Walter Inglis Anderson was born in New Orleans in 1903. His mother was an artist, and a passion for art, music, and literature strongly influenced him. He obtained degrees from the Parsons Institute of Design in New York and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where his interests included poetry, science, history and art history. He also studied the major literary epics such as Homer and Virgil, which manifested in a number of sketches based on their stories.
After college, Anderson moved to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, married and began a family. He worked at the now iconic Shearwater Pottery, founded by his brother Peter, and in the 1930s, he worked on W.P.A. mural projects. It was also in the 1930s that Anderson was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and for three years he was in and out of mental hospitals. In the 1940s, he and his family moved to his father-in-law's plantation home in Gautier, Mississippi. Anderson used this time to find recovery through art, and, in 1947, he left his family behind to begin an epic of his own.
He lived alone in a small cabin on the Gulf Coast, and frequently visited the uninhabited Horn Island during his last 18 years. He painted in the open and sometimes used his boat as a tent. He endured extreme weather conditions, even tying himself to trees to experience the force of hurricanes. At the age of 62, Anderson died of lung cancer in a New Orleans hospital. Most of his work was discovered in his cabin after his death.
To listen to a story on a Walter Anderson retrospective compiled by the Smithsonian, please click here. A full transcript of the story is available at the link below.