In 1918, Annette McConnell Anderson purchased twenty-four acres of land on the shore of Ocean Springs, MS. Four years later she, her husband, and three sons (Walter, Peter and James McConnel “Mac) made a permanent move to Ocean Springs from New Orleans, LA. Walter Anderson and his two brothers, Mac and Peter, lived and worked in Ocean Springs for decades. Peter founded and operated the renowned Shearwater Pottery. Mac and Walter formed the “Annex” onto Shearwater where they created widgets (figurines) to sell to tourists, they also carved and decorated pottery for Peter for ten dollars a week. The brothers’ love of nature and art continues today in the work of their children and grandchildren.
Walter Anderson was born in New Orleans Louisiana in 1903. From his early years until his death in 1965 he spent the majority of his life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast observing, drawing, and painting the flora and fauna of the region. The artist found the undeveloped coastal region of Mississippi and the barrier islands, especially Horn Island, to be ideal for close interaction with nature. There, Walter Anderson would swim in the bubbles of alligators, dance with the terns at the approach of a storm and crawl amongst the tall grasses of the marshes. Walter Anderson’s block prints, watercolors, and ceramics have become iconic representations of the Gulf Coast and an integral part of the Arts and Crafts and American Contemporary Art movements.
From a young age Walter Anderson was schooled in art, history and literature by his mother, Annette McConnell Anderson. He attended both the Parsons School for Art and Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He traveled abroad after his graduation, visiting France and Spain. In France, Walter visited two seemingly disparate locations that would have an impact on his work for the rest of his life. The first was the cave complex of Les Eyzies and the enormous cave paintings that covered the walls; the second location was Chartres Cathedral with its magnificent stained glass windows. These two locations inspired the young artist’s work and likely led to his lifelong love of mural painting. Murals serve as a highly accessible medium, crossing the boundaries of language, literacy and art, for these and many other reasons, Walter Anderson found mural painting to be a particularly rewarding outlet.
Upon his return to the United States, Walter Anderson went into business with his two brothers Peter and James McConnell “Mac” at Shearwater Pottery, which Peter opened in 1928. Walter and Mac decorated pottery thrown by Peter and created figurines called “widgets” to sell to visitors and locals of Ocean Springs. In 1933 Walter Married Agnes (Sissy) Grinstead and they moved into a small cottage on the Shearwater Compound.
In 1937 Walter Anderson was diagnosed with severe mental illness and he spent several periods of time in hospitals in the Northeast United States and in Mississippi. His last stay in a mental hospital culminated with his escape, exiting his room’s window with the aid of torn bed sheets. In 1940 Walter Anderson moved with his wife (Sissy) and children to Oldfields, Sissy’s family home in Gautier. There, Walter was the primary caregiver to his children while his wife tended to her ailing father. This period is known as the most prolific of his career as he drew inspiration from his children and their love of fairy tales. It is during his Oldfields period that Walter Anderson carved his blockprints, illustrated some of his favorite novels, and recorded life as he experienced it in his ‘calendars.’
In 1947 Walter Anderson and his family moved back to the Shearwater compound in Ocean Springs. At this time, sissy and Walter separated, he in one cottage and she and the children in another. The artist became more and more isolated and spent increasing amounts of time in his “Little Room” and on the barrier islands of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Particularly Horn Island, a small “inhospitable” strip of land twelve miles off the coast of Ocean Springs. It is on Horn Island that Walter Anderson felt at peace and found a communion with nature. Walter Anderson would set out on his boat in all types of weather, rowing up to twelve miles to reach the island. There, he would observe, paint, draw and explore the majesty of nature.
Walter Anderson made his final trip to Horn Island in 1965. Upon his return he asked his wife Sissy to take him to the hospital. He locked the door to his house and the Little Room and never returned. For the majority of his life, Walter Anderson was misunderstood and shunned by the community. Today, he is celebrated as a visionary, a genius, and the favorite son of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
James McConnell, or “Mac” as his family called him, is the least known of the three Anderson brothers. Unlike Peter and Walter, Mac held jobs outside the family complex of Shearwater. However, throughout his life he created a prolific body of work that included decorated pottery, figurines, paintings, murals, block prints, furniture, and woodcarvings. Mac developed a unique style of painting and design over a period of seven decades. His highly calculated and precise artwork is largely attributed to his two years of architectural training at Tulane University. His paintings and pottery designs are distinguished by structured, flat spaces that reflect the peaceful lifestyle of one living closely with nature.
Peter Anderson’s love of pottery began in 1922, when he met the famed potter Joseph Fortune Meyer. From that first meeting Peter went on to study with other acclaimed potters throughout the United States and finally settled in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to establish Shearwater in 1928. For years, Peter worked on perfecting his craft. Mishaps and failures inspired him to work harder and to create better pottery. In keeping with the ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement, Peter believed that his works should be both beautiful and functional. Sometimes Peter would intentionally drop his works to see if they would break, thus ensuring a quality product. The potter maintained Shearwater until his death in 1984. At the time of his death, he was one of the oldest working master potters in the United States. Today he is celebrated as the creator of some of the finest pottery and glaze combinations ever made.
Annette McConnell Anderson was Walter, Peter, and Mac Anderson’s mother. She and Peter started Shearwater Pottery in 1928. Annette was the driving force behind her children’s artistic inclinations. From a young age she encouraged them to paint, draw and read. Annette was an artist in her own right, having attended the Newcomb School of Fine Arts in New Orleans and was taught by Ellsworth Woodward.
Article from Traditional Fine Arts of Line.
Leif Anderson is Walter Anderson’s youngest daughter. Her joy in dance is expressed in her own dance form – Airth. In addition to her dancing, Leif sculpts, paints, writes, and composes music.
Patricia Anderson Findeisen, one of Peter’s daughters, has made a distinctive career in art herself. Patricia is well known for her pottery decorated with swirling female and plant forms. She continues to decorate pottery at Shearwater.
Jason Stebly works in music, as a guitarist and song writer. His first CD, Luna Sol, is popular on the coast and is available from Realizations. A second CD of Jason’s crisp, high-energy music has also been released.
Adele Anderson Lawton is currently working at Shearwater Pottery and decorate pottery. Weekends often find Adele sailing to Horn Island with her husband Tim.
Matthew has made a name for himself as a world-renown tattoo artist. His clean and visually dynamic designs adhere to the family tradition of natural inspiration. He has recently opened a tattoo shop and gallery in Ocean Springs called “Twisted Anchor.”