Anna H. Walter is an extraordinary artist. Anna was born in New York and has lived in New York her entire life. Anna has an admirable positive outlook on life despite the challenges that she has encountered. Anna sees art in everything. For our Art Cards and Holiday Bazaar exhibition, we were very happy to display Anna's tote bags with her mixed media art cards. I loved spending time with Anna in her home and studio and it was honor to get to know her and her work on a deeper level.
BH: What prompted you to become an artist?
AW: When I was in first grade, the teacher setup easels, poster paint, big paint brushes with red paint, and jars. I drew a girl. I was having a ball. I took the brush and put it in the paint and then I splattered the paint. I watched it drip down and I was in awe. I thought, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. But the teacher came over and because I wasn't in the box, she said to me "Anna, you're so messy." I laughed. I burst out laughing because I realized that she doesn't understand what joy this is. That is when I decided that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
BH: How did you get into textile design?
AW: I studied fine arts at School of the Visual Arts. After graduating, I did clerical work. It was mindless so I could still do my art. When my son was three I began to look for a job that I could stick with. I was speaking with my son's nursery school teacher and she asked me what I was good at. I replied that my color sense is great and I can do design. She suggested that I go to FIT and see if I could do something with design, so I did. I got a full scholarship. I then did textile design for eight years.
BH: What happened next?
AW: Then I started to have trouble with my eyes. My retinas tore. My retinas were fused and I now see pretty well. My left eye is almost perfect. It hasn't affected my art because all of the pictures are in my brain. I was freelancing as a textile designer but I did not have benefits. I needed benefits, so I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The only position they had was the guard position, which I took.
A younger guard at the Met did this drawing of me. He asked me what I did when I was young. I said, I used to do the frug, which is a dance. He did this sketch of me.
I was a guard for five years when I was approached for a position in the Lost and Found/Uniform Room. We were in charge of the security guards tailoring and lost and found. There were three of us. I was the first woman that they had down there. I started in 1988 and I retired in 2001/2. When I had the spine surgery, they gave me a year to come back because it was a very physical job. It was a two year recuperation before I could feel normal. I went on disability and then I retired early. But the good thing is that it freed me up to do my art.
BH: Can you tell me about this piece?
AW: This piece is about my body. I had two ten hour operations to fuse my spine in 2001/2. The surgeries were scheduled back to back over two weeks. When I came home, I started doing visual journals. With the visual journals I am able to transform all of the bad stuff that I've gone through. At first, I could physically only do postcard size watercolors. I don't time my work, but this took about a year or two. I tried to transform my body with all the hardware and all that I went through. It was a two year recuperation. I had to learn how to use my limbs again. I transformed my body into the ocean and things that make me happy: the ocean, the Jersey shore, there is a lot of New York in the background because that is my environment.
AW: My art and my creatively are the one thing that I can rely on. When I am making my art, I don't think of anything. I am in the moment. The text in this piece "I wore my heart on my sleeve" refers to how I am sensitive and I wish I was more teflon. I have heart, which I suppose is a good thing.
BH: What inspires your work today?
AW: I focus on seeing things as I walk down the street. I have always looked at the way moss grows out of cement. Most people don't notice, but if I look at the sidewalk, I see murals.
I was with my son and Ned and these were by the garbage but not in the garbage. The workers must have stopped for the day. I said to my son, they are throwing these away, could you pick them up for me. My son said, are you sure that's legal. I said, to the workers it is garbage, but to me that's art. It is the life of NYC, that people have walked over. It is the activity. It's alive.