$30 million Anderson murals preserved in Ocean Springs

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - By Rebecca Powers – bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - A six foot long alligator with a curious, yet knowing grin lays waiting for a bird about to fly into his mouth for dinner. The life like Rosetta next to the stage is almost an exact replica of the stained glass at the Cathedral Chartres that rises on a hill above the River Eure in Chatres, France.

But Ocean Springs, Mississippi is where these works of art can be found on the walls of a tiny community center in the heart of quaint downtown. It's so perfect, some say it resembles Main Street in Disney World.

What makes these works of art so special is that they were painted by the hand of a now world renowned artist, the late Walter Anderson.

The City of Ocean Springs just found out they will get the half million dollars it needs to preserve and restore his work. The money comes from the state Department of Archives and History, an MDAH Hurricane Katrina grant and The National Park Service's "Save America's Treasures."

A "treasure" is exactly what the Anderson murals are to the people of Ocean Springs. In 1950, Walter Anderson was asked to paint the walls of his hometown's community center. Mayor Connie Moran's grandfather is depicted in the scene of D'Iberville's landing.

"The city and the board of supervisors, my grandfather Fred Moran was the president of the board of supervisors at that time, for one dollar to paint the flora and the fauna and the history of Ocean Springs," Moran said.

The Mandels came here from California to see the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and these famous murals in the attached community center where parties and wedding receptions are often held.

Zvia and Brian Mandel said, "It's marvelous. We've been wanting to see this for a long time, so we made a special trip to see it."

The Mandels said they heard of the rich history, combined with natural beauty, brought to life in these imaginative strokes from an artistic genius.

Now the internationally renowned artist's "one dollar" paint job is valued at more than $30 million. But the murals and the center are in need of some TLC, especially on the header near the kitchen.

Pointing above her head, the mayor explained, "There was some crumbling and that's because he actually painted on sheet rock, which of course crumbled over time. The rest are on plaster."

Mayor Moran said preservation actually began before Katrina, special UV windows were installed and drainage work was done outside to stop moisture intrusion.

"This is the most significant part the interior and we're ready to go forward with the restoration of the murals, new lighting system, bathrooms and also the bar area to make sure it's humidity controlled."

And the railings will be replaced with glass for more protection, but also enjoyment for those who treasure art and appreciate it like the Mandels.

"We've always known it's a wonderful style and we're looking forward to seeing it done. I love it, it's very colorful," the Mandels said.

So what did Anderson do with the dollar he was paid when the city commissioned his work in 1950? He never cashed the check.

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