After you have lived on the island for a while, there comes a time when you realize that the pelican holds everything for you. It has the song of the thrush, the form and understanding of man, the tenderness and gentleness of the dove, the mystery and dynamic quality of the nightjar, and the potential qualities of all life. In a word, you lose your heart to it. It becomes your child and the hope and future of the world depends upon it. WIA, from Pelicans.
Walter Inglis Anderson was born in 1903 in New Orleans. In 1918, the family purchased a large wooded tract of coastal property in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and in 1928, the Andersons opened Shearwater Pottery, which is still thriving as a family pottery in Ocean Springs today.
Anderson attended Parson's School of Design in 1922, then The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1924 through 1928. Returning to Ocean Springs in 1928, Anderson worked as a designer and decorator at Shearwater for the rest of his life.
In 1934, Ellsworth Woodward commissioned a large mural in the Ocean Springs Public School auditorium. A second mural was designed and accepted for the Mississippi Court House in Jackson, only to be rejected by a Washington bureaucrat. This disappointment, combined with the death of his father in 1937, led to a mental breakdown. From 1938-1940, Anderson was hospitalized in several mental institutions. He also escaped from several mental institutions, once famously lowering himself out of a window with bedsheets, and painting a mural with soap on his way down of birds taking flight.
1941 through 1945 was a highly productive period for Anderson. He moved into Oldfields, an estate from his wife's family in Gautier, Mississippi. He wrote short stories and plays, translated and illustrated some of his favorite texts, and executed a large number of drawings, paintings and block prints. Some of the block prints were thirty feet in length, the largest ever produced by an American artist when they were exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 1949.
The idyllic life at Oldfields ended in 1945, when Anderson left his family and moved into a small cottage at Shearwater, where he executed a mural on all four walls and the ceiling. Inspired by Psalm 104, it depicts a single day on the gulf coast, with the interconnected order of the natural world evident from sunrise to dusk, a padlocked masterwork, discovered only after his death. From then until his death in 1965, he lived a reclusive life, working at the pottery and spending an increasing amount of time on his beloved Horn Island. He would take a rowboat from Shearwater to the island alone, and living in very primitive conditions, would attempt to capture the life of the island through extensive logs and watercolors. 'Order is here,' he wrote, 'but it needs realizing.' He filled over ninety journals with reflections on nature, feeling a special connection to the pelican colonies on Horn Island, which he understood as having an archetypal significance.