A Secret no Longer – The Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Ocean Springs Mississippi @SeeCoastalMS #CoastalMS

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Walter Anderson Museum of Art Ocean Springs Mississippi @DownshiftingPRO

The Artist – Walter Anderson

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A small unassuming museum in the small Coastal Mississippi town of Ocean Springs, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art is not to be missed.  I was enchanted by this museum when I visited the US Gulf Coast.  The story of this artist is compelling and a tale of lifelong struggle with deep depression.  An artist gripped with mental health issues may face challenges in his or her career but inevitably, from this turmoil often comes unabashed beauty and creativity. 

Artist, naturalist and mystic is an exhibition of the work of Walter Inglis Anderson spanning his careers as an American modernist, watercolourist, pottery decorator and linoleum block printmaker. Described as an artist-philosopher, he interspersed the Gulf Coast landscape with stories from mythology to mysticism. You can see how his murals tell a story about history and myth in the powerful murals of the Ocean Springs Community Center. This is a MUST-SEE museum on your travels to Coastal Mississippi

Quate from Walter Inglis Anderson

The Walter Anderson Museum of Art opened in 1991 dedicated to celebrating the masterworks of Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), his brothers, Peter Anderson (1901-1984) master potter and founder of Shearwater Pottery; and James McConnell Anderson (1907-1998), noted painter and ceramist. When we visited, there was also an exhibit of his great grandson’s work as a tattoo artist. These images were bold and beautiful as were those of his ancestor.

Matt Stebly Walter Anderson Museum of Art Ocean Springs MS @DownshiftingPRO scaled
Matt Stebly – Great-grandson of Walter Anderson
Twisted Anchor Tattoo & Fine Art Gallery in Downtown Ocean Springs

Walter Anderson was born and educated in New Orleans, Anderson eventualy made his way to the Parsons Institute of Design in New York (1922–23) and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (1924–28). He received a scholarship that enabled him to study and travel in Europe. He read broadly in history, natural science, poetry, art history, folklore, philosophy, classical and modern literature, and epic narratives of journeying.  This education made his artwork mystical with influences from history and nature. 

The Anderson Brothers - Walter, Peter and Mac - Walter Anderson Museum of Art
The Anderson Brothers – Mac, Walter and Peter

In 1934 he began a battle with mental illness.  In the ensuing years, he was in and out of institutions for almost 10 years.  Uneasy with his hospitalization, he escaped through a window with the use of bedsheets but before departing drew a mural of birds on the side of the building using a bar of Ivory soap. On a separate occasion, he left a hospital in Baltimore and over the next two months walked home to Coastal Mississippi. 

His life with his wife and family was strained so that in the latter part of his life, he lived in a cabin away from the family’s home – an antebellum home named Oldfields.  Through the years, he wrote and illustrated children’s books. He enjoyed long-distance cycling with trips to Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Costa Rica. In his senior years, basically living the life of a recluse, he spent extended periods of time on Horn Island– the largest of the barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Ocean Springs Community Centre Murals

This complex is comprised of two building the Ocean Springs Community Centre and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art (WAMA). The Ocean Springs Community Centre is connected to the museum but remains a usable community space. Used for weddings, civic functions, community art classes/education. When we were visiting there was a school class visiting learning all about the murals and this wonderful artist.

The cinder block building was constructed in 1950 and a year later, Walter Anderson painted a 2,500-square-foot mural depicting the Native American culture and the landing of French explorers in 1699, and the scenery and seasons of Ocean Springs. The illustrations are intricate and a joy to see.

The Community Murals in the Walter Anderson Art Museum Ocean Springs, MS - detail -@DownshiftingPRO

Walter Anderson was greatly influenced by “The Seven Motifs” from Adolf Best-Maugard’s book A Method of Creative Design (1926).  He would use these motifs throughout his career but they are especially prevalent in the Ocean Springs Community Centre murals. 

The motifs included a wavy line, zig-zags, straight line, circle, spiral, half-circle and an s-curve. Each motif has multiple meanings and represents elements (earth, sun, fire, water), celestial entities (the sun, moon), letters, nature (ripples, trees, mountains, lightning) and emotions (anger, anxiety, assertion). Patterns and colours are entwined throughout the murals telling both mystical and mythological stories.

The Community Murals in the Walter Anderson Art Museum Ocean Springs, MS - detail -@DownshiftingPRO

The murals have been painstakingly restored and have been valued at over $30 million (although Anderson only accepted $1 dollar for the commission). It took him 16-months to complete.

The Community Murals in the Walter Anderson Art Museum Ocean Springs, MS - detail -@DownshiftingPRO

The Naturalist – Horn Island

Seeking respite from the world around him, a tempestuous marriage and family life, Anderson sought refuge on an island off the coast of Mississippi in the Gulf of Mexico. Rowing across over fifteen miles of open water in a leaky skiff to reach Horn Island, Anderson was a naturalist seeking to explore and then capture nature in his watercolours.

Walter Inglis Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, MS @DownshiftingPRO

One of six barrier islands, Horn Island had no running water or electricity but plenty of natural inspiration.  Anderson would spend weeks at a time on his personal paradise, sleeping under his boat, sketching and painting the natural surroundings, wildlife, birds (pelicans were his favourite) flora and fauna. During the 15 years prior to his death, he created watercolours and destroyed them too. He would light fires with his work when needed. A blank piece of paper was more valuable than one which already had something on it.

Walter Anderson Murals detail
Walter Anderson Murals detail 1

So interested in the power of mother nature Anderson strapped himself to a tree during a hurricane so he could witness the power. They found him alive days later.

Here is a short video produced by the WAMA where you can see the beauty that is Horn Island.  It will help you understand why Walter Anderson was so drawn and inspired by nature.

The Mystic – The Little Room

The Little Room in the Walter Anderson Art Museum Ocean Springs, MS - detail -
Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), Little Room, South Wall, 1950-1965.
House Paint. Collection of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

It is hard for me to decide which I loved more the Ocean Springs Community murals or The Little Room.  The Little Room was a small room in a cabin which was not seen by anyone but Walter Anderson – it was his sanctuary. The artist stored hundreds of watercolours in a special wooden box located in the room.  Although he was prone to destroying his artwork when he needed fuel for a fire (I kid you not), Anderson did keep his prize selection stored away in The Little Room. They were discovered posthumously by his wife and her sister Pat.

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“Walter Anderson painted the Little Room, floor-to-ceiling murals chronicling the transition from night to day through the synthesis of plants, animals, and brilliant colors. Through the Little Room, Anderson preserved for himself a never-ending connection to the wonders of nature.

During his life, he never allowed anyone but himself, some cats, and the occasional possum to enter the room. After his death in 1965, Walter’s wife opened the door to the Little Room and found these spectacular murals. Covering the floor were thousands of paintings and drawings – including his treasured Horn Island watercolours – some of which Walter had attempted to destroy in the fireplace, and some which he had carefully selected and stored in a chest in the corner. The Little Room is the Museum’s crown jewel, the most intimate evidence of Anderson’s creative vision and genius.” 

~ Walter Anderson Museum of Art website

Insider’s Tip: At this time, the museum is closed to the public due to COVID-19 but you can still take a virtual class with the ART+ series. The ART+ initiative makes art experiences accessible digitally and connects the collection to a variety of fields of study including art history, science, social studies, and language arts. There are short videos and lesson plans accessible to the public.

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WAMA should not remain a secret in The Secret Coast. Make a trip to Ocean Springs Mississippi to see the community murals and The Little Room. This complex is full of intense beauty and mystical illustrations created by one of America’s most prolific modern artists. 

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Shearwater Pottery – Walter Anderson decorated pieces made by both of his brothers for Shearwater Pottery

Visitor Information

A visit to the museum will likely take 60- 90 minutes as a self-guided tour.  The Museum also offers docent-led tours of the permanent collection, changing exhibitions, and the Ocean Springs Community Center murals (when available), in addition to an award-winning film about the life of Walter Anderson.  Advanced reservations are required for docent-led tours.

Hours:

Monday – Saturday: 10 AM – 5 PM; Closed Sunday
Holiday closings: New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

Admission

​Adults: $10, AAA / Military / Seniors / Students (with ID): $8, Children (5-15): $5, Free for members; free ages 5 and under; free to shop

Admission is included in the Coastal Mississippi Attraction Pass (see related blog post for review)

Location

 Walter Anderson Art Museum Ocean Springs, MS -

510 Washington Avenue,
Ocean Springs, MS, 39564
228-872-3164

Website & Social Channels

Official Website
Facebook
Instagram


Walter Anderson Museum of Art Ocean Springs Mississippi @DownshiftingPRO

Thanks to the Coastal Mississippi tourism office for inviting us to visit this beautiful area.  This was part of a Girl’s Getaway 3.0 press trip which provided the Coastal Mississippi Attractions Pass for us to access The Walter Anderson Museum of Art.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions are that of DownshiftingPRO and are genuine.  #AD


Additional Post from the Girl’s Getaway on the Gulf Coast

We had a marvelous trip starting in New Orleans crossing Lake Pontchartrain Causeway to Louisiana North Shore, admiring the sandy beaches of Coastal Mississippi, partying in Mobile, and recovering/relaxing in the Gulf Shores & Orange Beach, Alabama.

Here are more posts about our epic Girl’s Getaway on the Gulf Coast

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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.