Meet Walter Anderson, Alice Moseley, and George Ohr, three unconventional Coastal Mississippi artists with museums dedicated to their lives and work.
Three Coastal Mississippi Artists
It is no secret that I love roadtripping Mississippi.
I have criss-crossed the state, cruising along backroads, roaming the Delta, walking the battlefields at Vicksburg, visiting the birthplace of Elvis in Tupelo, paying my respects at Civil Rights sites in Jackson, touring antebellum homes in Natchez, and haunting the ghost town of Rodney . . . .
Although I had driven I-10 through Coastal Mississippi dozens of times, this was my first time to exit the interstate and explore this scenic and historic region of the state.
My eyes were opened to many amazing things.
Perhaps that is why they call the 62-mile region the Secret Coast.
I became acquainted with a rich art heritage I never knew existed through three unconventional and unforgettable artists who called Mississippi’s Gulf Coast home.
In Bay St. Louis, I met Alice Moseley. In Biloxi, I met George Ohr. And in Ocean Springs, I met Walter Anderson. Perhaps not in person, but vicariously through first-rate museums that honor their diverse lives and work.
And because you must meet them, too, I introduce these Coastal Mississippi artists to you . . . .
Meet Alice Moseley | Bay St. Louis
Although she was not born on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it is the place folk artist Alice Moseley chose to spend the last 15 years of her life.
Like Grandma Moses, the Alabama native took up painting in her senior years.
Born in 1909, Alice lived a full life, but it was not always easy.
In 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression, she discovered her father’s body on the bathroom floor with a bullet through his head. He left a note asking Alice to care for her mother and sister.
Several years later, Alice married the love of her life, a man named “Mose” Moseley. She gave birth to her son Tim and adopted another son “Henny,” who later became estranged from the family.
She pursued a career in education, earning a masters degree and becoming a popular high school English teacher.
At age 65, while caring for her aging mother afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, she started painting to occupy her time and keep her sanity. She painted what she wanted, scenes from rural life in the South that told stories, often infused with humor.
Upon the death of her mother, Moseley’s son Tim, an antiques collector and dealer, encouraged her to try selling her first 30 paintings at a flea market. Within an hour, the owner of a steakhouse chain had purchased all of her paintings, leaving her with a check for $1,350.
She was now a professional artist, and her work began to grow in popularity. She continued painting after the death of her beloved Mose in 1978.
In 1989 at age 80, Moseley packed her station wagon with paintings and prints and headed to the Beach Front Festival in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
While driving across the scenic Bay Bridge, she spoke the words, “This is it. This is where I’ll spend the rest of my life.”
Within weeks, she purchased a blue gingerbread-style house with a white picket fence at 214 Bookter Street.
The Bay St. Louis community welcomed their newest resident with open arms, and she loved them back. Alice continued to create and sell her work from her home studio, calling it the happiest and most successful time of her life.
Moseley died at home on July 9, 2004, at age 94. Days later, 200 people gathered to remember their friend “Miss Alice” at an outdoor memorial service.
Although located a short walk from the beach, the blue house miraculously survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The following year, Tim Moseley opened the house as an art museum to the memory of his mother’s life and work.
In 2013, the Alice Moseley Folk Art & Antique Museum was relocated to the second floor of the historic Bay St. Louis train depot.
The museum houses photos, furnishings, artifacts, and a gallery of Moseley’s paintings.
To truly appreciate the artist’s work and personality, be sure to watch the Alice Moseley interview video during your visit.
Moseley’s original painting “The House is Blue, but the Old Lady Ain’t” hangs in the gallery. The scene depicts a dancing Moseley, her beloved beagle Herman, and an angel in a tree.
Note: When I toured Coastal Mississippi, I discovered tree angels were a recurring theme. Keep an eye out for their appearance in forthcoming Backroad Planet stories from the region.
The painting “From a Shotgun House to a Mansion on a Hill” depicts the ascent of Elvis Presley from his boyhood home in Tupelo to wealth and fame in Memphis, Hollywood, and beyond.
Diverse works among the 52 paintings displayed at the Moseley museum include “Life Has So Many Angles,” “If Only the Past Had Been So Bright,” and “Monteleone.”
Note: If you appreciate folk art, check out Donaldsonville, Louisiana, folk artist Alvin Batiste.
Tim Moseley’s collections of vintage glassware and other treasures are also displayed at the museum.
The Alice Moseley Folk Art & Antique Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and admission is free.
Meet George Ohr | Biloxi
George Edgar Ohr, the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi” was born on July 12, 1857.
Although he was never diagnosed with a mental illness, George was certifiably eccentric, quirky, bawdy, and light years ahead of his time.
He loved crafting witty sayings and wordplay, naming his eight youngest children Leo, Clo, Lio, Oto, Flo, Zio, Ojo and Geo.
Like Dickinson, Van Gogh, and Bach, Ohr earned little to no recognition during his lifetime for the gifted artist he was.
In 1879, after trying his hand as a carpenter and blacksmith, George discovered his gifting and calling in New Orleans as an apprentice for renowned earthenware potter Joseph Fortune Meyer.
“When I found the potter’s wheel I felt it all over like a wild duck in water,” Ohr exclaimed.
Two years later, he embarked on a tour of ceramic studios and shows in sixteen states.
Returning to Biloxi in 1883, George built and outfitted his own pottery shop adjacent to the Ohr family home for $26.80.
He sourced his own clay from the banks of the Tchoutacabouffa River and began experimenting with diverse ceramic forms, vowing to make art, not pots.
On October 12, 1894, a fire ignited at the Bijou Oyster Saloon and spread throughout the Biloxi business district. By daybreak Ohr’s studio lay in ruins. He collected pieces of scorched pottery and named them his “burned babies.”
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, Ohr rebuilt his studio.
In the decade between 1895 and 1905, the mad potter prolifically churned out thousands of “unequaled, undisputed, unrivaled” pieces with wafer-thin walls, intricate details, and colorful metallic glazes.
Ohr experimented with sculpted ceramic inkwells, including a green-glazed model of Beauvoir, the Biloxi post-war home of Jefferson Davis. An inscription on the base reads: “Geo E Ohr Biloxi Mud Dauber 8-15-1896.”
Sadly, whether under-appreciated or overpriced, Ohr’s creations did not sell well during his lifetime.
In 1909, at age 52, George Ohr closed up shop and “never threw another pot.”
“I have a notion that I am a mistake,” he said. Then he uttered a prophecy, “When I am gone, my work will be praised, honored, and cherished. It will come.”
Ohr died from throat cancer in 1918, and for more than 50 years 7,000 pieces of pottery remained crated in his sons’ Biloxi auto repair garage.
In 1968, Ojo Ohr revealed the mother lode to a vacationing arts dealer from New Jersey. Within a few years, select pieces began making their way into the marketplace.
The advent of abstract expressionism in ceramics in the 1950s had brought a whole new appreciation for Ohr’s work, and eventually pieces began selling for upwards of $60K.
Ohr’s time had come.
Today, the artistic legacy of George Ohr is remembered at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, with a collection of nearly 200 ceramic pieces. The museum also houses ceramic works by Ohr’s mentor Joseph Fortune Meyer and others.
Architect Frank Gehry designed the museum’s stainless steel pod buildings to “dance among the live oaks.”
The museum campus is home to a welcome center, ceramics studio, special exhibition galleries, and event venues. The Pleasant Reed House and Interpretive Center depicts African American life in Biloxi during the Jim Crow era.
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and admission fees apply.
Meet Walter Anderson | Ocean Springs
Walter Inglis Anderson was born September 29, 1903, in New Orleans. His mother Annette was an art student from a prominent family who instilled an appreciation for the arts in her three sons Peter, Walter, and Mac.
At various times in childhood the boys attended military schools out of state and studied pottery and woodworking at a vocational school in New Orleans. All of the Anderson boys would eventually find their callings as artists in diverse media as potters, painters sculptors, and decorators.
In 1918, Mrs. Anderson purchased a 24-acre property in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, as a summer home and art colony. Upon Mr. Anderson’s retirement in 1922, however, the family moved permanently to the estate called Fairhaven.
The Walter Anderson Museum of Art (WAMA) in Ocean Springs, recounts the American Master’s life through some 2,000 pieces of his “drawings, watercolors, oil paintings, carvings, murals, and decorative arts” in its permanent collection and on loan.
Anderson’s works are interpreted through the lens of his experiences as artist, naturalist, and mystic.
During the 1920s, Walter studied at the Parsons Institute of Design in New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and traveled throughout Europe.
To convince his father that art school was the right choice for him, Walter carved an elephant chest, based on a scene from the elder Mr. Anderson’s favorite book, the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.
Walter painted the oil on canvas “Portrait of a Young Woman” in 1927 while enrolled in art school. Displeased with his work, he threw it in the trash. A fellow classmate rescued the painting and sold it to the museum in 2002.
While Walter was away, Peter had a chance encounter with George Ohr’s mentor Joseph Fortune Meyer. Meyer encouraged Peter to study pottery-making on his own. He studied the craft independently and apprenticed for many years, and in 1928 he opened his studio and showroom at Shearwater Pottery in Ocean Springs.
Select pieces of Peter’s work are displayed at WAMA.
In 1929, Walter returned to Ocean Springs and opened an annex adjacent to Shearwater Pottery with his brother Mac. Walter would work and create at the pottery annex periodically throughout his life.
Displayed ceramic pieces at WAMA include Walter’s “Chesty Horse with Flaming Mane and Tail” (c. 1940) and “Harvesting the Sea” a collaborative bowl thrown by Peter and decorated by Walter (c. 1930).
Peter Andersons’s children continue their father’s legacy in production at the Shearwater Pottery studios and showroom to this day.
Walter Anderson suffered a period of physical and mental illness that beginning in 1934. Recurring cycles of malaria and brucellosis, lack of sleep, and depression over the death of his father led to a suicide attempt in 1937. He continued to make art through the difficult years and immersion in nature nurtured his return to sanity.
Anderson’s murals Ocean Springs: Past and Present (1935) were commissioned by Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) for the auditorium of the Ocean Springs Public School. The paintings depict both the sea lives of Gulf Coast residents and Anderson’s talents as an emerging artist.
Walter had married Radcliffe graduate Agnes (Sissy) Grinstead in 1933. Emerging from the darkness of the 1930s, he moved with his wife and children to Oldfields, Sissy’s family home in nearby Gautier, Mississippi. From 1941 to 1945, Walter seemed to find peace from his demons, resulting in the most creative and prolific period of his life.
“Ibis and Moon” and “Fall Woods” (both c. 1942) are two watercolors from the Oldfields years.
Walter and Sissy separated in 1947, and he moved into a cottage at Shearwater, where he would live out his final years. The artist’s love of nature drew him to make countless excursions from Ocean Springs to the barrier islands. While living in primitive conditions primarily on Horn Island, he studied nature, painted, and kept log books.
Anderson began taking long bicycle trips to the Florida Keys, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Mexico, all the while keeping daily logs. During this period, Anderson also traveled to China and Costa Rica.
Walter’s bicycle and skiff are displayed at the museum.
In the early 1950s, Walter Anderson volunteered to paint murals for the newly-constructed Ocean Springs Community Center, located adjacent to the museum.
The expansive murals depict elements of the Gulf Coast’s history and environment from the brush of a mature artist. Sadly, the citizens of Ocean Springs were unable to appreciate Walter’s vision, viewing them as useless graffiti. Disheartened by the negative response to this public work, Anderson abandoned the project.
Walter Anderson died November 30, 1965, at age 62, from lung cancer.
After his death, Walter’s wife Sissy noticed a locked door inside his cottage. When she broke in, she discovered a little room with ceiling to floor paintings. The murals now entitled “Creation at Sunrise” are believed to be based on Psalm 104, and the four walls depict a day on Horn Island at sunrise, noon, sunset, and night. An explosive zinnia surrounds the light source on the ceiling.
The room was moved from the Shearwater cottage to the museum in 1990.
The Walter Anderson Museum of Art is open daily at varying hours, and admission fees apply.
Coastal Mississippi Galleries and Public Art
The Gulf Coast is home to many more amazing Mississippi artists, exhibitions, galleries, and public art sites, unconventional and otherwise:
The Coastal Mississippi Attractions Pass (an $80 value for $45) includes admission to the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, plus six more Gulf Coast attractions.
Click here to discover more exciting destinations for your Mississippi road trip itinerary on Backroad Planet.