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 Walter Inglis Anderson  (1903 - 1965)

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Lived/Active: Mississippi/Louisiana      Known for: mod genre-views painting, non ob, flora

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Ad Code: 2
Walter Inglis Anderson
from Auction House Records.
Study for the Mural of the History of the South
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following information was submitted in June of 2006 by Henry Grovenor:

Walter Anderson firmly believed that quality art was an important part of life and should be made available to everyone. As he said, “There should be simple, good decorations, to be sold at prices to rival the five-and-ten.” Noticing that only poor quality art was available in stores and little was available for children, he resolved to make art which could be reproduced easily and sell inexpensively — linoleum block prints.  This technique enabled him to provide affordable, quality art.

The technique of linoleum block printing is a simple concept; however, it requires much skill and talent to actually produce memorable art.  Anderson purchased surplus “battleship linoleum,” thicker than ordinary linoleum with a burlap backing for better support, to create his blocks.  During the mid-1940s, he created almost 300 linocuts working in the attic of the sea-side plantation house, Oldfields, his wife’s family home in Gautier.  Masses of linoleum chips accumulated at the foot of the attic stairs as he often worked night and day.  He began with sketching out a design directly on the linoleum.  Once he had carved the image into the surface, he used the back of faded, surplus stock wallpaper that a friend sent him, laying long strips on top of the inked linoleum.  A roller made of sewer pipe filled with sand served as his press.  When the print was completed, he often colored it by hand with bold strokes and vivid colors. The prints were sold at Shearwater Pottery, the  family business, for a mere dollar a foot.

But “what about a well-designed fairy tale for a child’s room?” he asked himself. Since there was a lack of affordable art for children, much of his work with linoleum blocks focused on subjects for children.  He depicted fables and fairy tales ranging from Arabian Nights, to Germany and the Grimm Brothers’ Rapunzel, to the French story of The White Cat, to the Greek tales such as Europa and the Bull, and to tales from China, India, and other cultures. Anderson also created “mini” books featuring the alphabet and Robinson Cat.  The blocks are not only alive with the story being depicted, but they are also filled with designs taken from Best-Maugard’s Method for Creative Design.  Swirls, half-circles and zig-zag lines fill every available space on the linoleum block making them come alive and capture their audience. 

But fairy tales, children’s verses and the “mini” books, consisting of about 90 blocks, were not the sole subject of Anderson’s linoleum block prints. In total, he  created approximately 300 linoleum blocks with subjects ranging from coastal flora and fauna, coastal animals, and sports and other coastal activities. Anderson even created linoleum blocks to be used to print tablecloths and clothing, some worn by his own children.  Color and subjects of the linoleum block prints were not the only things that got them noticed. 

In 1945 when Anderson was creating these prints, the standard size of linoleum block prints was only 12 by 18 inches.  These small dimensions were due to the common size of the paper available and the restrictions made by national competitions.  Since Anderson used wallpaper and was not concerned with competitions, he was able to have creative freedom and make huge prints. 

Anderson felt that the art available in five-and-dime stores not only was short on quality, but short on size.  He decided to make large prints that hung like vertical scrolls or horizontal over-mantels.  Therefore, he made many of his prints 60 to 100 inches in length or height by approximately 19 inches (to fit the wallpaper strips).  According to Carole E. Thompson in Walter Anderson: Prints from Mississippi, the scale of Anderson’s prints has made him the first American artist to create linoleum block prints on  such a large scale. 

By 1949, Anderson had an exhibition of his linoleum block prints, drawings, a few ceramics, and some wood sculptures at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.  According to correspondence, the museum was interested in the prints of such works as King Arthur and Billy Goats Gruff. Anderson wrote of the Brooklyn Museum showing of the fairy tale block prints, “Fairy tales have been used so often as sedatives that it is usually forgotten that they are also explosions… small explosions that are so identified with the life of man that they stimulate without destroying life.” He wrote to the curator about his concerns for art reaching the people: “I hope that you will be able to reach the people who cannot afford to pay a great deal for works of art but still have an appetite for beauty and the imaginative world of fairy tales.”  In saying this, Anderson reinforced his belief that art should be available to everyone. 

Walter Anderson was a visionary with many mediums.  Whether with murals, watercolors, painted pottery or linoleum block printing, his desire was to reach the people, for he strongly believed that art enhanced people’s lives.  

Source: Erica Peterson

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A resident of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Walter Anderson was a painter, muralist, sculptor, printmaker, and ceramist.  His watercolors are considered first rank in this century, and he became a noted illustrator of children's books.  The Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, houses the primary collection of his works.

Anderson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where in 1927, he received a Cresson Fellowship to study in Paris.

In Paris, he preferred the forms of the Paleolithic cave paintings of the Dordogne Caves to the modernist excitement of the art world.  He was inspired by Karl Blossfeldt's flower studies, evidenced by Anderson's work in the 1940s.

Much of his painting has been done in Horn Island, Mississippi, having returned in 1929 he settled in Ocean Springs and worked for his brother who had the Shearwater Pottery Company.

In 1934, he painted murals for the Ocean Springs High School with the WPA (Works Progress Administration) program.  In 1940, after three years of being hospitalized for mental illness, he and his wife and children moved to Oldfields, the family home in Gautier where he did linocut prints of epic voyages and depictions of folklore and mythology.  In 1946, he began working alone at Horn Island.

In 1950 and 1951, he was commissioned to paint murals for the Ocean Springs Community Center.  His subjects often depicted the flora and fauna of the Gulf Coast.

After his death, his family discovered a large amount of work in what was called the "little room", a place at his home where he worked for 20 years by himself.  There he created huge murals covering 2500 square feet, depicting scenes of American Indian culture and the arrival of French explorers in 1699.  The Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs has a high-ceilinged "little room" from which some of Anderson's works from his "little room" are ever on display.

Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art
American Art Review,

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
When Hurricane Katrina struck in the Fall of 2005, most of the work of Walter Anderson, including thousands of watercolors, drawings, block prints, and manuscripts, was stored at Ocean Springs, Mississippi in a small, sturdy cinderblock building built after Hurricane Camille and designed to resist hurricanes.

A smaller selection, including the pieces displayed at the 2003 Smithsonian Exhibition Everything I See Is New and Strange, was at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, Ocean Springs.  The collection at Shearwater was heavily damaged by the storm (the flood water surged into the storage building and submerged almost all of the art), but the Walter Anderson Museum of Art collection escaped damage, as did the Ocean Springs Community Center murals and the murals from Anderson's cottage at Shearwater.

The Walter Anderson Museum reopened to the public on October 18, 2005.  In the weeks after Katrina, the damaged collection was dried by volunteers and family members and moved to Mississippi State University, Starkville, MS, for conservation and restoration.

A good part of Anderson's writing had already been microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, and other manuscripts had been safely stored in the Mississippi Department of Archivs and History.

Shearwater Pottery, the family business where Peter, Walter, and James McConnell Anderson had worked, was devastated by the storm.  On the storm damage, see Linda Hales, "Buried Treasures: Storm's Toll on Culture," Washington Post, Sept. 10, 2005, and Debbie Elliott, "A Family of Artists Picks Up the Pieces," National Public Radio, Sept. 18, 2005.

Submitted to the Discussion Board of Walter Anderson by Christopher Maurer on 12/25/2005

Biography from The Johnson Collection:
Few artists have ever had a spiritual connection to nature as intense as the one experienced by Walter Inglis Anderson. He was born in New Orleans in 1903, where his father was a successful grain merchant and his mother encouraged her sons to explore their own creativity while exposing them to art, music, and literature. Following high school, Anderson continued his education first at Parson's School of Design in New York, but disliked city life and left after one year. In 1923, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and won the coveted Cresson scholarship in 1927.

Anderson used his scholarship to travel to Paris, in part to seek out esoteric spiritual guidance. As a student at the Pennsylvania Academy he attended a lecture where he was introduced to mystical Russian teachings that centered on the idea that there is an unseen dimension which is invisible to the unenlightened, but unifies all of creation. This idea that man and nature are both part of a larger unity remained with him throughout his life. By the time he returned to the United States in 1929, Anderson was approaching art from a unique and unusual standpoint. He did not seek monetary gain or fame as an artist. For him, the act of making art was a spiritual exercise in which one might reveal life's universal truths.

Anderson reunited with his family who had relocated to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and worked alongside his brother at the family business, Shearwater Pottery, decorating vases and other household items. Although he did not enjoy working with pottery, it provided him with a comfortable enough living to marry in 1933. In 1934, he painted an expansive mural in the auditorium of Ocean Springs High School as part of the WPA program. In 1937 Anderson planned to execute a mural for the court house in Jackson, but was denied government funding at the last minute. This frustration was heightened by the fact that he had grown very restless with his work at Shearwater Pottery. The death of his father that same year proved to be the breaking point and he suffered a mental breakdown. Anderson spent the years 1938-1940 in and out of psychiatric hospitals battling depression and psychotic episodes.

In 1941, Anderson moved with his family to his wife’s family estate, in Gautier, Mississippi, known as Oldfields. Over the next few years, Anderson explored various forms of creative expression including drawing, painting, block printmaking, writing short stories, putting on puppet shows, building his own kiln and cottage, and spending a good deal of time with his two children. However, in 1947 Anderson abruptly left his family and moved back to Ocean Springs.

Upon returning to Ocean Springs, Anderson became very reclusive and spent much of his time on a deserted island off the coast known as Horn Island. On the island, he lived in primitive conditions--often using his overturned rowboat for shelter--and painted the natural life around him. Anderson felt by painting the natural world, an artist had the ability to unite art and nature into a single thing that has its own place in the universal order of the world. Though he had received formal training, Anderson preferred to work in a primitive, colorful, and repetitive style. He recorded watercolor images of Horn Island in a logbook and completed a mural for the Ocean Springs Community Center in which he connected the environment of the Gulf Coast to celestial bodies in the universe. For Anderson, producing art was not a method of working towards a finished product, but rather a way to experience the world around him.

The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
Horn Island—created by forces of land and sea over thousands of years—was for artist Walter Inglis Anderson a pristine wilderness, an elemental place where he celebrated a “spiritual kinship with the universe.”(1)

Anderson called himself the “Islander,” a term that embraced both his self-imposed isolation from society and his exuberant love for the Mississippi barrier islands.  His wife, Agnes Grinstead Anderson, described her husband’s relationship to his most beloved island: “As long as he was on Horn Island he was in tune with the rhythms of the universe.  He was part of the changing seasons.  He was filled with the ecstasy of creation.  He recorded it all, working endlessly.  It became his world.” (2)

During the last fifteen years of his life, Anderson visited Horn Island with increasing frequency, rowing there across open sea in a small wooden skiff, art supplies and food stowed in trashcans for protection from rain and surf.  He would stay on the island for days or weeks, studying and detailing in drawings, paintings, and “log” entries the expanse of the island environment: here, radiant dunes and wind-formed pines framing a cerulean sea; or the communal energy of his favored bird, the pelican.

It was only after Anderson’s death in 1965 that his family discovered in the crumbling Shearwater cottage—his studio and mainland refuge—the magnitude of the artist’s ceaseless creative work.  In the midst of clutter and the brilliant murals he had painted on the walls of the “Little Room” lay thousands of small watercolors and drawings. In line and color, on sheets of ordinary typewriter paper, Walter Anderson preserved the rhythms and intricacies of life on Horn Island, his island sanctuary.

Sources include:
1. John Paul Driscoll, Walter Anderson: Realizations of the Islander (Ocean Springs, Mississippi: Walter Anderson Estate, 1985): 7.
2. Agnes Grinstead Anderson, Approaching the Magic Hour: Memories of Walter Anderson (Jackson and London: University Press of Mississippi, 1989): 148.

Written by Ann R. King, for Columbus Museum

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