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Southern Culture on Wheels OR...

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

By Julian Rankin

When I was given my first guided tour of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art before I became Director in 2018, I remember being told of Walter’s rowing journeys to the barrier islands in his patchwork skiff. About how he was once given an outboard motor by a friend to aid his journey, but chose to sink it in the Mississippi Sound, opting instead for his oars, his sinew, and his grit. Anderson was a fan of human locomotion, but not a big user of internal combustion. He biked. He walked. He sailed.

Walter Anderson's skiff from the 1960s, hanging in the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

...why not—as Walter Anderson might ask—introduce culture and beauty back into the ubiquitous golf cart?

I wouldn't suggest that this golf cart—the one built locally from the ground up and detailed in designs taken from Anderson’s cosmic murals—is akin to Walter’s boat. After all, a golf cart is a modern convenience that Walter Anderson might not have embraced. Yet, there is poetry in the modern movement of people through their landscapes. And in coastal towns like Ocean Springs, Mississippi, they do it by golf cart as much as by car. The hum of battery-powered energy about town is not so distant from the click-clacking of hooves in some quaint bygone era. Or maybe it is more like the arrival of the bicycle onto the scene in the 1800s; before it reached mainstream adoption, poet John Keats called an early bicycle “the nothing of the day”—a trend doomed to die.

Detail of block print by Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965). © The Family of Walter Anderson.

But bicycles are here to stay, and so are golf carts in our Southern downtowns. They’ve become a part of the culture. And so why not—as Walter Anderson might ask—introduce culture and beauty back into the ubiquitous golf cart? Why not seize the opportunity to beautify a blank canvas? After all, that's precisely what Walter did in the 1950s when he transformed the white walls of the Ocean Springs Community Center into his 3,000 square-foot magnum opus.

Coastal Stag Golf Cart, built by Downtown Cart Rentals (Ocean Springs, MS) and wrapped in designs from Walter Anderson's murals in collaboration with Dunaway Signs (Biloxi, MS).

Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965). Ocean Springs Community Center Murals, Mars Panel (detail), c. 1951-52. Collection of the City of Ocean Springs. © The Family of Walter Anderson.

This brings us to the “why?” of it.

As a museum born of the exploratory and barrier-breaking DNA of Walter Anderson, we’re always searching for new and surprising ways to inject his art and philosophies into the wider world. Nature—the institution’s other guiding force—demonstrates time and time again a capacity for evolution, reinvention, and creative disruption.

“Nature does not like to be anticipated—it too often means death, I suppose—but loves to surprise; in fact, seems to justify itself to man in that way, restoring his youth to him each time.” —WALTER INGLIS ANDERSON

We are also a small museum in a small Mississippi town, facing the same industry-wide challenges of operating a cultural and educational nonprofit in a rapidly changing and fragmented world, full of busy people with equally fragmented attentions. This golf cart fundraiser replaced an older, legacy model of fundraising no longer as relevant to the community and the museum. Its success is owed to free market forces and crowd-sourced engagement with Anderson's art. On a macro level, the educational programs that this fundraiser supports are also engineered for real-world relevance and impact, targeting issues of brain drain, climate science and environmental action, creative economy and entrepreneurship, and more.

Detail of block print by Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965). © The Family of Walter Anderson.

No, this golf cart doesn’t have quite the provenance of the artist’s mythic boat. But neither was Walter a master Greek voyager on the seas of the Aegean, as he sometimes liked to imagine. Neither did he actually fly through the clouds on a magic carpet, like the ones he detailed in his block prints; or fly like a pelican, as he did in his mind’s eye. Anderson wasn’t really riding the steed Rocinante when he pedaled down his local avenues playing the part of “Don Quixote on a bicycle.” But in all cases, he was transporting himself out of the everyday onto a more fantastical plane of whimsy and possibility.

"Brutally honest" Golf Cart commercial, starring Museum staff and family. Produced in partnership with AJ Williams Media.

We've established that the golf cart is no museum piece. What it is is a street legal, head-turning adventure craft, built for those who champion Southern land and culture. As an object, it speaks to the unyielding pace of technological progress and human development, our innate urge for recreation and the wild, and the changing expressions of how we move through and interact with our cities and communities. Its provenance is grounded in local craftsmanship and creative economy. These are things that Walter Anderson’s art helps us understand, empower, and explore. It is only a golf cart, yes. But after it rolls out of the Museum lobby with a new owner, what remains will be the institution, the galleries, the programs, and the priceless objects that it helps to preserve, fund, and activate.

So, let’s have a little fun with it.

Thank you for your support. You can purchase tickets here.

Ford-Bronco-inspired "Coastal Stag" commercial. Produced in partnership with AJ Williams Media.


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