Confederate Leader's Mansion Rises Again

Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate States of America. i i

Jefferson Davis, photographed in 1880, was president of the Confederate States of America. Netterville Briggs/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Netterville Briggs/Getty Images
Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederate States of America.

Jefferson Davis, photographed in 1880, was president of the Confederate States of America.

Netterville Briggs/Getty Images
Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library, before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. i i

Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library in Biloxi, Miss., before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Richard R. Flowers hide caption

itoggle caption Richard R. Flowers
Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library, before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library in Biloxi, Miss., before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005.

Richard R. Flowers
Beauvoir is currently being restored. i i

Beauvoir, where Davis lived out his years after the Civil War, suffered major damage from the storm. Marianne Todd/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Marianne Todd/Getty Images
Beauvoir is currently being restored.

Beauvoir, where Davis lived out his years after the Civil War, suffered major damage from the storm.

Marianne Todd/Getty Images

It was three years ago this month that Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, and people are still trying to piece together their lives and homes.

One of those homes is the post-Civil War residence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Biloxi, Miss.

Two artists are working to restore the Beauvoir mansion, which Davis bought in 1878 and where he lived until his death in 1889. Katrina wreaked major damage to the historic structure, ripping apart its stately white columns overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

The husband-and-wife team of Phillip Ward and Linda Croxson is giving new life to Beauvoir. Copycat artists in the best sense of the word, they're recreating in exact detail murals on the walls and ceilings of the landmark estate.

"It's like forging someone's handwriting, really," Ward says.

They use historic research to determine how Beauvoir looked 150 years ago. By slicing through layers of paint with a scalpel and examining it under a microscope, researchers discovered the original colors and the original artists' technique. For eight hours a day, they look up, using tiny paint brushes to bring the past to life. It's slow work.

Croxson says the process can be summed up in a word: tedious. "Painting a vertical surface isn't bad," she says, "but painting over your head seven, eight, nine hours a day can get very painful."

Although they work all day recreating another artist's work, Croxson and Ward like to let the paint fly when they leave Beauvoir.

"Abstract, large abstract paintings. We just want to splash paint around ... do what we want to do," Croxson says, laughing.

Ward and Croxson have spent the past four months here at the former rebel leader's Mississippi mansion. It will take another eight months before they're done. History doesn't come quickly or easily. Neither does its recreation.

Ron Brown reports for Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

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