Donald B. Anderson will be remembered as founding father for the arts in Roswell
By Christina Stock
Donald B. Anderson is a prime example of the connection between artistic creativity and success in the business world. On the surface, he was known as a man who made his fortune in the oil and gas industry when it was still in its infancy. In the arts communities throughout New Mexico, the U.S. and most countries in the world, he was known for the unique grant he gave away annually — not in money — though that was part of it, as well, but in the “gift of time” that is known as Roswell Artist-in-Residence program: An entire year where each of the six to seven artists were welcomed to an artist complex with individual apartments and studios. Here they found a quiet haven to develop their artistic style, experiment on something new or work on a long-term project.
The uniqueness of the grant was not only the length given, but also that the artist didn’t have to be successful; it was not mandatory to have a degree or previous exhibitions at renowned galleries. The result was an eclectic mix of artists traveling to New Mexico who had only one thing in common: The Roswell’s Artist-in-Residence. They carried their experience as ambassadors back to their home or to their next destination. Many of these artists became art teachers passing on the baton that was firmly routed in Roswell.
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In the 101 years in this world, Anderson gave a gift that will reach far into the future.
While the story about his passing on June 7, and some of the achievements he made, were published in an article in the Roswell Daily Record, June 8 edition, there is so much more to tell about the quiet multi-faceted man. Today, we start the first part about Anderson’s contributions as founding father for the arts in Roswell, but also about who he was as a family man, friend and supporter of the artists he invited into the community.
The early years
Anderson was born in Chicago, Illinois, April 6, 1919. It was the first year that the Eighteenth Amendment was passed, also known as prohibition, when alcohol was banned throughout the U.S. This gave rise to moonshiners who would illegally distill liquor and brew beer. It was the year that Chicago’s criminal underbelly found a new market to exploit: Bootlegging. Gangsters and their “speakeasies” would give rise to the roaring ’20s. There is not a lot known about Anderson’s life in Chicago as a child and young man — outside of the family — but one can imagine how he found his love for the arts and for industrial entrepreneurship because the 1930s were a time of vibrancy for Chicago and its steel mills, and artists captured that energy on canvas.
Anderson’s daughter-in-law, Rebecca Anderson, learned about some of his experiences. “I am grateful to have had the privilege to catch this private man in an open moment sharing parts of his life,” she wrote in an email. “He grew up in Chicago and saw every jazz great from Billy Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and many more. The family car was stolen by John Dillinger, shot up and ended up in the circus.”
During this time, Anderson taught himself to paint, attended Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, and received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1942.
With his degree in hand, he joined the Navy as chief engineering officer during World War II, to serve on the USS Security, a minesweeper that had the dangerous task of removing mines from minefields laid in the coastal water of North Carolina by u-boots to prevent ships from passing.
Anderson served also on the USS Hecuba, an Acumens-Class general stores issue ship. In World War II, USS Hecuba was responsible for delivering and disbursing supplies for ships of the fleet in the Pacific Ocean.
Anderson married Patricia Gaylord in 1945 during a shore leave. Their marriage would last until her death in 1978. They had three children; both of their sons, Donald Anderson, Jr. and Joseph Anderson, passed away; their daughter Sarah is still alive.
After World War II, in 1946, Anderson and his brother Robert O. Anderson found a new home for their families in Roswell. Both had a vision for success and believed in a great future in the gas and oilfields of Southeast New Mexico.
Donald B. Anderson became chief of exploration for Malco Refineries, Inc. with headquarters in Roswell and a small refinery in Artesia. Anderson worked here from 1946 to 1963.
Anderson had never stopped painting and continued so when he arrived in Roswell — it was a perfect counterpoint to the tough oil and gas business.
The late artist and former Roswell Artist-in-Residence Luis Jiménez said about Anderson, “He’s this artist who has this wonderful hobby of making money in the oil business.”
In 1946, Anderson was one of the few resident artists in Roswell, though the passion for all arts ran deep in the town.
According to Anderson’s biography, which Nancy Fleming, director of the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, sent in, Anderson joined the Roswell Museum and Art Center (RMAC) as soon as he arrived. “Don has served on the RMAC Board of Trustees since the year after he moved to Roswell in 1946 — with a few gaps when he was required to rotate off,” Fleming wrote in an email. “During that time, he worked continually to add to the gallery space, as well as adding the planetarium. He himself donated the cost of five of the largest galleries, and his building company constructed three others at low cost. He has donated more than 100 works of art to the museum’s collection over the years.”
Anderson has spearheaded fundraising initiatives through the years by offering to match up the donated funds, which was during one of the initiatives in the amount of $300,000.
To be continued.