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Visual Harmony: Melody, Words and Birds of Walter Anderson

August 11 - November 8, 2004


(above: Walter Anderson, Dance Vase)


You should not grow in one direction like an automobile, but in five like a star.



A Renaissance Man

A man of many skills, Walter Anderson inhabited a world of multiple facets that he saw as all related, and the interrelationship of these skills and facets portray his genius. He was an intelligent man who had been schooled from the earliest age to explore, to create and to practice, and he was tireless in his pursuit of these challenges. These qualities made him into a prolific artist.


The Artist

Within the field of visual art, Anderson worked in many media: painting in oil and watercolor; painting large murals; drawing in charcoal, pencil and ink; creating linoleum blocks and prints of unprecedented size; carving wood into both small and large sculptures; sculpting clay; and decorating ceramic plates and pots made by his brother, Peter. Not only did he try numerous processes, he mastered them. (right: Walter Anderson, Orlando Salute)

He was a master of line, which is particularly evident in the ink drawings, and of the use of negative space in the watercolors. He had a strong sense of composition seen in the hundreds of designs in circles (for plates) and rectangles (for the block prints). His linoleum cuts and prints are the largest made in American art by the 1940s, and his bold adherence to nature places him squarely in the tradition of American nature painting with artists like John James Audubon. And yet, he did much more.


The Naturalist

Anderson listed 112 species of birds over a week's time on one of the barrier islands during the 1940s. Earlier in his career, he worked on a book of Birds in the Southeast before the Peterson Guides existed. But his paintings of birds go beyond mere patterns of feathers and skeletal structure to characteristic stance and movement -- red winged blackbirds clamor in flocks, owls peer sleepily when awakened, and pelicans are recorded from birth to death in the mangroves on the beach.

His ability to catch the essence of the very attitude of an animal is evident in all that he paints. Butterflies are shown in migration hanging on plants, as well as in a print series of different species with an accompanying verse for each one. Animals, insects, and even fish take on characteristic personality. (left: Walter Anderson, Four Redwinged Blackbirds)


In order to realize the beauty of man, we must realize his relation to nature.



The Poet

Colorful images were captured in words as well as in paint. His breadth of vision extended into the landscapes of his mind as he sought the unity of all things, or as he discovered the quaint character of cats, of a rooster, or of the Mississippi River. He wrote

The duty of the poet is to give words to the bells. I've recognized the fact that poetry began with representing the space between one wave top and the next.

His words are often elegant, and always fresh and insightful. Hundreds of pages of his writings (besides the Horn Island Logs) contain essays, aphorisms, fairy tales, short stories, poetry, and musings.

His library contained hundreds of books and he read Milton, Homer, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Darwin, epics of voyage and discovery, mysteries, mythology, history, poetry (W. B. Yeats was a favorite) and often recorded bits of story on the back of illustrative drawings he made of the books.


All poetry is an approach --

Lyric poetry approaches music,

Epic poetry approaches life itself.



The Musician

Although not a performing musician, Anderson took singing lessons at one time and studied music enough to be able to write examples of the staff, its pitches, and chords. He loved classical composers, such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc., as well as spirituals and music from earlier times. For many years, he organized his Sundays around listening to the New York Philharmonic on the radio, spent time listening to recordings, going to performances, whistling themes from the music while he worked, and dancing to audible or inaudible music.

His use of music, however, often extended into the mystical and at times, became a metaphor for nature. He refers to the unity of nature as a symphony in his poetry, and to a rooster as being a "tamed trumpeter." But his use of music goes deeper. The very elements of rhythm, harmony, melody and balance of sound and silence are present in the watercolors and murals in the repetition of shapes, in the space around images, and in the sweep of a coastline or in the harmonious color palettes unifying a composition.


All movement is to invisible music

although few people hear it.

It comes from the sun and the wind

and the movement of water and

a running rabbit and a crowing cock,

And together it is part of a great symphony.



The Craftsman

Anderson believed an artist should be able to create interesting pieces of furniture, fabric, and fine design. When going to housekeeping in the early 1930s and later in the 1940s, he built tables and chairs, hooked rugs of his own pattern, created ceramic tiles, wooden animals, puppets for his children, and printed curtains, tablecloths and dresses from linoleum blocks. He designed wallpaper (although none seem to have been made) that developed into repetitive borders or birds with which you could cover a room.

Perhaps the most notable "decoration" was placed on ceramic vessels made in the family business, Shearwater Pottery. Such concern for making the useful things of our life beautiful stems from the Arts and Crafts movement that arose in England in the 19th century and emerged into a strong force in this country at the turn of the 20th century. (right: Walter Anderson, Chair design)


Art is incredible not for itself, but in changing the artist's relation to other things ­ perspective!



- Patricia Pinson, Curator


More about the exhibition:

Synopsis: This exhibition explores Walter Anderson's broad interest in the arts and nature by looking at his use of musical elements and his knowledge of great music, his skill in writing and his breadth in reading great literature, his interest in and identification with the natural environment and his knowledge and use of history. Add to this his prodigious output of art work in several mediums as well, and the breadth of his accomplishment is astonishing. This is one of the criteria that sets this artist apart and establishes his intellectual strength as well as his artistic skill.

Visual Harmony: Melody, Words and Birds of Walter Anderson, examines the multifaceted talent of Walter Anderson, which found expression in a remarkable array of media and will be on display from August 11 through November 8, 2004 at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs. The exhibition consists of approximately 135 magnificent works, some never before seen, including oil paintings, watercolors, charcoal sketches, pen and ink, and other media.

This exhibit is a celebration of Anderson's multidisciplined approach to art and life. His use of pattern, rhythm, and harmony work together to form an unusual and ever fascinating picture. This exciting show will reflect the various interests of this great artist, and will highlight Anderson the independent artist, the emotional naturalist, the poet, the spirited musician, and the craftsman. An insightful exploration of the gifts of Walter Anderson, Visual Harmony will spark the viewer to experience art through the compelling childlike gaze of Anderson and to take a "second look". This is an unprecedented opportunity to experience the juxtaposition of some of Anderson' greatest images, enhancing the audience's ability to discover and appreciate the relationship between art and nature, humanity and nature, and music and visual art. His love of language will also be illustrated, and visitors will be treated to some of his most lyric poetry.

"The Walter Anderson Museum of Art is pleased to present this extraordinary exhibition that assembles some of the most outstanding examples of Walter Anderson's art", said Marilyn Lyons, executive director of the museum. "Presented to a large audience for the first time, this exhibition provides insight into this Renaissance Man's many gifts, and his sensitive understanding of the interrelationship between various art forms."

As expert and joyous a craftsman as he was an artist, Walter Anderson believed that beauty should be an intrinsic part of daily life, and that one should surround oneself with objects that are functional, esthetically pleasing, and affordable. To that end, he was incredibly prolific in his output, designing tables, chairs, rugs, tiles, wooden animals, puppets for his children, curtains, tablecloths, and dresses.

One of the key objects in this exhibition, now publicly presented for the first time, is a table with an exquisite geometric design, which has been in use for many years by the Anderson family. The exhibition also includes several pieces of fabric hangings that Anderson blockprinted, a unique table setting, and other pieces of furniture.

In addition to the display of rugs that Anderson hooked with his own design, a new rug, created by Faith Willis, based on Anderson's alligator blockprint, will be on display. It is a dramatic, colorful illustration of the original block.

The Gulf Islands National Seashore and the Natural Science Museum of Mississippi in Jackson have generously loaned mounted bird specimens, which will be on display alongside Anderson's drawings of the same birds. The drawings demonstrate the artist's careful study of these winged creatures, many of which show their graceful movements.

"This exhibition is different from most by focusing on the breadth of Anderson's work and interests", said Patricia Pinson, Ph.D., curator of this exhibit. "You see the musical elements in his painting, and the many books that he illustrated and his ornithological knowledge as well. He was an incredible artist, but he was also a great human being whose message to the world is worth hearing."

rev: 8/11/04

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