Shearwater Pottery, which has been not just a hallmark business and tourist attraction since 1928 but central to the identity of Ocean Springs, is back home. In March, the landmark had a grand re-opening of its showroom that drew large crowds on a beautiful spring morning.
Hurricane Katrina devastated the Shearwater compound located across from the Ocean Springs Harbor that was home not just to the pottery studio and showroom but many members of the Anderson family. The showroom and some homes were totally destroyed, and the rustic pottery studio and annex were heavily damaged.
Guests who attended the grand re-opening walked on antique-flavored floors that had been salvaged from the old showroom and some of the homes that were destroyed. The floor varies from dark shades of oak to lighter heart pine. Quite a lot of other building materials recycled from the storm were used in the rebuilding of Shearwater.
“We salvaged as much as we could,” said Marjorie Anderson Ashley, business manager of Shearwater. “It took me six months to get a building permit, and my son, Patrick Ashley, the contractor, built the showroom in seven months.”
Piece of history
After Hurricane Katrina made landfall August 29, 2005, Shearwater Pottery moved into three rooms rented from the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center on Government Street. One room was used for pottery, one for the cast ware and decorating department, and one for sales.
Ashley said Shearwater’s customers largely managed to find them during the time it was at the O’Keefe Center. But they also often came out to Shearwater before it was rebuilt.
“I think they just couldn’t comprehend us being anywhere else,” Ashley said.
But the traffic at the center was nothing compared to the crowd that showed up to celebrate the reopening. People stood 10 to 20 deep in line to purchase a piece of pottery to mark the historic occasion.
“Saturday was amazing,” Ashley said. “We had four or five workers making sales and wrapping, so it moved pretty well. People arrived even before the opening at 9 a.m. and it didn’t start thinning out until sometime in the afternoon. We had refreshments and I think just about everyone who came made some sort of purchase. The people seemed happy. They were very patient. From comments in the visitor’s book, I think there was a feeling of gladness for another thing being back and stable in their lives.”
Shearwater Pottery, which will be 79 years old this fall, stands as a symbol for tenacity. The compound was so heavily desolated by the hurricane that initially it might have been hard to even envision it all put back together.
The new buildings, like the showroom that was designed by architect Bill Allen Jr., have been elevated because of new FEMA flood elevation guidelines, and that gives an even more scenic view of the harbor, the Mississippi Sound and Deer Island.
Ashley said it is important for business and home owners not to give up.
“It is difficult, but things do get better if you persist,” she said. “And I don’t think that building rules and regulations of the town are deliberately making it difficult. They are trying to comply with the federal regulations. It was difficult, and it did take time.
Patience was a necessary thing in our lives through this.”
Jim Anderson, the son of the original founder of the business, Peter Anderson, was impressed by the turnout for the re-opening.
“It makes you feel appreciated,” said Anderson, who is living in a travel trailer next to the pottery shed while the finishing touches are put on his new cypress-sided home next door. “Shearwater was well known before I ever started work here. Everyone knew my family. There were a lot of articles about Shearwater.”
Anderson, who has been head potter since 1984, considers himself more of a craftsman than an artist. Most of the pottery is functional dinnerware. But when throwing literally hundreds of pots, sometimes there is one that stands out. It turns out particularly well, and that elevates it to the category of “art.”
“A lot of art comes out of Shearwater, but many potters think of themselves as craftsmen rather than artists,” he said.
The secret to the success for a potter? You have to be very good at it, and put in the time that it takes.
“It comes down to ability and hard work,” he said.
Anderson said while they can’t produce enough pottery to meet the demand, they feel very lucky that their work is so popular.
“As far as the business goes, we are pretty much completely rebuilt,” he said. “We have a few more things to touch up. We have every operation to the point we can run full on if we had the help. We are still looking for some more help. We have that trouble from time to time. It is hard to get someone willing to stay around for a long time. Sometimes it is easy to find someone and sometimes it is tough. It is matter of getting lucky.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.