Last Updated on July 11, 2023
There’s a secret coast in Mississippi. It’s made up of 12 unique towns. These neighboring cities span 62-miles along the gleaming shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
The towns have varied attractions and distinct charms, but all have one trait in common, resilience. In 2005, the westernmost city of Waveland was ground-zero when Katrina, a category-three hurricane, made landfall. With winds up to 120 miles per hour and a 28-foot storm surge, the aftermath caused devastating damage. All the counties in the state were declared disaster areas.
The residents along the Mississippi Secret Coast know a lot about strength. Through it all, artists have found a way to make a statement, say something through art about the community where they live and a place they love.
Their work leaves beauty where there was destruction or to express joy or collective history. I found breathtaking examples of public art as I traveled through Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Pascagoula.
Creatives found ways to express these ideas through murals, statues, mosaics, and memorials. I got to know the Mississippi Secret Coast through these expressions, and I fell in love.
By Dayle K. Lewis – Beach Boulevard. at Demontluzin Avenue in Bay St. Louis
The tree on Beach Boulevard has a remarkable story. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina bore down on Bay St. Louis. Kevan Guillory, Doug Nicolet, and Nikki Moon tried to get her B&B, Bay Town Inn, prepared. At around 8:30 am, a 40-foot-high storm surge washed the inn away. The friends and Nikki’s dog clung to the limbs and made it through the storm, but ultimately, the tree died.
After it was cut down, the survivors asked Dayle to carve it into two angels, looking toward the town and looking toward the sea. It’s set into concrete a few hundred feet from where it saved their lives.
All Are Welcome Here Mural
By Ann Madden – Mockingbird Café in Bay St. Louis
In 2016 designer and co-owner of Smith and Lens Gallery, Ann Madden, created the sign All Are Welcome Here. The poster was an effort to protest the state’s ‘religious freedom law,’ House Bill 1523.
She felt it was her duty as a small business owner to speak up and protect LGBTQ rights. She printed signs that other businesses hung in their shops. Then she painted the replica mural on the fence between her gallery and the Mockingbird Café in 2019.
Bay St. Louis has a long history of examples (both past and present) of welcoming diverse people and integrating others into their community. In 2021, Madden worked with a team of people to win a grant and begin Wall to Wall, a public art project. Five large murals painted by local artists will transform Old Town in June 2021.
100 Men Hall Mural
By Wendo and JoLean – 303 Union Street in Bay St. Louis
Visual artists Wendo Brunious and JoLean Barkley were commissioned by the 100 Men Hall to transform the outdoor wall of the hall as a gift to the community. The 100 Men Hall is also a site on the Mississippi Blues Trail.
Both accomplished designers and fine artists, Wendo and JoLean, painted a storyboard to promote the rich history of the 100 Men Hall within the African-American community.
The long mural displays different aspects of the resilience and resistance of the African-American experience in Mississippi. The project was made possible through grants from the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area and the Puffin Foundation.
JoLean is a Bay St. Louis native, and Wendo hails from New Orleans. Their work is displayed around the states and around the world.
Hurricane Katrina Memorial
Biloxi Town Green in Biloxi
This memorial is dedicated to the Mississippi Gulf Coast victims who died due to the worst natural disaster to hit the United States. There is so much symbolism attached to this critical piece. It stands 12-feet high, about the height of the storm surge at the green.
The wall contains a tile inlay of a wave. The attached glass case has items from destroyed buildings, and the names of 170 victims of the storm are listed on the wall beside the case. The memorial was dedicated on February 15, 2006.
Greetings from Biloxi
By Cali Rob – G.E. Ohr Street in Biloxi
This charming, Instagram-worthy mural attracts a lot of attention, exactly what Corey Christy of Biloxi Main Street Association hoped for. His mission of creating a public art project that puts up ten murals a year in Biloxi was met with this installation in February of 2020.
It measures 24 x 16-feet and includes iconic Biloxi images. Christy has several goals for the public art project: to put local artists to work, brighten up the city, improve walkability, and educate people about the city’s history.
The Golden Fisherman Statue
The Golden Fisherman at the Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi
The 7-foot bronze sculpture crafted in Italy stands on a 6-foot granite base with plaques naming over 800 seafood industry families and the kings and queens from the annual Biloxi Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet.
Installed in May of 2018, he casts his net toward Biloxi Bay to pay homage to generations of commercial fishermen. This monument replaces the original, damaged during Katrina and later stolen.
It stands next to the beautiful Maritime & Seafood Industry Museum on Point Cadet. It has a triangular wall of windows facing the Bay. Inside, three floors of exhibits document the history of Biloxi’s seafood industry, Katrina, and the historic craft of recreational boat building.
1609 14th Street in Gulfport
Fishbone Alley was used for trash and for maintenance behind neighboring businesses. In 2015 it got a funky makeover and became a destination. It features original artwork by local artists and offers access to the back patios of the restaurants that line the long corridor.
The Alley has a party atmosphere on most evenings. Some special events and festivals occur around it each year. Because of the ‘to-go-cup law,’ you can carry your adult beverage around while surveying the murals.
Mississippi Aquarium Aquatic Wonders
By Robert Waldrop 2401 14th Street in Gulfport
When the Mississippi Aquarium opened in 2020, everyone was thrilled to welcome the new 100-million dollar attraction to Gulfport. To highlight the opening, they commissioned artist and Gulfport native Robert Waldrop, widely known for his colorful and realistic depiction of Mississippi’s coastal wildlife.
Waldrop painted the mural to represent some of the incredible experiences at the attraction, such as the outdoor habitats, the transparent shark tunnel, and the alligators and crocodiles exhibit.
By Cody Bryan Richardson – Corner of 21st and 25th Streets in Gulfport
Originally from California, Cody Richardson enjoys the friendly vibe of the Mississippi Coast. He also loves that Frida Kahlo is a symbol of hope and empowerment.
A self-taught artist, he and his friend, Gulfport native, Jacob Cumberland were commissioned by El Agave to paint a mural of Frida to brighten up the wall near the restaurant (which unfortunately has since gone out of business).
Cody painted her face in black and white to feel structured, but the background in vibrant colors to feel chaotic and add interest. In his heart, he was grateful that she was the subject of his first piece, an apropos symbol of strength for Gulfport.
Ocean Springs Biloxi Bay Mural
East end Biloxi Bay Bridge-Hwy 90 in Ocean Springs
The longest mosaic mural in Mississippi depicts the stunning natural beauty of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Four local artists created individual panels that make up the 120-foot-long art piece by overseeing artist Elizabeth Veglia. Veglia arranged and placed each form and oversaw the installation of this magnificent ‘love letter’ onto the concrete walls beneath the Biloxi Ocean Springs Bridge.
Artists Chris Stebly, Pat Odom, Ching Walters, and Susie Ranger lent their talents to create this masterpiece in the city with a ‘Heart for Art.’
All One People
By Chris Stebly – 604 Porter Avenue in Ocean Springs
Artist Chris Stebly, the grandson of renowned Ocean Springs artist Walter Inglis Anderson, created a drawing entitled All One People.
The Historic Ocean Springs Association decided to transform his work into public art through for-profit and non-profit funding. Stebly’s drawing was enlarged into a 10-foot by 24-foot free-standing aluminum structure and installed on the grounds of The Roost, a boutique hotel in the heart of town.
Stebly’s artistic expression symbolizes a message of inspiration for Ocean Springs, to respect each other, to share peace, and uphold the education of all. A beautiful message for a lovely town.
By Brenda Kitchens – 2001 Beach Boulevard. Baptiste Bayou in Pascagoula
Singer-songwriter, musician, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffet was born in Pascagoula. His grandfather inspired him when he traced his finger from Baptiste Bayou to the Mississippi Sound, the Gulf of Mexico, and the world. He told him he could go anywhere. Jimmy took his advice and became known for his famous songs including, Margaritaville and legions of fans known as Parrotheads.
The city and the state named May 6 as Jimmy Buffet Day, chosen to honor his parents’ wedding anniversary. The city wanted to recognize him for writing about his life growing up in Mississippi and promoting the Gulf Coast. Signs are posted throughout town proclaiming that it’s the birthplace of the famous singer.