The Walter Anderson Museum of Art is a private, nonprofit art museum located in downtown Ocean Springs, Mississippi.
Not long after the death of her father, Walter Inglis Anderson, Mary Anderson Stebly Pickard began cataloging the astonishing body of work the Ocean Springs artist had left behind. She and her mother, Agnes Hellmuth Grinstead Anderson, were supported in their efforts to promote recognition for his achievements by family and friends, who formed the Friends of Walter Anderson in 1975. Bitsy Irby, Mary Brister, Betty Scott, Merle Tennyson, Hosford Fontaine, Paul Fugate, and Theo Inman of Jackson, along with Eldon Holmquist and Courtney Blossman of Ocean Springs, determined that the Ocean Spring Community Center should anchor a museum in Anderson’s honor. In large part as a consequence of the diligence of Blossman, who served as president of the Friends of Walter Anderson from 1983 until the museum’s completion, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art (WAMA) opened in 1991.
The museum building, designed by architect Ed Pickard, features a cruciform plan and is constructed out of redwood painted gray. It is connected to the Ocean Springs Community Center, where wall murals that Anderson painted for the public’s education and enjoyment in 1952 have been preserved and are on permanent display. This monumental work depicts the 1699 Mississippi Coast landing of Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, who established the first capital of the Louisiana Territory at Fort Maurepas in what is now Ocean Springs. Also depicting the region’s natural history, the majority of the Community Center’s ninety-foot expanses are festooned with the series Anderson called the Seven Climates of Ocean Springs. A room from the artist’s cottage residence at Shearwater Pottery is installed at the far end of the axial museum structure. In this “Little Room” Anderson painted a four-wall mural depicting his vision of a day on the Gulf Coast, from sunrise to night. With the Little Room’s intense scenes based on Psalm 104’s praise for the gift of light, and the Community Center’s luminescent march through the celestial seasons, the museum is thus flanked by an unmatched set of coup d’oeil interior spaces. In contrast, the gallery spaces provide serene stretches of thirty-foot-tall pickled-pine walls, with vaults and skylights that gaze out on placid patio scenes.
Panels that the Works Progress Administration commissioned Anderson to paint for the Ocean Springs High School auditorium in 1934 are on permanent display in the museum lobby and galleries. Donated to WAMA by the school board in 1989, these massive Aegean-style Art Deco illustrations, Ocean Springs: Past and Present, joined a collection of paintings and pottery that the Friends of Walter Anderson began to amass in 1975. Now with more than eight hundred pieces, WAMA’s Permanent Collection includes watercolor and oil paintings; drawings in pencil, ink, and crayon; carved linoleum blocks and prints; ceramics; wood sculpture, and furniture—all of which, with the exception of 173 of carved linoleum blocks that were kept in an off-site storage facility that flooded, rode out Hurricane Katrina safely in the museum’s vault.
WAMA serves as a center of learning, cultural enrichment, and enjoyment for the many-faceted population of Ocean Springs, the Gulf South Region, and visitors to the area. Originally conceived as a museum dedicated to the work of one artist, the institution’s scope has been expanded to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret artworks created by Walter Anderson’s brothers, Peter and James McConnell Anderson. In 2003 WAMA celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of Peter Anderson’s pottery enterprise with an exhibition, Shaping a Legacy: Shearwater Pottery and Its Contemporaries, and in 2007 James Anderson was the featured artist in the WAMA exhibition Introspective Mind: The “Mac” Anderson Centennial Exhibition.
The centennial of Walter Anderson’s birth, 2003, was the occasion for two major WAMA exhibitions. The first, Fortune’s Favorite Child: Walter Anderson, 1903–2003, was coordinated by Christopher Maurer, author of the artist’s biography. The second, The Centennial Exhibition: Walter Anderson, Everything I See Is New and Strange, was coordinated by Linda Crocker Simmons, curator emeritus at the Corcoran Museum in Washington, D.C. It opened in the Smithsonian Institution’s Arts and Industries Building. For this event, WAMA, in conjunction with the University Press of Mississippi, published a comprehensive catalog, The Art of Walter Anderson.
- Patti Carr Black, Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998)
- Anne R. King, Walls of Light: The Murals of Walter Anderson (1999)
- Patricia Pinson, ed., The Art of Walter Anderson (2003)
- Walter Anderson Museum of Art website, www.walterandersonmuseum.org