University Museum Joint Publication Set for Release

'The Beautiful Mysterious' showcases unique photography of William Eggleston

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Museum, Friends of the Museum and University Press of Mississippi will celebrate the launch of their first co-published book, “The Beautiful Mysterious: The Extraordinary Gaze of William Eggleston,” at 5:30 p.m. Monday (June 17) at Off Square Books.

The project, first in a series, helps showcase the museum and its collections, as well as advancing the scholarly dialogue about Eggleston and his work.

“It is nothing short of thrilling to publish the museum’s first hardcover book in many years,” said Robert Saarnio, director of the University Museum and Historic Houses. “It aligns the museum completely with the university mission of teaching, service and research.”

The museum holds one of the nation’s most extensive collections of Eggleston photographic prints. The prints were exhibited at the museum in 2017, and it hosted scholars for an Eggleston symposium. A transcript of that event is included in the book.

“This is a project made entirely possible by the Friends of the Museum, a fundraising and advocacy board of distinguished citizens and university staff dedicated supporting the museum and Rowan Oak,” Saarnio said. “Without involvement from Friends of the Museum, the project would not have proceeded.”

Ann Abadie, former associate director of the university’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture and a Friends of the Museum member, edited the book and managed the publishing process.

“It is, in fact, hard to express the depth of our gratitude to Ann Abadie, who kept every deliverable component tracking to its milestones,” Saarnio said.

Eggleston is considered the father of modern color photography. Born in 1939 and reared in the Mississippi Delta town of Sumner, Eggleston and his work rose to prominence following a 1976 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Thirty-six of the 55 prints included in the book are from the University Museum’s permanent collection. Many include his handwritten notes.

“Our Eggleston collection has many unique aspects to it, not least among them is its origins as a gift to the University Museum by legendary folklorist, photographer and Southern studies founding director Dr. William Ferris,” Saarnio said. Ferris also is a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture and the Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History and senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina.

“Bill Eggleston’s color photography marks a defining point for the history of photography,” Ferris said. “I think Bill Eggleston captures life in motion. Like the Mississippi River, we can never step into the same water twice. It moves constantly, as do the worlds Bill Eggleston photographs.”

The book is available for $40 at Square Books and online at