The name Shearwater Pottery refers to both the product of artistic activities and a place of artistic lifestyle. It is a family-owned art pottery business located in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
In 1918 Annette McConnell Anderson, the art-educated daughter of a prominent New Orleans lawyer and judge and granddaughter of revered New Orleans public education philanthropist Samuel Jarvis Peters, bought a twenty-four-acre tract of woodland on Biloxi Bay known as the Old Depass Place and renamed it Fairhaven. The site was within walking distance of the cottage that famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan had built for himself on East Beach. In 1923, Annette; her husband, George Walter Anderson; and their three sons moved from New Orleans to establish a permanent residence in Fairhaven’s three 1840s buildings—a main house, a carriage house, and a little cottage.
Within two years the eldest son, Peter, had constructed a groundhog kiln and was firing pottery turned on a kickwheel that Annette had purchased from George Ohr’s estate after the Biloxi potter’s death in 1918. Peter consulted Newcomb Pottery’s Joseph Fortuné Meyer, who had returned his native Biloxi and was throwing pottery at his studio on Deer Island, and received inspiration to continue with ceramic pursuits. Peter left Ocean Springs in 1926 to hone his craft under Edmund DeForest Curtis of Conestoga Pottery in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and again in July 1927 for a six-week summer course at the prestigious School of Clay-Working and Ceramics directed by Charles F. Binns at Alfred College in New York.
On 19 January 1928, Peter Anderson opened Shearwater Pottery, taking the name from a waterfowl, and the name Fairhaven dropped out of use for the Anderson family property. Peter’s enterprise benefited from his father’s experience as a grain merchant, his mother’s studies at Newcomb College, and the participation of his younger brothers, Walter Inglis “Bob” Anderson and James McConnell “Mac” Anderson. Bob studied art at Parsons Institute in New York and graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1929. Mac attended Tulane University School of Architecture from 1926 to 1928.
Peter hoped to use on-site sedimentary clay, but the greasy fine-grained beach clay proved unsatisfactory. He briefly tried clay from the Tchoutacabouffa River, north of Biloxi, before switching to clay from the Fish River, a spring-fed tributary of Mobile Bay. Ultimately he settled on using the purple-gray clay found in Lucedale, sixty miles northeast of Ocean Springs in the Pascagoula River Basin.
Shearwater Pottery is produced by turning, jiggering, and casting. Jiggered and cast pieces are decorated with slip and sgrafitto designs or with underglaze painting before they are glazed. Peter’s classically shaped pieces were usually glazed without decoration. His first glazes were poetically named blue rain, gray cloud, fall green, and such. His copper red glazes have long since been retired. The palette consisted of six basic glazes of fritted soda and boron, feldspathic lead, and Bristol types in twenty-two varieties, although some of the recipes were lost in Hurricane Katrina.
Early on, Mac Anderson pierced designs in the shoulders of Peter’s jars and vases, Bob decorated pieces with art-historically inspired designs, and both produced candlesticks, ashtrays with flora and fauna motifs, lamp bases, bookends, doorstops, paperweights, and tiles for ceramic mold production. As the Great Depression influenced spending habits, Bob and Mac established a fifty-fifty partnership to capitalize on the era’s taste for small figurines. In 1931 a second workshop building, the Annex, was constructed, and the pottery showroom was expanded. In the Annex, Bob and Mac produced underglazed castware sculpture pieces that Bob referred to as widgets. The younger Anderson brothers made molds for teapots, various land and sea creatures, and people engaged in a variety of activities. Over the years the Annex has produced an untold number of ceramic pirates, scenes of African American life in the South, literary and folk characters, dancers, athletes, and hunters.
In 1931 Shearwater Pottery figurines gained national recognition in the Contemporary American Ceramics Exhibition in New York, and two of Bob’s decorated vessels were exhibited at the Municipal Art Gallery in Jackson. In 1936 a fish vase carved by Mac on pottery thrown and glazed by Peter embarked on a three-year tour of Europe with the Robineaux Exhibition. The following year, three platters carved by Mac, thrown by Peter, and glazed in his rare copper red toured the United States in another Robineaux Exhibition. Within a decade of Shearwater’s establishment, its pieces had been on display at Lord and Taylor, Strawbridge, the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston, Marshall Field and Company in Chicago, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. The Brooks Memorial Art Gallery in Memphis, the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson, and the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel began exhibiting Shearwater Pottery in the 1940s and 1950s, expanding the regional and national following for Anderson family artworks.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Annette led “plate group” design sessions that created circular arrangements of indigenous flora and fauna for plate production. The matriarch of Shearwater Pottery remained active in the artistic affairs of her family’s business until her death in 1964. By that time a third generation of Andersons had been schooled in the ways of their familial art pottery world. Peter Anderson and his wife, Marjorie Patricia Grinstead Anderson, had four children, and they now own and operate Shearwater Pottery. Jimmy succeeded his father as master potter, and Jimmy’s son, Peter Wade Anderson, continues the legacy. Marjorie Anderson Ashley succeeded her mother as business manager. Michael revived castware production at the Annex, and Patricia Anderson Findeisen became the pottery’s chief decorator. Bob Anderson and his wife, Agnes Hellmuth “Sissy” Grinstead Anderson, had two daughters, Mary Anderson Stebly Pickard and Leif Anderson Philipoff, who became visual and performing artists and authors. Bob’s grandson, Christopher Inglis Stebly, is noted for producing Walter Anderson–inspired artworks in a range of media, including pottery. Bob’s daughter-in-law, Carolyn, reproduces the linoleum block prints that he had printed as murals on the back side of commercially produced wallpaper and displayed in the pottery showroom. Carolyn later converted this printing production to silkscreen as the original blocks deteriorated. Adele Anderson Lawton, the daughter of Mac Anderson and Sara Lemon Anderson, reproduced Bob’s pottery designs and hand-painted blockprint reproductions before developing her own pottery designs. She established Realizations, the blockprint showroom located in Ocean Springs’s L&N depot and managed by Linda Kerr, who is the longtime companion of Bob’s youngest son.
In 1969 Hurricane Camille blew away the studio and part of the showroom; damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was much more severe and nearly put an end to the family operation. The 1840 “front house” residence where Peter and Pat had raised their family disappeared, as did Mac and Sara’s depression-era rammed-earth house and the more recent homes constructed for Mary and for Michael. The original carriage house, known as the Barn, was demolished. Both Bob’s cottage and Sissy’s last residence were washed away, while Billy and Carolyn as well as Jimmy and Margaret lost their houses. In all, sixteen of the compound’s structures were destroyed. In true Shearwater Pottery spirit, Mary’s son, Jason, constructed a new Annex building the following year with materials salvaged from the original one. Pottery production and sales continued at Ocean Springs’s Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center until 2007, when a new showroom, built with salvaged materials by Marjorie’s son, Patrick, opened to the public. Considering themselves shareholders in an ecological environment of nature and art, the current Anderson generation provides visitors and collectors with what has become a legendary experience.
- Patti Carr Black, Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998)
- Christopher Maurer, Dreaming in Clay on the Coast of Mississippi (2000)
- Shearwater Pottery website, www.shearwaterpottery.com
- Dod Stewart, Shearwater Pottery (2005)
- Nancy Sweezy, Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition (1984)
- Walter Anderson Museum of Art website, www.walterandersonmuseum.org