Q&A:Gayle Petty-Johnson 

Executive Director of the Walter Anderson Museum

The Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, is the only museum open on the Gulf Coast. Although it is located three blocks from a beach where homes were turned into sawdust by Hurricane Katrina, the museum escaped, but not unscathed. With tourism nearly nonexistent, the museum dedicated to preserving the works of an extraordinary watercolorist, sculptor, potter, and printmaker is currently operating with a skeleton crew of six people. But according to museum executive director Gayle Petty-Johnson, "everything could have been worse."

-- by Chris Davis

Flyer: How much of Walter Anderson's work was damaged?

Petty-Johnson: Some of the works at the Shearwater complex that were privately owned [by Anderson's family] sustained damage because the vault floated and water got under the door and damaged prints, drawings, and watercolors. None of these were things that are in the museum's collection.

There's nothing worse for a watercolor than water.

Evidently, salt water isn't quite as bad. [The pieces] won't be as vibrant but will have a kind of beauty. And because [Anderson] was so prolific there are a lot of pieces that weren't damaged. The water didn't get to the top of the vault.

Any idea how much was lost?

[These pieces] weren't cataloged. They were just in a box with tissue sheets between them.

Not all of the museum's collection made it through unscathed, though.

We have a second, off-site, vault that's 10 miles north of I-10. You'd think that would be okay, but there was a bayou nearby, and there was a surge.

And it got all of Anderson's printing plates?

In 1945, [Anderson] was able to get this linoleum from battleships, and in a year he carved a little more than 300 [printing] blocks [from the linoleum]. ... Of 280 [printing blocks], 173 were damaged. They were in special cases, but the water went to within a foot of the ceiling, and it took 10 National Guardsmen to get them out for us.

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