July 2023

The idea came about when the pandemic hit, and downtown Hattiesburg was empty. Everyone was on lock down and nobody was outside.

“We started thinking, what we can we do? How can we get people outside again and engaged,” said Rick Taylor, executive director of the Hattiesburg Convention Commission.

The pandemic caused the closure of the historic Saenger Theater downtown. The Hattiesburg Convention Commission managed the theater, so Rick Taylor, and his wife, Vicki Taylor, started thinking about ways for people to escape the isolation of lockdown with the theater as a catalyst.

Hidden for almost four decades, the couple discovered a boarded-up window in a rear storeroom of the theater that faced the outside alley. The window was replaced with security glass, and a display cabinet was created to fit the window. Lighting and an outside speaker were also added.  

The idea was to create a museum experience that visitors could enjoy from the outside. The exhibits were purposefully small, so they could fit in the window. 

One of the great things about the museum is we get to do whatever we want. The city has been great and supportive. It’s brought people to downtown who might not have otherwise thought about coming before.

electrical box adorned with a painting of a honey pot with the cables painted yellow as if they were honey pouring into the pot
Many styles of art encompass the length of the alley — paintings on asphalt, utility boxes, doors and other exterior surfaces; sculptures from large to tiny in size; miniature scenes and people; and mixed media pieces.

The Hattiesburg Pocket Museum opened to the public in August 2020 with a Swiss army knife exhibit. More than 115 unique pocket knives were displayed.

The Taylors ensured there was mystery with the new museum. They wanted the public to “discover it organically.” There was no advertising. The only clue to the community was a billboard that simply said, “Can you find it?” with the museum’s logo, a mouse. The mouse is known as Milo and is the museum’s curator.

“People would call the city and say, ‘where is it?’ ‘What is it?’ We wouldn’t tell them,” Rick Taylor said.

The couple said they love to discover things when they travel, and they wanted the museum to evolve in a similar way. 

sculpture of a donut with miniature figures on it as if it were a street
Some of the art visually and boldly transforming the space in which it exists while other pieces are hidden throughout the alley for curious explorers to find and create their own exciting adventure.

Eventually, people discovered the downtown alley, and then photos started popping up on social media.

Three months after the museum “opened,” there was a story published in The Washington Post.

“The headline was something like, the six best museums to open during the pandemic. And we were one of them,” Rick Taylor said.

After the story was published, people started to visit the alley behind the theater in droves. The Taylors said more than 150,000 people a year visit.

The Alley

glass encased display of miniatures

The actual pocket museum — the old window that now houses a new exhibit every month — is just one part of what the Taylors have created for the alley behind the theater.

There are numerous outdoor art installations in the alley including a Kelsey Montague painting on the city parking garage across from the museum, tiny pop culture displays hidden all up and down the corners and crevices of the alley, a 3-D Abbey Road painted on the ground for photo opportunities, a LEGO sky bridge between the theater and parking garage, a renovated newspaper stand transformed into an art gallery, and ever-changing miniature model dioramas placed on different utility boxes in the alley. 

Right next to the window museum is a mini-theatre — The Hattiesburg Pocket Theater – where short film clips play along with the museum display.

“To keep people coming, we change the exhibit every month,” Vicki Taylor said.

heart shaped red metal frame with a metal grid holding a multitude of locks

The monthly exhibits are always something very different — cute, funny, or just plain weird. 

“We tend to find people either love or hate the museum exhibits,” Rick Taylor said.

Past exhibits include: “McDonald’s Through the Ages” with the chain’s iconic paper hats and blue uniform and Happy Meal boxes; “Shrunken Heads” carved from apples, sweet potatoes, and pears; the now extinct “Library Card” with old cards brought back to life as canvas drawings that give a tip of the hat to the books the cards were once tied to; and an exhibit called, “Tools of the Trade: Serial Killers,” which showcased four well-known real life and fictional killers — Dexter, Hannibal Lecter, the Zodiac Killer, and the Green River Killer —  and their “tools of choice.”  

The June 2023 exhibit was called, “Honey, I Shrunk the Museum.” The exhibit featured famous works of art from all over the world shrunken to mouse-size and touched up with paint, sparkles, and glitter.

two electrical boxes with colorful artwork painted on them — one light blue with a patchwork heart and the other pink with a pigeon

dragonflies painted on the side of a building
A painting of dragonflies by Kelsey Montague adorns the facade of the parking garage across from the museum, in the alley.

The exhibit was the brainchild of Lynda and Cory Hartup, who spent about eight months putting it together. Cory Hartup is a drone pilot for Cooperative Energy, a generation and transmission cooperative that provides wholesale power to 11 local electric distribution cooperatives.

“The idea was Lynda’s. She just told me what I needed to do to help,” Cory Hartup said.

Hartup used 3-D printers to print the tiny statues while Lynda painted each piece and created the backstory for each panel.

Hartup said the response to the exhibit, and the museum in general, has been tremendous.

“I love it (the museum). This was such a cool idea, and it’s been great for Hattiesburg,” he added. 

The Taylors

Rick and Vicky Taylor walking in their alley exhibit on altered perspective painted stepsRick and Vicki Taylor run the museum without any city funding.

The budget when they started out was $800. They spent $300 on the museum sign.

Vicki Taylor works 30 hours a week as a volunteer.

“Honestly, this is a labor of love for us,” Vicki Taylor said.

Exhibits are set through 2024, but the couple always welcomes the public’s ideas.

“One of the great things about the museum is we get to do whatever we want. The city has been great and supportive. It’s brought people to downtown who might not have otherwise thought about coming before,” Rick Taylor said.  

The Hattiesburg Pocket Museum is free and open to the public 24 hours a day. For more information, visit www.hattiesburgpocketmuseum.com.


cat sculpture hanging onto alley way pipe
lego men sitting on ledge with lego bridge extended to the right
wienie dog statue in alley way exhibit
utility device with a gold fish bowl painted on the side
cat sculpture with angel wings painted on the wall behind it
narwal creature painted on alley way street with its horn painted on a post rising from the street
painting of a kraken with the text free hugs above the door.
Sign placed in front of an alley way art exhibit. It says: Welcome! Please do not touch outdoor exhibits; they are fragile. This alley is monitored by cameras.
alley way door painted with artwork - a cat in a kimono and the text let it go running down the door.
Category: Feature

Get The Latest Edition