Walter Anderson Biography

Walter Anderson




Painter, potter, and printmaker Walter Inglis Anderson was born on September 29, 1903 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was encouraged from an early age to explore the visual arts and in 1922 he enrolled at the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (now the Parsons School of Design), from which he won a scholarship after one year to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He studied under Hugh Breckenridge, Arthur Carles, and Henry McCarter. He was awarded a Cresson traveling scholarship to France, as well as a Packard Award for his drawings of animals.

Upon gradutation from the Academy, Anderson went to work at his older brother's decorative pottery business in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. At Shearwater Pottery he designed lamps, bookends, and other household goods that bore the stamp of his unusual Modernist style developed at the Academy. Much of his work reflected the natural world that he'd grown up surrounded by, featuring animals and plants of the Southern coast of the U.S. In the late 1920s he also opened an annexation of the Shearwater with his younger brother, in which he made figurines for supplemental income.

By the 1930s he was married to art historian and writer Agnes Grinstead. Money was scarce and he relied on the figurine business to earn his living. He grew to resent the business as time went by, but the ecomonic stress of the Depression left little room for choice. This took its toll when, hoping to achieve stability as a Public Works of Art Project painter after successfully executing a major mural project in the Ocean Springs Public School, his design for a mural in the Jackson, MI courthouse was rejected by a Washington bureaucrat. After the death of his father in 1937 Anderson experienced a mental breakdown.

He and Agnes then relocated to her family's estate, where, freed from the figurine business, Anderson was able to focus on the art process that brought him joy: painting, drawing, and printmaking, as well as book illustration. With more room and time to develop his style he began producing what he would become best known for: bright, bold, joyous depictions of the natural world. He was also able to study the techniques of Mexican artist Adolfo Best Maugard and to expore Jay Hambridge's mathematical art theory of dynamic symmetry.

Anderson remained at the estate until 1945, when he left on his own to return to Ocean Springs once again. There he would remain for the rest of his days, working as a potter and decorator while boating from his home to Horn Island, Mississippi for watercolor excursions, living in "primitive" conditions and spending his waking hours logging his obervations of animals and plant life. At this time he also took frequent, long distance trips by bicycle, going as far as New York. He also traveled overseas to China and Europe, as well as Costa Rica.

Upon his death in 1965 from lung cancer, it was discovered that Anderson had painted murals along the entirety of the interior walls of his padlocked room at Shearwater, a dedication to the sky and natural life of his home from day to night. These murals, along with other works of art, are currently on display at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

Find more information on Anderson and his legacy at Walter Inglis Anderson Museum of Art.