Posts Tagged ‘Agnes Grinstead Anderson’


November 30, 2014

Walter & His Models (fall woods behind) 001 (2)

On this day in 1965

my father breathed his last breath

before departing his body

to become the breath we continue to breathe.

It seems strange but in some way fitting that I should wait to do this post until this day. The pot came out of the kiln weeks ago, days after my time at the annex seemed to run out. It is certainly not the best pot done during my sojourn there, but because of the subject matter – my father’s surprising appearance on the pot – I chose to keep it. The time since has been a struggle to adapt to change, to attempt to live well while dealing with the discomfort of transition. Sadness has been part of it. Don’t we all grieve when something is over?

Truthfully, even during my last few weeks at the annex, I had been feeling the urge to grow beyond what I was doing there. I thought to take what I had learned to a whole new level. I had sculpted clay in the past, now there was the potential for expanding that…bringing incising, painting and glazing to the sculptured form. I dreamt of sculpted vessels that might invite the decorative element. But newness can be as frightening as it can be exciting. Thence the struggle…

I think of my father…

of his choice to go it alone…

his need to create and grow so powerful

that he chose to leave his wife and children…

to forego the sweetness of intimate companionship

for the sake of his quest.

He chose suffering along with art and ecstasy:

his suffering and ours.

Fatherhood seems to be

less compelling a force than motherhood.

My mother was an artist, too.

Walter & His Models (detail) 009 (713x1024) (2)

Yet she relinquished all to serve this man:

as wife available to model for the painter

and to share his bed,

as mother to his children while he looked elsewhere…

for that which waited to be translated by his brush.

Walter & His Models (detail) 007 (1024x736) (2)Walter & His Models (detail) 008 (1024x798) (2)Walter loved animals,

and this I understand with all my heart.

But he loved birds more:

their flight, their freedom, their variety.

My father hovered on the outskirts

of my life with mama and my siblings.

When hovering,

one can be ready in an instant to take flight.

I think I understand.

Walter & His Models 005 (673x1024) (2)



May 12, 2013

Julia at WAMA (With Her Classmates) in The Community Center 109 (1024x677) (3)I was still recovering when my son, Vanja, asked me to meet my granddaughter’s  class at the museum for their tour, and I had my doubts. But, when he told me Julia had asked if Nanny would be there, I knew I would go.

There must have been at least twenty children and adults in our “tour”, and my little camera did overtime as I focused and shot, determined to record their journey. Yet, later, when I looked at the shots of the larger group, I found a need to pull closer…to select and crop in order to catch the response of small groups and individuals. Each child matters so much in the overall experience.

It has been more than two weeks since that joyous day with Julia and her classmates, and time has allowed me to gaze upon faces and gestures and come to know them a bit. I am also revisiting my extraordinary father’s murals through their pristine perceptions. I thank them for that.

Julia at WAMA (A Dance of Hands) in The Community Center 118 (1024x768) (2)It all started with Melissa, who greeted the children at the door and escorted them into The Community Center: a large room originally built for community functions. In the fifties my father was paid a dollar to paint murals on the walls. One wall would depict the history of our little town of Ocean Springs. The rest of the room would be painted according to the artist’s choosing. (I was taking ballet lessons in the room while my father was painting those walls.) Melissa established a rapport with children from the beginning. She is a marvelous storyteller and teacher, and part of being a kindergartener is getting close and bonding with a teacher.  As I looked through these images, hands and faces seemed as expressive as the painted murals. In fact they seemed to be interdependent.  Their union completes the picture.

Julia at WAMA (Can We Fly, Too) in The Community Center 113 (1024x661) (2)

I think I will never see this pelican again without also seeing the enthusiastic raising of small hands.

Julia at WAMA (I Love You, Nanny) in The Community Center 106 (1024x713) (2)Nor will I ever forget the loving gaze I received from Julia. I still feel the love that she paused to send in her Nanny’s direction. Her happiness was palpable, and I was, amazingly, part of that.

 Inspired by her love Julia at WAMA ( My Father's Birds) in The Community Center 121 (768x1024) (2)

and my father’s spiraling birds,

I led the children in a small dance of bird-like freedom.

Julia was ready;

 her lovely arms were ascending,

unfolding in the Airth way to form wings.

Child-wings soon filled the air,

eyes were alight with flight.

I may have been a grandmother

and the air around me filled

with fledglings,

Yet, together, we were dancing/flying with my father’s birds.

Julia at WAMA (The Light Is Passed) in The Little Room 140 (925x1024) (2)After an extremely reluctant descent from the world of bird, the still softly peeping children were led by the patient Melissa down the long hallway to The Little Room.

The Little Room was once attached to Walter Anderson’s cottage on the Shearwater Pottery compound. For many years after my father’s death in 1965, visitors were led into the painted room as into the holy of holies, often by my mother, the artist’s wife.

Mama’s reverence for the room

was now echoed by Melissa.

Her rapt expression even reminded me

of my mama’s…

as the light from the window caused her to glow

along with the walls.

I remember Mama standing in the room

her arm raised and her hand

all turned to light.

Here, now, was little Julia standing

beside Melissa

her small hand turned to light.

And all the children were receiving…


Julia at WAMA (Enthralled By Beauty) in The Little Room 137 (1024x953) (2)

To Write – To Remember

May 28, 2012

After Daddy was gone and Mama had retired from teaching, she began to write down her memories of her life with her husband, Walter Inglis Anderson.  As aften happens with the process of writng and remembering, her original purpose of writing a biography of the artist turned into something more complex and revealing. She could not help telling her own story, and – to some extent – that of her children and other family members. The telling absorbed her and by the time her enormous output was compiled into a small perfect jewel of a book, she was elderly and would soon be diagnosed with cancer. Yet she had her moment in the light, and the joy of living the writer’s life and being embraced by her readers.

Recently, I have been writing and remembering my mother, and by so doing revealing myself in relation to her. I pray that my own devotion to this project will be a way of honoring my mother, and also honoring the connection we had as mother and daughter. I have already published one vignette on this blog. Now here is another.


            From my birth, through my childhood, and most of my adulthood, my Mama had exceptionally long hair, and hair-washing day was something of a ritual. It happened once a week, usually on a Saturday. At least this is what I remember from my own long ago weekend hair-washings, for my hair was also encouraged to grow long and lush.

While Mama’s hair was still wrapped in a towel from being dunked, scrubbed and rinsed, a chair was placed backward against the bathroom sink and it was my turn. It was never comfortable – leaning back against the hard cold porcelain, my neck stretched and straining with the weight of my long wet hair – but my mama’s hands were good: long-fingered and thorough, yet gentle and somehow made of love. To keep me from squirming or getting impatient, she told a story. The one I recall, with some amazement, was about the kingdom of the drain devils and the various adventures of the royal couple and their subjects. Mixed with my fascination was a certain frisson of fear; for wasn’t I helplessly suspended above those very drains? There was some relief when my hair squeaked clean and I followed my Mama out to the porch, my own towel turban in place. Once there, we would set our hair free to hang long, loose and accessible to the warmth of the sun. As the story was resumed, I watched my mother’s hair take on light. The top strands broke free from the damp under-hair and rose to make a shining gold aura around her head and upper body. I never could decide if she looked like a witch or an angel.

In later years, coming upon my elderly mother, on another porch, but still with the long hair streaming and celebrating its once-a-week freedom from the careful bun, the drying strands danced silvery in the sunlight. I rejoiced at the sight and sat on the swing beside her, hoping for a story to begin. These days it was more apt to be a family legend sort of tale, but whatever it was or however many times I had heard it, I listened rapt to Mama’s golden delivery. I did love to hear of her childhood at Oldfields, when life was more simply and graciously lived, and beauty was an accepted aspect of everyday living. Present-day trips to the supermarket seemed terribly mundane compared to barrels of groceries coming by train from Solari’s in New Orleans. I could just see my little-girl-mama and her sister, Pat, in their lacy white dresses, watching with excited anticipation the opening of those barrels.

Another sort of family legend that has stayed with me and affected me profoundly is the story of Malena Gaspari, a young Jewish woman who escaped Spain by cutting off her hair and donning masculine clothing. Her remarkable action saved her life and the lives of her descendants. Her fortitude and courage accompanied me on many a journey that I was sure was of the life-saving sort. Her long ago existence in some way gave credence to my own. Any journey that I feel compelled to embark upon due to untenable circumstances seems blessed by Malena, and also by Mama who made sure that I heard her story.

When my mother, Agnes Grinstead Anderson, became a published author, she cut off the hair that for so long had seemed to be her crowning glory. She signed copies of APPROACHING THE MAGIC HOUR in a face-framing bob that gave her a strong assertive look quite different from the long familiar feminine softness of her braided crown or bun. She seemed to come into her own with her words in print, her story told and read by many. I think that during that last year (before her illness) she became her crowning glory. Her whole being rose to the sunlight of fulfillment.