The Wonders of Walter Anderson
By Julian Rankin
In the words of famed environmentalist Rachel Carson, “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not so important to know as to feel.”
She was speaking of the importance of introducing children to nature, of how the beauty of one’s surroundings can open up infinite possibilities for lifelong discovery. When I think of the convergence of beauty and nature, I think of none other than Walter Anderson, Mississippi’s beloved artist, whose work elicits very powerful feelings of belonging, connection and adventure. The Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs not only preserves his brilliant creations; it is also a launching point for children to find their own inner explorers.
When Director of Education Tony DiFatta introduces children to Walter Anderson’s art, he starts with the bicycle and the boat.
“Kids really latch onto the fact that he rode his bicycle everywhere and rowed his boat into the Horn Island wilderness,” DiFatta said. The allure of the journey captures the imagination of young visitors. One was so inspired, he created for a class project an art sculpture of a “Lego” Walter Anderson in his boat.
For the youngest of museum visitors, the Children’s Gallery is a jumping off point for artmaking and creative play, especially during the Museum’s free monthly story time program, Words & Wonder. And if there’s one specific artwork that is truly magnetic for young and old — of all the many thousands — it’s the “Little Room.” The crown jewel of the Museum, the “Little Room” is painted floor-to-ceiling with Anderson’s transformative encounters with nature: a morning rooster, a possum, a Sandhill crane, a deer, a rabbit, an alligator, a fluttering grouping of purple moths. One unending day, full of vitality. When a child enters, her eyes grow wide.
“A lot of them will gravitate to a favorite animal,” DiFatta said. “They see the overall beauty and then they start finding things in it. And the ‘finding things’ is what is really exciting.”
To foster this exploration, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art offers seven weeks of summer camp for children and young adults aged eight and up. Camps connect to STEAM, teach techniques of block printing and painting and sculpture, and most importantly, connect the inspiring philosophies of Walter Anderson to his most energetic young fans. It all goes back to beauty.
“Those who dwell…among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life,” Carson wrote. “There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”
Julian Rankin is the Executive Director of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.