Shearwater Historic District
The Shearwater Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination documents. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, the Gombach Group.
The Shearwater Historic District occupies a site which is bounded on the north by Shearwater Drive, on the west by the Inner Harbor, and on the south by the Bay of Biloxi. The Shearwater Historic District is heavily wooded, primarily in pines with very dense undergrowth. A small area of marshland extends along the Inner Harbor shore. A tightly curving private road leads southward from Shearwater Drive through the Shearwater Historic District.
Of the ten buildings which constitute the Shearwater Historic District, six have been determined to contribute to it, four of these having pivotal significance. The four remaining elements have been judged to be non-contributing. Three of the buildings (Walter I. Anderson Cottage, "Fairhaven" (Tiffen House or Front House), and Walter I. Anderson Residence/Barn) date from the nineteenth century Tiffen estate. The others were all built under the ownership of the Anderson family. Eight of the buildings originally served as residences or were altered to residential use by the Andersons. The Shearwater Workshop Pottery and the Shearwater Gallery are the only non-residential elements. With only one exception (James McConnel "Mac" Anderson House) all of the buildings are of wood frame construction and of vernacular design with few stylistic pretensions.
Pivotal buildings (P) qualify for listing in the National Register of Historic Places by reasons of individual architectural and/or historical significance.
Contributing buildings (C) are essential to the district's sense of place and sustain the architectural and historical significance of the district.
Non-contributing buildings (NC) do not contribute to the historical character of the district, but, because they are compatible to the contributing historic buildings in scale, mass, materials, and setting, they do not detract from the visual cohesiveness of the district. Non-contributing buildings include those residences that were constructed after the period of significance and are compatible in scale, mass, material, and setting if not in detail.
An inventory of the Shearwater Historic District is as follows:
1. Shearwater Pottery. Informal grouping of one-story, gable-roofed, board-and-batten buildings raised on brick piers, ca. 1930. (P)
Built by Walter Anderson's older brother Peter Anderson in 1927, Shearwater Pottery was the income source for Walter Anderson's artwork. He designed and produced figurines, called "widgets," and decorated pottery.
2. William W. Anderson House. One-story, brick-veneered, wood frame building, ca. 1965. (NC)
3. Agnes B. Anderson House. One-story, wood frame house with cedar siding, ca. 1978. (NC)
4. Walter I. Anderson Cottage. One-story, wood frame house, raised on brick piers with a gable roof. Glazed sliding doors. Walter Anderson murals fill the walls of one room. Built as servants' quarters for Tiffen estate. Vernacular Greek Revival. ca. 1850. (P)
In 1933, when Anderson married Agnes Grindstead, he moved to the Cottage. He remodelled the building extensively, including built-in furniture and shelving of his own design. He lived here until 1940, although much of this time was spent in mental hospitals. His murals in the Old Ocean Springs High School date from this era. He later returned to live here (1947-65) during his Horn Island Period.
Andersen's daughter Mary Anderson Pickard believes that the mural dates from 1951-53, following his murals in the Community Center. It may have been in frustration at not having completed the Community Center mural that he began a mural of his own in a small room of the cottage where he then lived. "Creation at Sunrise" covers the walls and ceiling of the "little room," illustrating the 104th Psalm (Mary Anderson Pickard). Even the door knob, mantel, and masonry wall are decorated. Walter Anderson worked on this room secretly and kept it padlocked from everyone, including his family. It was not discovered until after his death in 1965.
Stylistically derived from the Community Center Murals, the cottage mural was executed in Anderson's "Horn Island" period. The mural, divided into the four stages of the day, presents an environment where the figures, human or animal, are camouflaged by the environment, and not any more in focus than the surroundings. Although unfinished, this mural is his most intensely personal and intensely painted mural. It has been compared to an ornate funerary chamber of an ancient tomb (Mary Anderson Pickard).
5. Shearwater Pottery Gallery. One-story, wood frame, gable-roofed, board-and-batten building with a T-shaped plan. Partially glazed double doors. Horizontally-sliding windows, ca. 1930. (C)
Also built by Peter Anderson, the gallery was the exhibit area for the family's work. Walter Anderson's public art was sold here: the pottery, woodblocks on fabric and wallpaper, and his figurines. Walter Anderson felt that his public art, which he sold very reasonably, was the artist's duty to the public, and that the income derived from this public art could then be used to pursue the artist's own private art. The building is still in use as the gallery for Shearwater Pottery.
6. "Fairhaven" (Tiffen House or Front House). One-and-one-half story, side gabled, wood frame house on brick piers. Shed-roofed full-width gallery across south facade. Gable dormers. Imbricated shingles on flanks of the gallery roof. Greek Revival Vernacular, ca. 1850. (P)
In his early period Walter Anderson lived with his parents in this house (1923-29). He was away at school much of the time. Fairhaven is important as the main house of the Shearwater Complex and because it contains a mural executed by Walter Anderson in 1960. Locally significant as the circa 1850 Greek Revival main house to the Tiffen Place.
Executed in 1960 as a commission for his brother Peter Anderson, the mural, a canvas panel on a wood frame, is built into the ceiling of the dining room at Fairhaven, and was designed to keep out drafts. A highly decorative descriptive style is used to render the islands of the Mississippi Sound, in the manner of antique hand painted maps, including decorative titles and notes of soundings, etc.
7. James McConnel "Mac" Anderson House. One-story, hip roofed building of rammed earth construction; off-center entrance sheltered by a porch, ca. 1937. (C)
8. One story prefabricated frame house, ca. 1970. (NC)
9. Mary Anderson Pickard House. Three-story frame house, ca. 1981 (NC)
10. Barn. Frame, two-story, gable front building with shed-roofed aisles. Central entrance. Altered for use as a residence for the Walter I. Anderson family, ca. 1870. (P)
After studying in Europe, Walter Anderson returned to Ocean Springs, where he worked in the family Pottery. He lived on the second floor of the Barn until his marriage in 1933.
The Shearwater Historic District derives major significance from its association with the life and work of nationally-noted artist Walter Inglis Anderson.
The Shearwater Historic District is significant in the history of American art as the home and atelier of a renowned family of multi-faceted artists which established and continues to operate the famous "Shearwater Pottery." Three of the buildings are architecturally significant in the context of Ocean Springs history because they constitute the most complete mid-nineteenth century waterfront estate now extant in the city (Walter I. Anderson Cottage, "Fairhaven" (Tiffen House or Front House), and Walter I. Anderson Residence/Barn).
Formerly the Tiffen estate, the twenty-five-acre property fronting on the Bay of Biloxi was purchased in 1924 by Annette McConnell Anderson of New Orleans. Mrs. Anderson, an accomplished painter and sculptress, acquired the property as a summer retreat for her family where she could pursue her artistic interest. The estate later became the permanent home of Mrs. Anderson, her husband George Walter Anderson, and their three sons, Peter, Walter Inglis and James McConnell ("Mac").
Peter Anderson (1901-1984) attended the Newman School in New Orleans, an institution specializing in manual arts training. His first lesson at the potter's wheel was in 1924. Following an unsuccessful first attempt to establish a pottery in Ocean Springs he received additional training in ceramics at the Conestoga Pottery in Pennsylvania and at the New York State School of Ceramics between 1924 and 1928. He returned to Ocean Springs and founded the Shearwater Pottery in 1928. Peter erected the kiln, workshops, and showroom in addition to throwing the pots and developing the glazes. Famed for his great sensitivity for form and line, Peter potted for fifty-five years and was acknowledged as American's oldest working master potter in 1983. He remained involved in the pottery's operation during his final illness, being present in the workshop every working day. (No author cited. "Founder of Shearwater Pottery Dies." Ocean Springs (Miss.) Record, Dec. 27, 1984.)
Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965) was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Parsons School of Fine and Applied Arts, and the Fountainbieu School in Paris. Upon joining Peter at work at the pottery, Walter Anderson produced finely carved glazed decorative work including a series of small figurines he called "widgets," He was torn between participating in the family business and developing his own art and was once heard to protest "I am a painter. Why do I have to make silly figures in clay? I am a painter. I must paint" (Agnes Grinstead Anderson. "Walter Anderson: The Man, the Artist." The Southern Quarterly 24:179-130). Walter did, indeed, become known posthumously as one of the greatest Southern painters of the twentieth century.
The last eighteen years of Anderson's life were, artistically, his most productive. During this period, the increasingly reclusive artist lived alone in the small servants' cottage in the family compound and made frequent solitary trips to Horn Island, an uninhabited barrier island twelve miles off the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Although some of his works embraced historical or fairy tale themes, Walter Anderson is best known for his drawings and watercolors of Gulf Coast animal life and vegetation. He believed that his art represented only a part of his interaction with the natural world. His vibrantly colored, intensely personal interpretations of the life on Horn Island reflect his nearly total immersion into, and unity with, its harshly beautiful environment.
James McConnell ("Mac"") Anderson (b. 1907) studied architecture at Tulane University before rejoining the family in Ocean Springs in 1929. A painter in oils and watercolors and woodcarver and furniture maker, Mac is known for his finely carved vases, reticulated bowls and slip-glazed wares. Mac also erected one of the structurally more interesting buildings in the Shearwater Historic District. His adobe house was built in 1937 of mud from which the vegetable matter had been removed. Tamped into molds, the mud was laid up in eighteen inch thick walls. The building required two months to build and dry and has remained structurally sound.
Succeeding generations of Andersons are maintaining the family tradition of art and artisanship at the Shearwater Pottery. They utilize the same tools and methods that were developed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Although additional family homes have been erected within the twenty-five acre Shearwater Historic District, they are of a similar scale to the early buildings and are so situated in the dense foliage that they do not significantly intrude on the integrity of the district.
Anderson, Agnes Grinstead. "Walter Anderson: The Man, the Artist." The Southern Quarterly 24:170-194.
Donaldson, Susan V. "Forsaking the Certainty of Shore: Walter Anderson and the Loneliness of Horn Island." The Southern Quarterly 24:151-169.
Harvey, Nedra. "Shearwater, Fifty Years of Imaginative Pottery." Down South on the Beautiful Gulf Coastvol. 28 no. 4:3-4,8.
McDavid, O. C. "J. M. Anderson Paintings, LaFont Goodwill; Many Others." Clarion-Ledger Feb. 13, 1972.
McIntire, Carl. "Shearwater Legacy at Old Capital Museum." Clarion-Ledger April 15,1979.
Smalhorst, Lynda. "The Old Earth House Stands Solid Against Coastal Winds." Clarion-Ledger April 24, 1979.
† Richard J. Cawthon and Brian N. Berggren, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Shearwater Historic District, Jackson County, Mississippi, nomination document, 1986 & 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.