Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Walter Anderson's Ocean Springs

Walter Anderson's depiction of a pelican
A short day trip from New Orleans, Ocean Springs is one of those small towns for which America is famous. Its historic downtown has quaint shops and restaurants lined up along a walkable main street, jutting off perpendicularly from a railroad line that runs straight through town.
Train Depot housing "Realizations"

We went to Ocean Springs to learn about its most famous resident--Walter Anderson. The schizophrenic turned reclusive Anderson was a brilliant artist in the mid-1900s known for his colorful and quite fanciful paintings. Our first taste of his artwork was inside the old train depot next door to the Visitor's Center. Run by Anderson's family, "Realizations" has turned his kid-friendly designs into t-shirts, purses, bookmarks, posters and more.

After buying Charles a hat with his favorite pelican on it and August a toddler tee with a frog, we scooted outside to the Saturday Fresh Market taking place in the depot's parking lot. Here, we sampled homemade goodies and browsed the produce and plants for sale before continuing down Washington Avenue.

At Al Fresco's Italian Bistro, we sat in the courtyard and watched the birds play in the fountains while eating a tasty--but quick--lunch. We had to keep moving before the boys began splashing in the fountains, so we were soon back out on the sidewalk browsing store windows on our way to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

Shearwater Pottery showroom
Dedicated to Walter Anderson's artwork, this museum houses more than 900 pieces of art, including elaborate murals depicting his life and discoveries on the Gulf Coast. We stood for an eternity gazing at the Community Center murals, pointing out the animals and scenes hidden within it. Then we marveled at how he created the "Little Room" murals without a sole seeing them until after his death.

Our next stop took us to the family business. Shearwater Pottery was started by Walter's brother Peter and is today owned by Peter's four children, three of whom carry on the tradition of crafting decorative, functional clay pieces. The workshop, annex and showroom are tucked away in the woods close to the water's edge. The drive to visit the shop is almost as scenic as the pottery itself, as you pass a boat-filled marina on an inlet off the Gulf.

Views from the Gulf Islands National Seashore trail
By this point, the kids were starting to get antsy and needed some quality "hyper" time. So we headed off to Gulf Islands National Seashore to hike the scenic, coastal forest trail. They zoomed across the pathways, stopping briefly to search for fish and turtles in the still waters beneath the fishing pier. Then they looped back around to the Visitor's Center where exhibits detailed the area's beauty and mystique.

For a small town, we were surprised at how after a day's worth of adventures, we still didn't see all the area had to offer. Future trips may take us to the Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center, a boat trip out to the barrier islands or further explorations of downtown.