Few artists have ever had a spiritual connection to nature as intense as the one experienced by Walter Inglis Anderson. He was born in New Orleans in 1903, where his father was a successful grain merchant and his mother encouraged her sons to explore their own creativity while exposing them to art, music, and literature. Following high school, Anderson continued his education first at Parson's School of Design in New York, but disliked city life and left after one year. In 1923, he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and won the coveted Cresson scholarship in 1927.
Anderson used his scholarship to travel to Paris, in part to seek out esoteric spiritual guidance. As a student at the Pennsylvania Academy he attended a lecture where he was introduced to mystical Russian teachings that centered on the idea that there is an unseen dimension which is invisible to the unenlightened, but unifies all of creation. This idea that man and nature are both part of a larger unity remained with him throughout his life. By the time he returned to the United States in 1929, Anderson was approaching art from a unique and unusual standpoint. He did not seek monetary gain or fame as an artist. For him, the act of making art was a spiritual exercise in which one might reveal life's universal truths.
Anderson reunited with his family who had relocated to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and worked alongside his brother at the family business, Shearwater Pottery, decorating vases and other household items. Although he did not enjoy working with pottery, it provided him with a comfortable enough living to marry in 1933. In 1934, he painted an expansive mural in the auditorium of Ocean Springs High School as part of the WPA program. In 1937 Anderson planned to execute a mural for the court house in Jackson, but was denied government funding at the last minute. This frustration was heightened by the fact that he had grown very restless with his work at Shearwater Pottery. The death of his father that same year proved to be the breaking point and he suffered a mental breakdown. Anderson spent the years 1938-1940 in and out of psychiatric hospitals battling depression and psychotic episodes.
In 1941, Anderson moved with his family to his wife’s family estate, in Gautier, Mississippi, known as Oldfields. Over the next few years, Anderson explored various forms of creative expression including drawing, painting, block printmaking, writing short stories, putting on puppet shows, building his own kiln and cottage, and spending a good deal of time with his two children. However, in 1947 Anderson abruptly left his family and moved back to Ocean Springs.
Upon returning to Ocean Springs, Anderson became very reclusive and spent much of his time on a deserted island off the coast known as Horn Island. On the island, he lived in primitive conditions--often using his overturned rowboat for shelter--and painted the natural life around him. Anderson felt by painting the natural world, an artist had the ability to unite art and nature into a single thing that has its own place in the universal order of the world. Though he had received formal training, Anderson preferred to work in a primitive, colorful, and repetitive style. He recorded watercolor images of Horn Island in a logbook and completed a mural for the Ocean Springs Community Center in which he connected the environment of the Gulf Coast to celestial bodies in the universe. For Anderson, producing art was not a method of working towards a finished product, but rather a way to experience the world around him.