Shop at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
By Hope S. Philbrick
The Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi “opened in 1991 and is dedicated to the celebration of the works of Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), an American master, whose depictions of the plants, animals, and people of the Gulf Coast have placed him among the foremost of American painters of the 20th Century; and his brothers, Peter Anderson (1901-1984), master potter and founder of Shearwater Pottery; and James McConnell Anderson (1907-1998), noted painter and ceramist,” according to the website. “The watercolors, drawings, oils, block prints, ceramics, and carvings by the three Anderson brothers are all represented in the museum’s permanent collection. Diverse changing exhibitions, many featuring the work of other significant artists, occur throughout the year.”
Realizations is the museum’s retail shop. I recently talked by phone with John Anderson, one of Walter’s children, to learn more.
Tell me about your shop.
My family has two businesses: Shearwater Pottery and Realizations. Realizations is located in an old railroad depot next to the Chamber of Commerce. Between the two businesses, we employ 30 people, mostly artists and creative people.
What’s the significance of the name ‘Realizations’?
My father was artist Walter Anderson and he used the term quite a lot. I believe the reason he used it was because his art was in a way partially a response to the Hudson River School and artists of that movement tended to idealize nature. They were seeking the sublime. Daddy was interested in realizing nature. He felt that nature didn’t need to be idealized, that it was sufficiently awesome without any embellishment whatsoever. He was aware that when you feel love it transforms your experience and things tend to glow and vibrate and that’s the way he painted.
How many items are for sale on average?
We have wearable art, paintings and prints, most of it based on my father’s designs. His art was placed on paper or fabric and he also did three series of calendar paintings, a painting for each day of the year and we use those quite a lot. Sometimes we use his watercolors and drawings but are most oriented toward his block prints. It’s actually a continuation of something he started when he was alive: My mother said he came in one day and he’d been to a place where people buy art and he was upset because the art available to average people had very little integrity. He was an artist and felt it was his responsibility to provide art with integrity that would be available to anyone. So he began to carve linoleum block prints and also get other people to make them so he could sell prints at the lowest possible price. He designed them to fit on the back of wallpaper to keep the cost down. While he was alive he printed almost entirely on wallpaper. His thinking was that everyone would buy more wallpaper than they needed so he could get it [the leftovers] for very little which allowed him to sell his prints for very low. We still do that–we don’t print them on wallpaper anymore, we buy acid-free linen paper–but we continue the printing process, which is what he intended. We now have local artists who put far more effort into the painting process than Daddy would have put into it.
How often do you get new things?
We’re constantly getting new things. We try to keep an infusion of creativity. People will come to us and have an idea they want to use Daddy’s design a certain way and we usually say, “Of course.” Every time that happens we get something new and exciting in the shop.
Can customers place special orders?
Yes, and people are fond of that because we can actually have customers send us swatches of fabric or color they want us to work with and our artists will either do that or talk with the customers who want something special and make suggestions. As long as it maintains the integrity of the art we are able to make custom artwork.
Can you tell me a bit more about shopping in Ocean Springs in general?
Most of the shops located on two streets: Washington and Government. They form a “T”; when you come in from I-10 Government St. ends at Washington Ave. Most of the downtown shopping is within several blocks, walking distance. There are also restaurants. It’s almost embarrassing how much we have in Ocean Springs! We have four public areas to watch the sun rise and set, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, performing arts, a historical museum, and art–probably 100 painters but also a lot of musicians who perform a lot of live music most any night. If you go down Government St. you will likely find several bands performing. We have a music recording studio. We have quite a few things for a small town and, of course, across the bridge are Gulfport and Biloxi with their casinos and so on. There are also other art communities nearby in Bay St. Louis, Miss., and Fairhope, Ala.
If a Realizations shopper asked where else to shop in town, where would you send them?
Ocean Springs is loaded with small shops; I hesitate to talk about particular shops because I don’t want to leave any out. The Art House co-op is staffed by local Ocean Springs artists. One of my favorite places to shop is the annual exhibit of Ocean Springs Art Association members that happens during the Peter Anderson Festival, you can buy extraordinary good art for very little.
Can you offer any insider tips for shopping Ocean Springs?
Talk to somebody. People in Ocean Springs love to talk with you. Look at everyone you meet as an opportunity. Usually people who come here are interested in creativity and art, so we’re eager to talk to them about something new. My biggest piece of advice is to talk to the people you meet. We have an extraordinary number of artists here, if you count all the different forms of art it’s close to 1,000, and what that means is the town has reached a critical threshold in terms of creativity and creative vision. It’s part of everyone’s life, it’s something that is generated and communicated throughout the community. It’s an artistic nexus.
1000B Washington Avenue
Ocean Springs, MS 39564
– Photos courtesy John Anderson for The Walter Anderson Museum of Art