Monday, July 11, 2016

Ocean Springs Mississippi

By Jeff Burns

French Louisiana started in 1699 when Pierre Le Moyne D’Iberville established Fort Maurepas on the Gulf Coast.  Fort Maurepas became Old Biloxi and New Biloxi soon became the capital of French Louisiana for a couple of decades before the capital was moved to New Orleans.  Fort Maurepas eventually became the town of Ocean Springs.  Look up Ocean Springs, and the word “quaint” is probably not too far removed. Ocean Springs became a resort town, with a great shopping district of small shops, and an artists’ colony with artists setting up shop and practicing painting, sculpting, and ceramics and pottery. Today, it’s a small city of 15,000 or so with a thriving tourist trade as people are drawn by the Gulf Coast beach, camping, and arts.

We camped in the Davis Bayou RV park of the Gulf Shores National Seashore, our inaugural run with our new (to us) pop-up camper. It was a great site, conveniently located, with great amenities.  There is a nice visitors center and plenty of walking and biking trails for exploring the bayou, and it’s within easy access of town and beach.

The must-do activity in town was a revelation to us: the Walter Anderson Museum.  Walter Inglis Anderson was a Gulf Coast artist of the 20th century, whom we had never heard of before, but we very quickly fell in love with his work.  His life was marked by struggles with mental illness, and his art reflects the natural world around him as well as primitive influences from around the world.  He would leave his home and family and row out to Horn Island, a barrier island offshore, for weeks of inspiration. He comes from a family of artists. His mother started the artists’ colony, and his brothers were also accomplished artists.  The whole family worked in paints, sculpture, and ceramics.

If you find yourself as enamored by Anderson’s work as we were, you’ll want to go to Realizations, a store owned by Anderson’s children, which sells prints and gifts featuring his art.  As a bonus, it’s located in the Ocean Springs Visitors Center, a restored train depot. Then, go to Shearwater Pottery, located on Anderson family land and showcasing pottery created by Anderson family members. 

Spend the rest of the time exploring the galleries and boutiques of Washington Avenue. You’re sure to find something you have to take home.  Hungry?  There’s plenty of good food.  We had a great breakfast at Buzzy’s Breakfast Joint, Mediterranean lunch at Phoenicia, and Vietnamese dinner at Pho. Another must-eat in Ocean Springs is Aunt Jenny’s Catfish Restaurant, offering all you can eat shrimp, catfish, and the all the fixins’.  Great food, service, and a great bayou view. 

Bayou View at Aunt Jenny's