Katrina's Destruction of Shearwater Pottery

by John Anderson

When Katrina roared over Shearwater Pottery, 140 mile per hour winds accompanied by enormous waves destroyed almost everything there. Although it had been built on high ground in 1833 and survived many terrible hurricanes, the “ Front House” where Pat and Peter Anderson (founder of Shearwater Pottery) raised their family disappeared in a shower of splinters in this apocalyptic storm. Mac and Sara Anderson’s stone house, built of rammed earth during the Depression, also vanished with little trace. The cherished homes of Mary Anderson Pickard and Michael Anderson accompanied them into oblivion. The old two-story “ Barn”, a converted 1830’s carriage house where Sissy and Walter Anderson’s children grew up certain of the immutable security of their home, left only two piles of bricks where its four back-to-back fireplaces had stood. Billy and Carolyn Anderson’s strong brick home, built upon a foundation of love as well as concrete, and Jimmy and Margaret Anderson’s home, recently completed after years of waiting, were also destroyed. So were Walter Anderson’s cottage and the comfortable little house where Sissy Anderson lived out her later years so happily. Sixteen buildings, including nine Anderson family homes were destroyed on the Shearwater Pottery “compound”. The two family businesses, Shearwater Pottery and Realizations were also decimated. But these things were only the surface of the loss.

In its eighty years of existence Shearwater Pottery has come to mean something special to people all over the world. It became a reference point that allowed many people to feel a little better about their lives. People, like me, have held Shearwater in a special place deep within where we keep our most important treasures. When the front page of the newspaper has drowned us in a cacophony of mankind’s inhumanity and triviality we have been able to visit this quiet place within. Inside we have strolled down the shady lane at Shearwater, listened to a bird sing, watched a butterfly find a flower, and celebrated the creativity of a family of artists who have devoted themselves to a more joyful way of life for four generations. When we thought of Shearwater we realized that there were people in the world who could live and make a living just by creating beauty. In visiting this private place so close to our hearts we felt love for humanity and found the equanimity to live more joyfully ourselves in a harsh outer world where human dignity, integrity and humility seem to have become archaic concepts. How will people for whom the existence of such a place meant so much be affected by its destruction?

Katrina has cast a long shadow across their lives. If Shearwater Pottery represented the heart of living a more human existence to many people, Walter Anderson’s art may have represented its soul. One of the buildings gutted by the storm was a small reinforced concrete building that was carefully constructed three feet above the level of storm surge in Hurricane Camille. It had a very heavy outer door and a heavy metal inner door with an air lock between the two. It was called “ The Vault” and it housed almost all of Walter Anderson’s art. After the storm the outer door had been ripped off. The inner door was bashed in and the building had been filled with water. Art that took the breath away from everyone who ever saw the depth of its creativity had filled this building to the ceiling before the storm. After the storm it had become a dark, wet cavern. Eighty to ninety percent of Walter Anderson’s art went under water during Hurricane Katrina. A lifetime of creativity was submerged in the turbulent waters of the storm. The loss of this much art has shaken those who love his visionary work to the core.

For these people Walter Anderson was an event as much as he was a person. In Hudson’s Green Mansions there is a flower that blooms somewhere in the Amazon rain forest once every hundred years. It never blooms in the same place twice so the likelihood of anyone ever seeing it is practically nil. Seeing Walter Anderson’s art was like seeing that flower. It expanded our consciousness of the mysterious beauty and order that exists in the universe.

Now Hurricane Katrina has swept over this flower of human creativity. Walter Anderson’s art, like the life of the artist himself, now bears the deep scars of adversity. It is bent and bruised. Some of the colors have run. But, the spirit which created it still shines through. Like the spirit of the people of the Gulf Coast, it is not gone. If properly cared for by skilled conservators his art will bear the marks of this experience with dignity. If it is properly restored it will inspire our children’ s children. But “ if” is a big word.

Although Walter Anderson’s family is struggling to rescue his art their resources have been severely depleted. Proper conservation of the art that has been rescued will be a costly process that should be started immediately. His family needs the help of people who care. They need the help of people who comprehend that the inspiration of art can be as important to the spirit of human beings as food is to the body and that this artist, because of his unusual relationship to nature, is particularly inspirational.

Save Walter's Art
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Please help to rescue enough of Walter Anderson’s art so that his message to humanity is not lost to future generations. A 'Walter Anderson Art Conservation Fund' has been setup exclusively for the restoration of Walter Anderson art damaged by Hurricane Katrina. You can make a non-tax-deductible donation to that fund through Paypal in the box on the right. For more information on how to help in general e-mail John Anderson.

To obtain information about how to help with the Shearwater Pottery recovery efforts e-mail Scott Ashley or visit www.shearwater.org