Young Bobby Walters would comb the monthly magazines along with the Hattiesburg American for those ads that said: “Draw Me!” He would reproduce the published silhouette, send it off, and receive a letter proclaiming his extraordinary talent. But his mother would say that the correspondence courses cost too much—$150 was a lot of money in the early 1950s.
Then there was a small classified ad for a painting class sponsored by the city of Hattiesburg. Bobby went to the Community Center each Monday night during the school year when he was sixteen through eighteen and worked in oils under the instruction of Charles Ambrose. And when it came time to enroll at the University of Southern Mississippi, there was Professor Ambrose on the faculty and making sure that Bobby could take an art course each quarter. Soon he was learning about the challenges, thrills, and pitfalls of painting with watercolor.
Bobby officially majored in commercial art and notes that the draftsmanship cultivated in those studies—before the age of computers—helped him considerably in his painting. But his first job offer in commercial art amounted to less than he had been earning working the night shift at a service station. Instead, he helped his grandfather and uncle wire houses for a while, worked with air conditioning for a few years, then became a salesman for an electrical supply company. He had learned a lot about houses by this point and launched into what has been a very successful career in real estate. But about a decade ago, a dear friend and colleague died, and Bobby reassessed his priorities. He had never stopped painting but decided to make more room for his first love by cutting back on his business activities. He joined the South Mississippi Art Association and soon was elected President.
Bobby loves Hattiesburg. He can’t imagine living elsewhere; a year of living in Petal is not fondly remembered. His knowledge of the city is not merely detailed, but rather encyclopedic in terms of locations and their history throughout his lifetime. When he paints, his love of place, knowledge of history, and skill in the exacting medium of watercolors all come together. He classifies himself as a landscape painter, though most of his paintings feature a boat or truck or something else manmade within a given landscape. He often will take one or several photographs of a likely subject, and paint from that. Indeed, his paintings of subjects far away from Hattiesburg often are inspired by photographs sent to him. When asked what it means when he paints a truck like the relic featured in “Grandpa’s Favorite,” he said “I want it to be beautiful, not muddy or ugly or grey. I want it to look like what it is. This is an old truck; it’s seen better days. But it’s still a beautiful painting. . . I want to paint something as pretty as I can paint it. I want it to be interesting and different.”