On the return trip from our annual vacation in Gulf Shores, my husband and I stopped in Ocean Springs, Mississippi to visit the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. The museum is on Washington Avenue, a quaint tree-lined street that takes one back to mid-twentieth century. The museum, along with the Community Center and his cottage that was moved to the site, survived Katrina. It is a beautiful, peaceful spot. Every time I stop to visit there is a new exhibition of his work as well as that of a new generation of artists who paint the indigenous landscape and wildlife of the Gulf coast.
Clifford and I arrived just as a large group of teachers was leaving. There was only one other couple in the gallery. They appeared to be retired and from a different part of the country, maybe doing the Fodor’s must-see tour of the Mississippi coast. The woman was obviously enchanted with Anderson’s unique style; the husband was clearly unimpressed. “This isn’t real art,” he said.
Such blasphemy against the van Gogh of the South! I was appalled…then I recalled the first time I was exposed to his work. I did not appreciate his approach to design until I began to study the work of Vincent van Gogh in order to teach middle school students about him. I really never understood how great his paintings were until I had to study them, and about that time I was re-introduced to Walter Anderson’s amazing body of work. In time I began to realize what a passionate genius he truly was. (I am a slow learner.)
The husband looked around the work in the gallery and started on his way out. His wife continued to look at the watercolors and passed the entrance to the “little room,” the cottage where he painted the four walls and ceiling that was not seen by others until his death in 1965. I just could not help myself. “Ma’am, you have to see the room in there,” I said, and she went through the doorway. I followed to see her reaction, which was amazement. I would have hated for her to miss that treasure.
After touring the Community Center again, and discovering new images in the murals, we left and had lunch at Lovelace Drugstore, then hit Realizations to purchase prints (Clifford ran into one of his young cousins and her baby there). What a lovely way to end our vacation.