“Nature does not like to be anticipated — it too often means death, I suppose — but loves to surprise.”
Walter Anderson wrote that in 1959, and it continues to resonate. When faculty, students and alumni of the Memphis College of Art spend time on Horn Island, they find myriad surprises. Their interpretations of nature, in turn, love to surprise those of us who view their works.
Through Aug. 22, these works from the group’s trips to the island are on display at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art in Ocean Springs. The artists use a variety of media — watercolor, metal, cut paper, acrylics, wood — to tell the very personal stories of their experiences.
Don DuMont, Memphis College of Art assistant professor and Horn Island Program director since 2006, first went to the barrier island in 1986 when he was invited by a former student, Coast artist Bill Nelson.
“That day ... has led to 33 years of experiencing all manner of conditions that a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico can bring,” DuMont writes in the introduction to the exhibition. “I’ve spent one hundred and seventy-five nights there and have worn out eight tents.”
The artists, cut off from the mainland and all its distractions, explore the island and experience all that is available there: the flora and fauna, the caprices of weather, the sunrises and sunsets and the deep, dark nights. They get to know the Horn Island that so entranced Anderson himself.
The works are as diverse as the artists.
A porcelain rabbit nestles in a framed and suspended copper-and-enamel seed pod in Stephanie Bray’s “Ovuliferous Lepus” from 2015. DuMont’s own “Thursday Friday Spirit,” made of mahogany, cypress and mild steel (2015) is a graceful shorebird holding a small fish in its up-tilted beak.
A delicate letterpress and cut paper series by Ruby Zielinski, “Leave No Trace” (2015), removes the island’s colors and puts the focus on stark white shapes and their shadows. “My goal was to create a feeling of the island’s ebb and flow through patterns that I had found,” she wrote.
“Ganderma Lucidium” by Kalon Fowler (2015) is a three-dimensional mixed-media piece that features tiny houses and sheds and bits of wooden “lichen” growing on the “hills” of a piece of driftwood.
“Mess Kit” by Spencer Laws (2016) “was created out of necessity,” Laws wrote. The red oak, walnut, poplar, aluminum and forged-steel work showcases “a specific set of utensils corresponding with the certain meals that we enjoy on the island.” The piece, Laws said, represents the group’s gatherings for dinner and talking about their individual experiences that day.
“Each one stands on its own,” WAMA curator Mattie Codling said of the artworks. “In my opinion, there’s not a piece in the entire exhibition that’s weak.”
The Walter Anderson Museum of Art is at 510 Washington Ave., Ocean Springs. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday; admission is $10 adults, $5 children (5-15), $8 seniors and students and $8 AAA and military. Details: 228-872-3164.