Walter Anderson’s Ocean Springs

Walter Anderson’s Ocean Springs

A short day trip from New Orleans, Ocean Springs is one of those small towns for which America is famous. Its historic downtown has quaint shops and restaurants lined up along a walkable main street, jutting off perpendicularly from a railroad line that runs straight through town.

Train Depot housing “Realizations”

We went to Ocean Springs to learn about its most famous resident–Walter Anderson. The schizophrenic turned reclusive Anderson was a brilliant artist in the mid-1900s known for his colorful and quite fanciful paintings. Our first taste of his artwork was inside the old train depot next door to the Visitor’s Center. Run by Anderson’s family, “Realizations” has turned his kid-friendly designs into t-shirts, purses, bookmarks, posters and more.

After buying Charles a hat with his favorite pelican on it and August a toddler tee with a frog, we scooted outside to the Saturday Fresh Market taking place in the depot’s parking lot. Here, we sampled homemade goodies and browsed the produce and plants for sale before continuing down Washington Avenue.

At Al Fresco’s Italian Bistro, we sat in the courtyard and watched the birds play in the fountains while eating a tasty–but quick–lunch. We had to keep moving before the boys began splashing in the fountains, so we were soon back out on the sidewalk browsing store windows on our way to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.

Shearwater Pottery showroom

Dedicated to Walter Anderson’s artwork, this museum houses more than 900 pieces of art, including elaborate murals depicting his life and discoveries on the Gulf Coast. We stood for an eternity gazing at the Community Center murals, pointing out the animals and scenes hidden within it. Then we marveled at how he created the “Little Room” murals without a sole seeing them until after his death.

Our next stop took us to the family business. Shearwater Pottery was started by Walter’s brother Peter and is today owned by Peter’s four children, three of whom carry on the tradition of crafting decorative, functional clay pieces. The workshop, annex and showroom are tucked away in the woods close to the water’s edge. The drive to visit the shop is almost as scenic as the pottery itself, as you pass a boat-filled marina on an inlet off the Gulf.

Views from the Gulf Islands National Seashore trail

By this point, the kids were starting to get antsy and needed some quality “hyper” time. So we headed off to Gulf Islands National Seashore to hike the scenic, coastal forest trail. They zoomed across the pathways, stopping briefly to search for fish and turtles in the still waters beneath the fishing pier. Then they looped back around to the Visitor’s Center where exhibits detailed the area’s beauty and mystique.

For a small town, we were surprised at how after a day’s worth of adventures, we still didn’t see all the area had to offer. Future trips may take us to the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center, a boat trip out to the barrier islands or further explorations of downtown.

A Neighboring State

A Neighboring State

Heading east on I-10, a bathroom break for our finally potty-trained (yes!) 3-year-old turned into a destination at the Mississippi Welcome Center. The NASA shuttle stop first caught my attention, where buses were whisking families away to a tour of the nearby Stennis Space Center. Tugging August out of his carseat, I turned and caught a glimpse of the spider-shaped Lunar Lander hoisted in the air behind us. I just knew this was going to fascinate Charles as much as me, and I was giddy when I spun around to point it out to him.

He was nowhere in sight, and I had a moment of panic until I heard a familiar clacking noise. There he was, halfway across the well-manicured lawn, pushing his bubble-blowing lawnmower his cousin had given him for his birthday. I couldn’t believe the attention he was getting. At least seven people shouted comments his way, most asking him to come mow their yard next. He was oblivious to his audience, fully intent on his mission at hand. I sighed as I jogged over to redirect him to the original reason we stopped, while my husband Paul went inside the main lobby to add to our extensive collection of travel brochures.

Charles, August and the lawnmower

Back outside, I managed to convince the family to cross the street and view the Apollo-era Lunar Lander, but I never seemed to garner the awe and amazement I was shooting for. That lawnmower was just too much competition. Oh, well. At least I was impressed.

Beyond the Welcome Center, we had traveled that day to Mississippi to visit Pass Christian, a coastal town that was having their annual “Art in the Pass” festival. Nestled up snug against the Gulf Coast, the town was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and remnants of its damage could still be seen in the barren pillars marking the spots of past homes. But much of the town had returned, and the festival took place in a lovely park complete with a bandstand, playground and Marvin Miller’s oversized wooden sculptures carved into the remains of once mighty oak trees.

Art booths at Art in the Pass

Nearly 100 artists exhibited their works in booths, while local vendors offered up various options for lunch. We racked up in the children’s tent, leaving with a bag full of crayons, environmental coloring books and a stuffed sandhill crane. The event was typical of most other art festivals–except for the view. A quick run across Highway 90 and we were shoeless and walking across a sandy beach toward the water. It took the kids some time to get used to the squishy feeling between their toes, but soon Charles abandoned all reservations and was squealing with delight while chasing seagulls across the beach.

After a monumental effort to drag the kids back to the car, we headed off in search of coffee. Our quest led us along 90 over an impressive new bridge to Bay St. Louis. I was pleasantly surprised by the “downtown” area that ranked high on my list of best small towns. There wasn’t much time left in the day for a thorough investigation, but the drive by St. Stanislaus College Prep and our quick cruise up Main Street left me wondering why I had never been here before.