Southern Art/Wider World is a digital humanities project that empowers dialogue about the historical and cultural themes present in WAMA’s collection and the Southern land. Made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Also supported in part by the Mississippi Humanities Council, and in partnership with the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi.
In this lesson, cultural anthropologist Simone Delerme engages her expertise in cultural diffusion, hybridization, and the movement of peoples and ideas in order to draw meaning from Walter Anderson's depictions of urban landscapes; his travels; and his practice of melding artistic influences from across the globe.
SIMONE DELERME is McMullan Associate Professor of Southern Studies and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Mississippi. Delerme completed a M.A. in liberal arts at the University of Delaware in 2005, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from Rutgers University. Delerme's research focuses on Latino migration to the South, and the social class distinctions and racialization processes that create divergent experiences in Southern spaces and places. Her new ethnographic research project examines Latino migration to Memphis, Tennessee and North Mississippi.
Setting the stage for the discussion, Simone Delerme introduces key concepts of cultural diffusion and hybridization that have and are transforming the modern American South.
TRANSCRIPT: My interest is in globalization. And migration, movement, is a huge part of that. So when I think of globalization, there are two key concepts. I think of my students, what I introduce them to when we start the unit. Cultural diffusion, cultural hybridization. Two concepts. And they’re all about the movement. Not only of people, but as was said, ideas, artifacts, pop culture. Anything from foodways to language. And with cultural diffusion, you emphasize the movements of these different ideas and practices from one society or culture to another. But where I’m really interested in it is cultural hybridization. And that’s where you have that diffusion – that movement of ideas – but you also have the embracing of those ideas, and the transformation to fit the cultural context. Where you have ideas, practices, that are moving, but also being taken and transformed to fit the local cultural context.
A PERIPETETIC PROCESS
Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), Banana Blossoms (Costa Rica), c. 1949. Watercolor on Paper.
“The proper relation of two things produces a third ... and that third thing is a miracle.”
– WALTER INGLIS ANDERSON
Walter Anderson was a passionate consumer of culture, both through study and travel. Through movement and exchange was central to the development of his artistic style and practice. He pedaled thousands of miles by bicycle across the United States – from Florida to Texas and into Mexico. He traveled abroad, to Costa Rica, China, and France. And he absorbed the aesthetic traditions and philosophies from both contemporary and ancient societies – including those he observed in cave paintings, Mesoamerican and Asian art and murals, and the archetypal forms shared by native peoples across time and space. All of these influences, he translated through his coastal lens, depicting and exploring his own landscapes on the Mississippi coast.
Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), Rickshaw, c. 1949. Pen and Ink. Courtesy of the Family of Walter Anderson.
WAMA Curator Mattie Codling take us "into the vault" to discuss Anderson's cultural influences.
Simon Delerme comments on how Anderson's travels and fascination with cultural diversity fit into larger concepts of globalization.
TRANSCRIPT: As a cultural anthropologist, what he was doing just alone in terms of what I’ve read, [was] an interest of art of different nations. I’ve seen it classified as primitive art sometimes, using the language of the time. But through his travels, through that movement, there are different cultural influences, absolutely, that you see reflected. But again, the hybridization comes through the lens he must have seen it through. So he was still in that space and place that we call the South, but again, having moved and traveled from New York to Latin America, and having all of these different cultural influences embodied in his art. So absolutely, I’m sure there is a hybridization happening. But globalization enables that. and he was just an early early example of that.
THE SEVEN MOTIFS
Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), Cock, circa 1945. Pen and ink.
“It will be seen that the foundation is the same, only the manner and the spirit vary...”
– ADOLPHO BEST-MAUGARD,
A METHOD FOR CREATIVE DESIGN
Walter Anderson's recognizable illustrative style was heavily influenced by the book A Method for Creative Design by Mexican artist and theorist Adolpho Best-Maugard. First published in 1926, the book outlines an approach to art making and expression rooted in seven simple forms, which the author believed to be foundational across virtually all ancient (what he calls "primitive") societies in all corners of the world, from the Greeks to the Native Americans.
Anderson also related to the philosophy behind this approach, which was grounded in values on interconnection, archetype, and shared human experience. With these tools at hand, Walter Anderson unlocked even deeper wells on inspiration in the 1940s and 50s, unleashing the most productive and visionary periods of his career.
Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), Four Horses, c. 1955. Watercolor on Wallpaper.
A PORTRAIT OF SHOES
Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), Shoes, c. 1939. Graphite and Paper. Collection of the Family of Walter Anderson.
“I made a pack of painting things in a blanket and started towards the birds. I also made two shoes out of sacking; my feet have begun to feel the effects of the shell beach.”
– WALTER INGLIS ANDERSON
The Horn Island Logs
From 1937-1940, Walter Anderson entered and exited several institutions after a mental breakdown. In June of 1939 he escaped the Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Maryland and traveled back to Ocean Springs, a distance of more than 1000 miles, entirely on foot. After he arrived in October of that year he completed a series of drawings of the shoes that he had worn during the journey. The image above is one of these "portraits" of his shoes. While they are inanimate, they tell of the exertion and tribulations of the sojourn, and the ultimate elation upon reaching home.
Simone Delerme speaks about her own associations between these shoes and the crossings along the southern border of the United States made by migrants in search of opportunity and a new home.
TRANSCRIPT: I think of my research and I think of escape. That word just hit me – escape. And so I see those shoes and I think of the undocumented Mexican immigrant that lived in the home where I rented to do my research. And I think of that because I think of the reasons why he crossed the border. But he said, “shoes.” He mentioned shoes as a reason for his migration. For crossing the border. For taking the risks. And to me that seemed materialistic initially. I’m like, “shoes?”. But he explained that he didn’t have shoes in Mexico. That he didn’t have food. All these things that he that was struggling for. A lot of emotions and thoughts that those shoes, in terms of border crossings, bring to me. But it’s stories of people, of individuals.
STREETS OF NEW ORLEANS
Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), Trolley Car, c. 1943. Watercolor on Paper. Courtesy of the Family of Walter Anderson.
Walter Anderson was born in New Orleans and spent his early years there before moving to the Mississippi coast with his family. He returned over the years to paint the urban landscape, fascinating, one assumes, but the movement and pattern he saw in its people. During this period of the 1940s, New Orleans, like much of the South, was a segregated society, dominated by a black-white binary that often further marginalized other immigrant communities. Throughout the centuries, American cities and the attendant industries and economies have attracted people from all walks of life and corners of the world.
“... It seemed a dream of wonder, with its talc of human energy, of things being done, of employment for thousands of men, of opportunity and freedom, of life and love and joy."
– UPTON SINCLAIR
writing of turn-of-the-century Chicago, from The Jungle
Simone Delerme offers alternative interpretation of what's happening in this Anderson artwork, referencing a period of Mexican migration to New Orleans between 1910-1939.
TRANSCRIPT: I see that beautiful art and I wonder about the ambiguity of the people who were portrayed. Because that could have been the Mexican migrants from 1910 to 1939. Makes me think of the New Orleans “exception” where you had a Mexican population – in terms of migration and movements – that came between 1910 and 1939, 1940. And [in] other parts of the country, Mexicans were perceived in a very particular type of way. They were racialized in a very particular type of way. And in New Orleans, they navigated a black-white racial binary, and they were accepted as European, white immigrants. They’re experience was so incredibly different than the experience of other Mexican migrants, other immigrants – Latino immigrants, Hispanic immigrants in general, more broadly. In terms of education, marriage. And so there was assimilation. But again, you had this invisible population of Mexican migrants that were professionals, and definitely lost in terms of the popular imagination of what New Orleans is, the identity of the people. So that’s what I think of when I think of the New Orleans exception, and I see something like that and I think about, who are the hidden people and voices?
While the early 20th century Mexican migration referenced by Simone Delerme was accompanied by a certain "invisibility," one sees a much more evident Latino footprint in contemporary New Orleans, contributing to a city known for its deep multiculturalism.
Film by Zaire Love, with additional footage by Elvira Castillo.
ART & IMMERSION
Walter Anderson's Little Room at the Museum, given by Agnes Grinstead Anderson and her children.
“In the dark and middle ages man made and still makes an image, and from that image erects a world.”
– WALTER INGLIS ANDERSON
The Little Room is the crown jewel of the Museum's collection. It served as Walter Anderson’s sanctuary on the mainland during the latter years of his life. To mentally transport himself back to the Eden he had found in nature, Walter Anderson painted the Little Room at his cottage, 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.
The Little Room was moved to the Museum in 1991, where it still delights visitors and offers a portal into Anderson's conception of an idealized landscape for which he longed.
In Memphis, Tennessee, in a district of international commerce and entrepreneurship called Summer Avenue, the owners of a restaurant called Mi Tierra have recreated the landscapes of their homelands through an ever-growing assemblage of color and form. Like Anderson, the purpose of their project is to capture the feelings and memories of a place that are geographically distant, yet integral to their identities.
Photographs by Simone Delerme.
Simone Delerme comments on Mi Tierra, which she visited as part of her investigation of the convergences of Latin migration and foodways.
TRANSCRIPT: What you’re seeing in terms of the interior of a restaurant that’s owned – I’m thinking of Mi Tierra, which is owned by a woman from Colombia, another woman from Guatemala. They own the restaurant together. And people go there and bring them actual artifacts when they travel to try and recreate that feeling of being in Latin America. So, it’s about cultural preservation to me. It’s about something so incredibly powerful. Trying to depict a landscape through the built environment of something they’ve left behind, or something they’ve tried to bring with them.
A trip to Summer Avenue in Memphis courtesy of Curatorial Fellow and Filmmaker Zaire Love, who gives us a glimpse into how culture and landscape interact.
"…all part of a divine symphony—wing, wave, bird…bird, wave, wing.”
– WALTER INGLIS ANDERSON
Simone Delerme on Southern place identity, owed to a long history of migration and cultural exchange.
TRANSCRIPT: We’re thinking of the global South, but you have this mixing of cultures, from the influence of Spaniards to the Taino Indians to the African slaves. You have all these cultures that have come together historically, and what you see now is this beautiful fusion. And those individuals are migrating to the South. We’re getting a taste of all of that. So, there’s transformation in cities and suburbs and rural spaces. It’s not even limited in terms of landscape. And you see that in terms of the transformation to place identity in different communities. I think that’s what people can relate to. When they go down to a street that they find has a transforming place identity.
Simone Delerme, "Reflections from the Field: Discovering International Memphis"
Simone Delerme, Latino Orlando: Suburban Transformation and Racial Conflict (2020)
Julie M. Weise, Corazón de Dixie (2000)