Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Walter Anderson’s Little room

Monday September 13, 2013
Site 19, Davis Bayou Campground
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Ocean Springs, Mississippi



I saved this little room for last because it was most personal to Walter Anderson.


Walter Anderson’s family always called him Bob.  His parents, Walter and Annette, had given the little cottage to Bob and his wife Agnes (Sissy) when they were married in 1933.  They lived in it during their early marriage until they moved with their children to Oldfields, Sissy’s family home, in nearby Gautier.  In 1946 Bob moved back to the cottage alone and lived there for the rest of his life when he wasn’t traveling.



Walter Anderson Museum 162

A few days after his death in 1965 at age 62 of complications from surgery for lung cancer, Sissy and her sister Pat went to the cottage to clean it up.  The little room, which Bob added as an extension to the cottage in 1939 as a nursery when his first child Mary was born, had a lock on the door.   They couldn’t find the key so they cut the lock.   Here is what they found -  a world no one had known Bob Anderson had created.




Walter Anderson Museum 170

The little room, and it is little, perhaps 10 X 10, is covered walls and ceiling in a mural celebrating life.  It is described in the book Dreaming in Clay as “an astonishing hymn to light and the beauty of one day on the Coast, beginning on the east wall with a flight of sandhill cranes at dawn, and continuing through noon, sunset and night”.  The colors used here are those of the Gulf shore, coral, green, gold-yellow and blue.




Walter Anderson Museum 191




It is very hard to get a full picture of such a small room so you can see what I saw.


Most of these photographs are sections but the color and the exuberance is clear.  This is the world Bob Anderson lived in.  I was stunned as I know his wife and sister must have been.


The sandhill cranes at dawn are just to the right of the door into the room which along with its wall are covered in moths.  The moth wall faced North.  More about that later.

Walter Anderson Museum 155


The Sandhill crane wall faced east and the sun flooded in its one window.  This is the dawn wall. 

Although I have a compass with me, I neglect to see if the walls of the rooms still face the original directions now that it has been moved to its new home in the museum.   I hope so.


Walter Anderson Museum 161


 Walter Anderson Museum 163


Over the window on this wall, the rooster crows at sunrise.



Walter Anderson Museum 164




This corner of the  East dawn wall and the south ‘glory of the day’ wall is between two windows. 

The single window on the east wall is to the left and a double window in the middle of the south wall to the right.  The trim of that window is the far right vertical painting.


Walter Anderson Museum 185A



Walter Anderson Museum 174



This is the corner of the South (day) and West (dusk)walls with the south double window trim on the left..


Walter Anderson Museum 181A


Maybe this is the rufous sided towhee under the window above.

Walter Anderson Museum 179 

Walter Anderson Museum 182




This corner joins the West (dusk) wall on the left with the right (night) wall. 

The trunk was in the room when Sissy opened the door and was filled with watercolor paintings.  The trunk of course was made and painted by Bob.


Walter Anderson Museum 187



The chimney on the west wall has the only human like figure.

In the center of the west wall in lieu of windows is a chimney upon which Anderson painted what Francis V. O’Connor called “an ethereal evocation of the primordial Earth mother – a horned young woman rising up from the glowing font of flowers.”   That description is perfect.  The moths fly around her on both sides.


Walter Anderson Museum 159A



Like Nature Walter Anderson apparently wanted no vacuum and filled all the space in the little room with color and light.


Crowning the room, the ceiling has been described as a zinnia which was one of Anderson’s favorite flowers.  But others see it as a mandala-like circle of forms in the style of a Meso-American glyph or calendar stone. 

Walter Anderson Museum 158A


The little room was painstakingly removed from the back of the cottage in 1991 and relocated inside a special room created for it at the museum.
This move undoubtedly saved it from total loss in Hurricane Katrina during which much of the family’s collection of his works was damaged or destroyed.


The room is stunning in its power, its symbolism, its color. 

I have waited for 9 years since first seeing Anderson’s paintings at a Smithsonian exhibition in 2004 to visit this place and see these miracles in person.  They were much more than I expected.  Walter Anderson wanted to bring art to the people, to have them experience the feeling of oneness in nature and at least for me, he has succeeded wildly.

Walter Anderson Museum 188


  1. Very beautiful. I still can't imagine the time it took to create all of this color and detail. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. What an amazing and eccentric person he must have been. And so in touch with nature as to bring all this light and color together. Such a special journey for you. It is almost overwhelming.

  3. As I was looking at the photos I couldn't stop wondering what this man's mind must have been like - all this expression churning to get out and take form. There aren't words to describe how incredible the murals are. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of it.

  4. This time the zinnia/mandala on the ceiling was my favorite. When we had a house, I planted masses of zinnias every year. Thanks again for introducing this amazing artist to me. So glad you had the chance to "see these miracles in person."

  5. Amazing is the only word that seems to fit. Makes me wonder if living with all those colors, critters, and swirls, and shapes everywhere ever got overwhelming? Or did he just lose himself in them and became one with the 4D (5D if you count the ceiling) landscape he created.

  6. I'm glad this museum was there to be appreciated by people like you. I think I learned more seeing it through your eyes than I would have through mine.

  7. Remarkable man! Thank goodness they moved the room.

  8. Amazing, would be cool to live in a room that is so colorful and full of nature on days when the weather is not good.

  9. Magnificent - it sounds like he was a very private man since no one knew about the expanse of his work until after his death. Incredible that so much was lost in Hurricane Katrina and yet there is still so much that remains - what a library of work. The light and color are so impressive - I can't imagine painting the ceiling - every line and all the color so precise. What a talent!! So glad you got to see it and that Walter didn't disappoint :) I agree with Gypsy - you can't help but wonder what was going on in his mind as he painted and came up with so many designs - a gorgeous tribute to nature for sure.

  10. Oh, Sherry, these are remarkable. Thank you for sharing them.

  11. He let himself fall totally into his art - that is what he wanted to do and literally it seems what he had to do. For him, living was realizing his place in the natural world and translating that for the rest of us in his paintings. That is what gave him joy, or so it seems. To me his was an artistic genius.

  12. Oh my, how beautiful!! What a lovely surprise his wife had when she opened the door.

  13. I have every book and one original he gave my great aunt Marie Atkinson Hull. As artist often do, there were exchanges made of work. I hear he did a vast amount of work on typing paper, liiterally. Looking for someone, hopefully a fellow naturalist, to share a pilgramiage to Ocean Springs from DFW or OKC. His mentor was an art teacher from Mexico who wrote a book claiming all art comes from the replication of and repeat of approximately 5 foundational shapes. This pattern can be seen in civilzations all the way to early cave dwellings! Just so much to take in and appreciate. He has opened a new door.


Your comments are the best part of this blog for me.
I LOVE hearing from you!