign to do something like this and it will probably be the last time.”