Friday, May 28, 2010

Walter Inglis Anderson: Artist and Naturalist

Pelicans, 1945
Gift of the Roger H Ogden Collection

After you have lived on the island for a while, there comes a time when you realize that the pelican holds everything for you. It has the song of the thrush, the form and understanding of man, the tenderness and gentleness of the dove, the mystery and dynamic quality of the nightjar, and the potential qualities of all life. In a word, you lose your heart to it. It becomes your child and the hope and future of the world depends upon it. –WIA, from Pelicans

Walter Inglis Anderson was born in 1903 in New Orleans. In 1918, the family purchased a large wooded tract of coastal property in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and in 1928, the Andersons opened Shearwater Pottery, which is still thriving as a family pottery in Ocean Springs today.

Frogs, Bugs and Flowers, 1945
Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

Anderson attended Parson’s School of Design in 1922, then The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1924 through 1928. Returning to Ocean Springs in 1928, Anderson worked as a designer and decorator at Shearwater for the rest of his life.

Blue Geese and Ducks, 1955
Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

In 1934, Ellsworth Woodward commissioned a large mural in the Ocean Springs Public School auditorium. A second mural was designed and accepted for the Mississippi Court House in Jackson, only to be rejected by a Washington bureaucrat. This disappointment, combined with the death of his father in 1937, led to a mental breakdown. From 1938-1940, Anderson was hospitalized in several mental institutions. He also escaped from several mental institutions, once famously lowering himself out of a window with bedsheets, and painting a mural with soap on his way down of birds taking flight.

Heron Over Pines, 1935

Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

1941 through 1945 was a highly productive period for Anderson. He moved into Oldfields, an estate from his wife’s family in Gautier, Mississippi. He wrote short stories and plays, translated and illustrated some of his favorite texts, and executed a large number of drawings, paintings and block prints. Some of the block prints were thirty feet in length, the largest ever produced by an American artist when they were exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 1949.

Life in the Ditch 1 (detail), 1945, 19" x 109"
Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection
The idyllic life at Oldfields ended in 1945, when Anderson left his family and moved into a small cottage at Shearwater, where he executed a mural on all four walls and the ceiling. Inspired by Psalm 104, it depicts a single day on the gulf coast, with the interconnected order of the natural world evident from sunrise to dusk, a padlocked masterwork, discovered only after his death. From then until his death in 1965, he lived a reclusive life, working at the pottery and spending an increasing amount of time on his beloved Horn Island. He would take a rowboat from Shearwater to the island alone, and living in very primitive conditions, would attempt to capture the life of the island through extensive logs and watercolors. “Order is here,” he wrote, “but it needs realizing.” He filled over ninety journals with reflections on nature, feeling a special connection to the pelican colonies on Horn Island, which he understood as having an archetypal significance.

Blue Crab, 1960
Gift of the Roger H. Ogden Collection

In light of recent events in the Gulf of Mexico, perhaps it is time to revisit Anderson's naturalist philosophies and reverence of the region's ecosystems. Currently the Eugenie and Joseph Jones Family Gallery in the Ogden's Goldring Hall is filled with our Walter Anderson collection.


kaliwomyn said...

We can all take a lesson from Mr. Anderson on understanding the importance of protecting the natural world. Thanks for sharing his work with us.

radbear67 said...

I think th most recent Rachel Maddow show included a visit to Horn Island, which has been damaged by the ongoing oil spill. What a tragedy, if all that finally remains of the Horn Island environment were Anderson's works.

Ogden Museum of Southern Art said...

Thanks for the comments. I find myself asking the question, over and over these days, WWWAD (What would Walter Anderson do)?