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James Anderson at workshop window.

Shearwater Pottery still selling affordable art after 91 years

By BECKY GILLETTE

A small business institution in Ocean Springs, Shearwater Pottery, has been drawing visitors from far and wide now for 91 years since it was founded by what might be considered the “first family” of Ocean Springs, the Andersons.

Peter Wade Anderson working.

The painter Walter Anderson earned considerable fame for his nature drawings and artwork such as decorating pottery and the walls of the Ocean Springs Community Center. His brother, Peter Anderson, founded Shearwater Pottery. Walter helped decorate the pottery and a third brother, James McConnell “Mac” Anderson, also painted the pottery thrown by Peter.

The 24-acre Shearwater property was purchased by the parents of the Anderson brothers in 1918. Peter studied art in Pennsylvania and opened Shearwater for business in 1928. A couple of years after that, Walter and Mac joined him.

Peter’s son, Jim, and his son, Peter Wade Anderson, are the current potters in a rustic shed located on the Shearwater property near the harbor that also contains the showroom.  Marjorie Ashley, Peter’s daughter, was business manager of Shearwater Pottery for 33 years and is still active in the business. Her daughter, Beth Ashley, is the current business manager. Mac’s daughter Margaret Anderson Cockrell, makes the prints that are sold at Shearwater. Mac’s youngest daughter, Adelle Anderson Lawton, works for Shearwater Pottery as a decorator.

Shearwater Pottery was devastated in Hurricane Katrina, including homes on the property owned by the family. “We lost our homes and our businesses,” Marjorie said. “We have some who have built back and some who haven’t. Three cousins live on the place.”

The family rented a room in Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center until they could rebuild after Katrina. There was a major celebration of the reopening of the Shearwater showroom on St. Patrick’s Day 2007. For many, it was a major highlight of the Katrina recovery in Ocean Springs.

Marjorie’s daughter, Beth, moved from Nashville, Tenn., after Katrina.

“We had to get computerized,” Marjorie said. “Beth has gotten us more up to date.”

Even after reopening, there were challenges. After Katrina, some thought Shearwater was permanently out of business.

“During that period, it was a little scary,” Beth said. “We did more advertising because rumor had it that we were not coming back after Katrina. Hurricane Katrina hit in August, and we were making pottery again by December. There was no way we were going to stay out of business. But it was a challenge trying to make pottery offsite.”

Peter Anderson working in the Shearwater Pottery workshop, which is now 91 years old.

Today most of their advertising is that which supports local schools and Ocean Springs charitable activities. The business contributes a lot to silent auctions.

Shearwater Pottery’s fame has spread far beyond Ocean Springs or even Mississippi. They have customers from all over the U.S. and from many foreign countries.

“People have supported us over the years,” Marjorie said. “As long as people support us and care about the pottery, we can keep going. We did grow up on these 24 acres, and all the family whether involved or not loves this family’s work. If you love what you are selling to the public, I think that helps a great deal. And it is a nice place to come. It is a refuge away from the concrete world which people very much need right now.”

Beth used to be surprised at how well-recognized Shearwater is.

“When in Nashville, people would ask, ‘Where did you get all this Shearwater pottery?”, Beth said. “I was able to find a lot of Shearwater pottery at antique stores in that area. It is well known. We even have customers in Germany and other foreign countries. If you watch EBay, you get even more of a feeling for how many people chase Shearwater around.”

The pottery is reasonably priced. Beth said they could charge more, but the idea has always been to have art that was affordable to the average person. “We wanted to maintain a fair price point,” she said.

Another major legacy of Shearwater is the Peter Anderson Arts and Crafts Festival held the first weekend in November. More than 400 vendors are expected this year for the event that attracts an estimated 150,000 people having a major economic impact in the town.

“It is a pretty big deal,” Beth said. “It always surprises me that this festival draws such a big crowd. For local people, it is kind of like a family reunion. The whole family comes into town for the festival.”

Shearwater is one of the oldest businesses in Ocean Springs. But the offerings today are just as popular as in decades past.

“It is important that we ring true with younger generations,” Beth said. “We still do wedding registries. It is not like shopping at Dillard’s. It is one-of-a-kind things people love. And they enjoy coming out here to shop. It is a little peace out here away from the hustle and bustle. Some people just come out for that reason.”

They have a museum room with historic pieces that is a favorite with visitors. There are some people who come just to visit the museum.

“And we don’t mind that,” Beth said. “Visiting can be an emotional thing that brings back good memories. Some came here on school tours when they were young. We had a couple come in for their 70th wedding anniversary. They had come in here on their honeymoon 70 years earlier.”

Visitors are allowed to visit the pottery workshop during work hours weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30.

“People enjoy watching them make pots,” Beth said.

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About Becky Gillette