#1 House Beautiful, April 2003


Mississippi Might: In a small Delta town, family-owned Shearwater Pottery has grown from humble beginnings to enduring power

In 1922 Annette McConnell Anderson moved her family from the sophisticated hub of New Orleans to the small Mississippi town of Ocean Springs.  She bought twenty-four rural acres fronting the Mississippi Sound and called them home.  The move was dramatic but purposeful.  Annette, a devoted lover of the arts, had an unusual objective for her three sons, all of whom were in their twenties.  Instead of insisting they obtain traditional forms of employment, she sought to provide the environment and encouragement for them to pursue their artistic talents.

Peter (1901-1984), Annette’s eldest, both apprenticed as a potter and formally studied the art of making pottery.  He established Shearwater Pottery in 1928, developing the shapes and pioneering the glazes that distinguish the ware.  Younger brothers Walter (1903-1965) and Mac (1907-1998) soon joined him in the venture, contributing their decorating skills to the pottery and creating a line of cast figurines.  Walter also embarked on a separate career as an artist known for his interdisciplinary works inspired by coastal Mississippi’s flora and fauna.  Later this year the Arts and Industries Building at the Smithsonian will host an exhibition celebrating the centennial of his birthday.

Shearwater Pottery remains largely unchanged today.  Rustic tin-roofed wood buildings stand interspersed between veils of Spanish moss in the original compound where second and third generation family members live and continue the artistic traditions established by the Anderson brothers.  Peter’s son Jim is the present potter at Shearwater Pottery, painstakingly making the same ware as his father.

“Shearwater Pottery means a lot of tradition,” says Jim, checking the temperature in a kiln, “It is something my father did for a long time that was very good.  I have the privilege of doing what he did, where he did it.”

People can visit the workshop where Jim throws pottery on the potter’s wheel surrounded by crude shelves stacked with plaster molds and unfinished ware; an old black-and-white photograph of Peter at the pottery hangs on a wall.  Other relatives make figurines and paint pots in the nearby annex.  The tranquil showroom - punctuated by audible “tings” as new ware for sale cools - has a cabinet full of old ware for viewing only.  The value of early Shearwater Pottery has risen considerably: a green vase decorated by Mac in the 1950's recently appraised for $5000-7500 on an episode of the Antiques Roadshow.  Due to the pottery’s craftsmanship and limited output - about 13,000 pieces a year - demand exceeds production.

Part of Shearwater Pottery’s broad appeal is that it has always drawn from the area’s rich natural surroundings.  Luminescent glazes with names like wisteria and shoal evoke purple floral clusters growing wild in the Mississippi spring and iridescent waters lapping the sands of nearby barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico.  Besides possessing a unique decorative aesthetic, the pottery is also utilitarian, contributing to its continued popularity.  The classic shapes and beautiful glazes further infuse the ware with a timeless appeal, making it equally suitable for traditional and contemporary settings.

Jim respects the quality and longevity of Shearwater Pottery’s foundation.  “The pottery has a feeling to it,” he says, “I do not attempt to do original work.  I attempt to do what father did....People like to make a mark.  I recognized what did.”

The Anderson legacy has had a significant impact on the community.  Ocean Springs has become an art center and home to artists.  Shady oak trees and art-related businesses line the downtown’s quiet streets.  These include galleries and workshops, as well as several stores specializing in merchandise based on the Anderson art.  Shearwater Pottery and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art are major attractions for Ocean Springs.  The decade-old museum has rotating exhibitions of Walter’s watercolors, block prints and ink drawings, and permanent displays of his luminescent whimsical murals, more than 3000 square feet of them adorn the walls of the Ocean Springs Community Center that adjoins the museum.  Shearwater Pottery is always exhibited.  The town’s annual Peter Anderson Festival also draws tens of thousands of people from everywhere to an arts and crafts gathering where artists display and sell their works.

“Mere encouraged everyone to be an artist,” says Jim of Annette McConnell Anderson whom he remembers from growing up.  But not everyone can be an artist.  Peter Wade, Jim’s capable son, now applies glazes and helps his father.  “He is twenty-seven years old.  Like me, he fell into it because he is here,” Jim says, then pauses before adding, “He seems to be a lot like me.”

One can only hope that he is. 

#2 Classic American Homes, September 2001

Masterworks: Soothing the Senses

On the surface, Christine Simoneau Hales, landscape painter and iconographer, has chosen dramatically different venues for the expression of her art. 

Her passion for nature and landscape painting developed after graduating from the Massachusetts College of Art.  The contemporary style she uses is expressionistic, driven by emotion rather than realism.  With vivid oils and vigorous brush strokes, she creates potent, energetic canvas paintings that convey the human condition through natural subjects and settings.

Since obtaining a postgraduate degree in Art Therapy at the College of New Rochelle, Simoneau Hales has also been practicing the ancient art of iconography in the Russian style.  She painstakingly mixes pigment with egg yolk, water and vinegar to make egg tempera, which she applies with gold leaf to depict icons on wood panels.

Simoneau Hales’ philosophical approach intimately binds superficially disparate art forms.  She adopts Carl Jung’s view that the artist should create meaningful, universal symbols from which society can benefit and grow.

“I think art can have the capacity to heal,” says Simoneau Hales.  “While the icons appeal to a religious sensibility, almost everyone has experienced healing moments in nature.”

The artist’s landscape paintings and icons are united by spiritual and aesthetic connections that heal the mind and soothe the senses.  Upon closer inspection, Simoneau Hales’ artistic expressions are not so different after all.

# 3 Art Review for Folio Weekly, August 18, 1998

Painted Prayers: a tribute to tradition

“One in seven women living in the world today is Hindu,” reads Stephen Huyler’s artist statement.  “At least once a year, most of these women create sacred drawings or paintings as part of their religious ritual.”  Painted Prayers: The Ritual Art of the Women of India showcases over forty of Huyler’s vibrant color photographs at the Cummer Museum through September 20th.

Many Hindus living in India believe deities protect their homes, and the walls and floors of their dwellings are often painted with symbols intended to honor them.  Depending on regional customs, paintings change anywhere from daily to annually.  The images can be associated with festivals or rites of passage like birth, puberty and marriage.

“This project has been ongoing for years,” says Dr. Mary F. Linda, Associate Director of the Cummer Museum, “Dr. Stephen Huyler traveled all around India, taking photographs of these women.  Most of the photographs were taken between five and eight o’clock in the morning when the women rose and prepared for the day.”

The lighting is striking, each picture a visual treat on several levels. 

The Rich colors and textures of an exotic land can be enjoyed for their own merit.  Look for the images of unmarried girls in Kerala making kolams, or floor designs, using colorful flower petals.

The photographs also capture glimpses of Indian life and culture, such as a woman twisting the heads off red chili peppers in front of her painted wall. 

Additionally, the images show the methods and techniques of creating the art.  The paint used is made from rice paste.  It dries white and is said to feed insects, fulfilling the Hindu duty to share food with worldly creatures.  By mixing the liquid with natural dyes such as henna, color is created.  Paint is applied using rags, fingers or coconut fibers on a purifying canvas of mud and cow dung.

In some villages, mud bas-reliefs are made using decorative bits of mirror.  In others, hand-painted images can be either abstract or realistic.  These range from geometric patterns or simple dots, to detailed pictures of flowers, elephants or birds.

The variety of Indian artworks depicted in this small exhibit is significant, as is the educational aspect of delving into a prevalent world culture.  Huyler’s well-crafted and imaginative photography speaks for itself.