The love for the screen printing she does everyday is easy to see when Carolyn Anderson talks about the process. The studio walls where she works on the Shearwater property are even printed with many of her father-in-law Walter Anderson’s beautiful images as a tribute. She calls it her happy place.
Married to Billy Anderson, the oldest son of the late artist, she’s been involved with the family’s artistic endeavors for 51 years. Billy managed Bayou Marine for 50 years and is now president of the Anderson family. The couple married in 1964.
But backing up a bit, she’s from Biloxi and worked in her family’s business, R. Fournier & Sons Seafood, as a bookkeeper. After marrying Billy Anderson, she was enlisted by the late Agnes Anderson – Gran to the family – to type the Horn Island Logs. That led to Gran teaching Carolyn Anderson to make block prints with the 300 linoleum blocks made by the artist, a time-consuming process.
“Back then we got nine or 10 orders a week,” Anderson recalls. “The blocks were getting in bad shape. Depending on the weather, they took a long time to dry. It was impossible for one person to work with the large blocks; my daughters helped me.”
Anderson’s dedication to preserving the blocks was such that the family’s book, Form and Fantasy: The Block Prints of Walter Anderson, was dedicated to her.
As block printing was dying, screen printing became the way to go. Anderson learned the process from Ken Clifford who did early screen printing at the World’s Fair in New Orleans. “He came to our house to teach me using sheets for practice,” she recalls. “We later converted all the images from the block prints and gave the blocks to the museum.”
The Andersons lost their Shearwater home during Hurricane Katrina and lived for a time with her cousins, Linda and Larry Feister. “While digging through debris for any keepsakes I could salvage from my home, I began collecting any silkscreens I could find,” Anderson says. “Some were found across the harbor. I cleaned what I could and began repairing what I could, beginning with the most popular images.”
Anderson and her able assistant, Marie Helm, use the traditional screen printing method of silk stretched on wooden frames coated with an emulsion. The fabric turns into a material that’s between rubber and plastic that has to totally dry. There are several steps to complete the process in the dark room. The cotton paper used for printing the images is made specifically for them in France. It’s all done in black and white and local painters add color.
“I don’t think people realize what they do here,” says Anderson’s daughter Dodie Bertolino. “It’s all done by hand, not mass produced.”
Helm, who’s a graphic designer and has worked with Anderson for 30 years, pointed to her and said, “She’s a master screen printer.”
Because the late artist did not use a ruler in his work, measurements for transferring the images can be painstaking. They’ve printed on a variety of items and say they’re sometimes surprised by the requests such as the order for screen printing a yoga mat. Many of the artist’s paintings are rich with detail including animals, flowers, plants, stars, swirls and curlicues. That makes it easy to choose a small image from a large painting and give it a starring role in screen printing. The alligator is the biggest seller followed by the pelican, deer, rabbit and turtle. “We can always make something new. We call it playing,” Anderson said.
Things picked up after the screen printers were featured on the television show Home Town on HGTV.
The screen printers get orders from the family’s shop, Realizations, that was started by Anderson’s middle daughter, Mary Anderson Mumeoka. “I have three wonderful girls, Dodie, Mary and Rosalie,” she says. “They’ve all been involved in some way and now I have a granddaughter who’s involved.”
Although Helm and Bertolino do some digital printing, Anderson is dedicated to screen printing and has no thoughts of retiring as her 80th birthday approaches next month. She does, however, have other interests that include going to Horn Island with her daughters and six grandchildren, gardening and fishing. True to her Biloxi roots, she can still throw a cast net. She also enjoys her cousins who formed a Cousins Club to go out to eat and spend a little time at a local casino each month.
“I thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed upon my family,” she says.