Home News Local News Museum founder Donald B. Anderson dies at 101

Museum founder Donald B. Anderson dies at 101

Submitted Photo Donald B. Anderson leaves a legacy beyond his paintings (background), having founded the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program and the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Philanthropist Donald B. Anderson leaves a legacy that lives on in every artist he gave the precious gift of time. With his death on June 7 at age 101, the art world lost a great benefactor.

Anderson was known in Roswell as a man with many passions. He served as a Chief Engineering Officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II after graduating from Purdue University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

Early on, Anderson saw great potential in the oil and gas industry in Southeast New Mexico, which brought him and his brother Robert O. Anderson to Roswell in 1946. In 1963, he founded the Anderson Oil Company.

His true passion however, belonged to the arts, and — being a painter himself — he knew that one of the most difficult things for an artist is to find time to paint while working and raising a family. It took several years for him to develop the foundation of a new concept in Roswell — to not only bring art to town, but to actually bring artists to the area.

In 1967, Anderson established his “gift of time” — the Roswell Artist-in-Residence (RAiR) Program — to bring studio artists to Roswell. Here they would be able to focus on their work for a year, not having to worry about anything else. In 1994, he opened the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art (AMoCA) to share the collection of art created by artists from the RAiR program.

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RAiR became known throughout the international art community as a quiet haven for skilled artists. The program’s administrators have been working artists as well, including the current director of AMoCA, Nancy Fleming.

Fleming on Monday shared her impressions of Anderson when she first met him and later, when she took on administration, education and then directorship of AMoCA.

“He was understated,” Fleming said. “He just wanted to move through live without fanfare. He was introverted, but very comfortable around people; he didn’t want to small talk — he wanted a real conversation. When he got the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1984 — this was for him personally — I don’t think he went. He just didn’t like award ceremonies, he wanted to just do his philanthropy. He enjoyed the idea of supporting artists and not needing or wanting any rewards for it.”

Anderson also received the Skowhegan School Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, Skowhegan, Maine, in 1990; and the National Governors Association honored him with the Distinguished Service to the Arts Award in 2006. His art was exhibited in galleries nationwide.

Anne Midgette on Monday shared memories of her stepfather. “I first met him when I was a young child because my father (Willard Midgette) was on the artist in residence grant in Roswell two years, and Don was a great fan of my father’s work and collected his art,” Midgette said. “Then we moved to New York and my father died and Pat Anderson (Donald B. Anderson’s first wife) died. Don was from the beginning an amazing stepfather and treated us just like his own children. He didn’t say that much, but when he did everybody stopped to hear what he was saying, and he brought it with a little twinkle in his eye.

“That was true whether he was in a meeting room or sitting around the dining room table. He was amazingly generous, he spoke in actions much more than in words in many ways. He believed in our visions for ourself beyond just the material success.”

Asked about her stepfather’s legacy, Midgette said, “I think one of the most admirable things about Don is that he didn’t measure success or status in the common ways the world does. He was a man with tremendous success, obviously, and his house is a landmark in Roswell. But he cared much more that somebody was an active creative artist whose work was valuable. He never collected work for the sake of what it was worth, he collected things that inspired him, and it’s really rare to find the quality. He was just motivated by the genuine article and not by the status around it.

“For my stepfather creativity was the most important value, tantamount to religion. He wanted to support creativity in all its forms wherever you could find it, and I think that was true for his own family members, that was true for the artists around him who he collected and encouraged, and it was true in his own work.”

The Anderson family is in the process of arranging the funeral, Midgette said. “There will be a memorial service at a later date (at AMoCA). Hopefully, after traveling is safer so everybody in the family can come.”

Anderson was involved in many artistic and environmental causes. He was on the board of directors of the Roswell Museum and Art Center (RMAC) for many years as well and a benefactor of the Roswell Symphony Orchestra.

RMAC’s Executive Director Caroline Brooks wrote in an email about the death of Anderson, “The staff, Board of Trustees and RMAC Foundation are deeply saddened to hear about Don’s passing. He was a dear friend and long-time supporter of the Roswell Museum. He volunteered as the museum’s first art curator starting in 1947 and sat on the board of trustees and, later, the RMAC Foundation for many years. …

“His generosity and forward-thinking guidance helped shape this museum, a true gem for Southeast New Mexico. We are forever grateful and will miss him deeply.”

Asked about the future of Anderson’s legacy — AMoCA and the RAiR Program — Fleming said, “The Foundation is a non-profit, we do have an endowment that enables the program and museum to continue. So effectively, we’ll probably write more grants; we already have because of COVID-19. For the most part, things will seem normal because Don left us on solid grounds to continue serving the community of Roswell and honoring the artists in residence who come here.”

Christina Stock may be contacted at 622-7710, ext. 309, or at vision@rdrnews.com.


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