Horn Island 1985-2007

To me Horn Island is paradise.  The bright hot sun, the blinding white sand, and the mosquitoes combine to take you away from your everyday world on the mainland. The comforts you take for granted  are replaced by living in a tent for seven days and nights under the starry night and hugh orange moon.  The white light cleanses your optics and opens you to the sheer beauty of the island.

It all started in 1985 when my nephew Matt Kuluz living in New Orleans with me said” you wanna go out to the island? Some of my friends are out there camping.” I spent my childhood on these barrier islands, Ship, Horn, Deer, Petit Bois fishing and swimming, and frolicking, but never camping.  Not one to pass up a chance to go out to Horn I agreed to go. And sure enough there were people in tents sitting some what forlornly on this barrier island. Matt with his friends from Pascagoula ferried the group to and from the island on private boats. It turned out they were a group of art students from the Memphis College of Art under the leadership of Professor Bob Riseling or our fearless leader as he became known.

And believe me it took courage and determination in the early days to bring this experience to the art students from Memphis. One year a lightening storm produced a startling array of strikes coming right out of the sand.  As one student said,” Good thing we’re on a sandbar”.  Or when one strike seemed too close for comfort, ” That was a good one”.

There was the year of the mosquito when millions of mosquitoes swarmed day and night and survival meant defeating them at every turn. Nothing focuses the mind like fighting bugs whose only  purpose in life is to suck your blood.

For twelve years  I was part of the local group from Pascagoula who camped on Horn Island. The inspiration for the adventure is the life and work of artist Walter Anderson. The unspoiled vistas, rich marine life and hundreds of species of birds provided inspiration for many of Anderson’s paintings , sculptures and writings . Legend has it he would oar is skiff out to Horn Island, turn the boat on its side for shelter and spend days drawing the local fauna and flora. His drawings of blue crabs are among his best work and can be seen at the Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.

For the art students the trip is an opportunity to unplug and unleash their creativity and the resulting works ultimately comprise the yearly MCA Horn Island Exhibition.  The work which I contributed to this exhibition was lost in Hurricane Katrina.  However I found the inspiration again and produced the following series of paintings of Horn Island.  My Camp Site, Horn Island, is my favorite as it recalls my first visit to the camp with my beloved nephew to see how small the people looked against the broad, natural landscape of this beautiful island.  Horn Island #1, #2, #3 are paintings of the vistas of the Gulf of Mexico, island, Gulf, as seen from a boat as one approaches the island or from the eyes of pelicans flying overhead.

My ever, everlasting memory of camping on Horn Island is the experience of the first day: landing offshore in waist deep water, carrying your tent and supplies to the beach, trudging through the sand to your campsite while the young strong lads set up the posts for the main tent.  After setting up your tent and unpacking, the sighing begins, how  in one short year since your last trip you had forgotten the sheer quiet beauty of this place.

Barbecue was not big in New Orleans then, so it was such a treat to have Bob place his foiled Pork Shoulders to warm on the grill to serve as our first meal on our first night on Horn Island.  I learned that they were from The Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest where Bob often placed with his secret ingredient barbecue sauce.  So good!  Such wonderful memories!

Thanks Bob.