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The Walter Anderson Museum of Art

The Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, surrounds you with the life and love of Walter Anderson and his art, encompassing whimsical scenes from nature, murals of everyday hustle and bustle and mirrors into the soul of a man whose mind was filled with artistic whims.

Walter Anderson, a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, was introduced to art at a young age. His mother was an avid artist and insisted that her three sons, Peter, Walter, and Mac, would all become artists. Her husband, a grain farmer, insisted that if they pursued art, they must be able to make a living from it. The family relocated to Ocean Springs in 1918, and laid the foundation for the family studio. Each of the boys was sent to prestigious schools of art and trained under the skilled hands of some of the most admired artists of their time. Upon completion of their training, each returned home to take on the family business, Shearwater Pottery, which opened in the 1920s. The eldest, Peter, became the master potter, and Walter and Mac returned to decorate pottery as well as create paintings, sculptures, “widgets” and other marketable works of art for the studio.

Walter did more than paint pottery during his career; he also was a writer, a muralist, and a sculptor, but he is best known for his paintings and sketches. Anderson’s work is classified into the Shearwater period, Oldfields period, and the Horn Island period; each period represented by a is a collection of distinctive works by Walter which define a time in his life and his art.

The Shearwater period includes many pieces of pottery thrown by his brother and decorated by Walter. He and his brother Mac began producing small figurines they called widgets, as popularity of the widgets grew, Walter found less and less time to paint, which was his true passion. This was also the time when Walter became infatuated with murals and designated himself a muralist.

After his initial battle with mental illness from 1937-1940, Walter moved with his wife and children into his father-in-law’s antebellum home in Gautier known as “Oldfields”. The tranquil setting provided much-needed inspiration for Walter’s creative urge, and during this period, he became known for his vivid still image portraits. He also painted canvas murals large enough to cover the interior walls of Oldfields after his father-in-law refused to let him paint on the large open walls of the home.

When Walter left his family in 1945 to live in solitude on the Shearwater compound, he began making frequent treks to Horn Island, an uninhabited barrier island some 12 miles off the main shoreline of the Mississippi Coast. Walter would spend weeks at a time on the island painting the elements of nature that surrounded him. He desired to become one with nature in hopes to view nature as it really is and, therefore, would live primitively on the island so not to disrupt its essence. He would bring only a few bare essentials and his art supplies, and work in the elements and sleep under his skiff at night. He spent most of his time here the last 18 years of his life before dying at age 62 of lung cancer. During his time at Horn Island, he spent much of his time journaling, sketching, and painting. He desired most to find the purpose of man and his intended role in nature. These pieces are the final series in Walter’s collection and include some of his most well-known pieces.

The Walter Anderson Museum of Art, which opened in 1991, is home to the largest collection of art by Walter Anderson and his brothers. Many of its collection pieces from Walter, which including journal entries, transpired during his time on Horn Island; these were recovered from Walter’s cottage home on the Shearwater compound after his death. The museum also includes in its permanent collection many pieces from the work of Peter and Mac Anderson including pottery, figurines, paintings, sketches, and other phenomenal works of art. It also presents pieces from Shearwater Pottery, which is still open today. It is the primary mission of the museum to celebrate, interpret, and promote the work of the Anderson brothers; the museum also boasts the works of several other acclaimed artists which are displayed in time-limited exhibits.

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