Donald B. Anderson will be remembered as founding father for the arts in Roswell
By Christina Stock
Today, we continue with the third part about philanthropist, artist, founder of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence and arts supporter, the late Donald B. Anderson (April 6, 1919-June 7, 2020).
A museum, a new compound, the family and a family of artists
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Anderson was known to be a man of thought and action, though of few words. His family and close friends were the ones who knew him best.
Some would fall in love with one of the artists that had received the “gift of time” in the form of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence (RAiR) grant. Others would bring their families back to Roswell to show them where their careers started. The Anderson family and the hundreds of artists passing through became a large extended family that would stay connected, no matter where they would move to in the world.
The shed that had been remodeled to be Anderson’s private gallery became a RAiR exhibit place. From there it grew and evolved into the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art of today, located at the same spot, at 409 E. College Blvd.
The AMoCA continued featuring the RAiR artists and Anderson’s own art. Together with the influx on artists and exhibits, Roswell thrived and grew. In fact, it grew so fast that in 2005, Anderson saw that the RAiR compound on Berrendo Road was no longer surrounded by the open nature, but homes were slowly encroaching on the property. It was time to build a new compound where the artists could enjoy the open skies of Southeast New Mexico, see antelopes and other wildlife close up — a unique experience, especially for artists from major cities such as Chicago; New York City; Berlin, Germany; and Hong Kong.
In his biography, sent in by AMoCA Director Nancy Fleming, it says, “He (Anderson) decided to deed 45 acres of his farm to the (RAiR) Foundation, and to construct a new facility for the artists in the center, away from the noise of traffic. The construction was finished at the beginning of 2007; there are seven houses and 10 studios, housing six residents and the program director. Ironically, Don then decided not to give up the old facility, so that now there are 12 artist-in-residence positions all told.”
Anderson’s family shared their memories and impressions of him in emails and telephone interviews. With Anderson being a businessman and artist, many of his descendants appreciate the arts just as much as he did.
Martha Anderson Strieby is the oldest of Anderson’s grandchildren. Her father was Joseph Anderson who passed away in 2001. She writes, “My brother David Anderson and I literally owe our lives to the Roswell Artist in Residence program. Our mother was one of the resident artists in the 1970s. During her time in Roswell, she met our dad Joseph, who had grown up there. They eventually married and moved to Denver, where David and I were born. Had it not been for the RAiR program, we would not exist.”
She remembers her grandfather fondly, “Don was a true patriarch of the family,” she said. “The adventures he experienced in his 101 years could have easily filled five lifetimes. He instilled upon future generations of his family an appreciation for art, and a love of travel and nature. He shared these passions with my dad, who passed them on to me, and now my kids have learned to love them, as well.”
Aidan Anderson is another of Don Anderson’s grandchildren. He wanted to share his memories when he visited his grandfather, whom he will miss very much, he said.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been visiting my grandparents in Roswell. It was always a high point of the year to make the trip down and spend time with the family. My grandpa was a man of few words. But when he spoke, the room went silent. You’d never know if, at the end of his speaking, you’d learn something fascinating about the world, or if you’d be rolling with laughter. One of my favorite memories of my grandpa is of him in his workshop making Kachina dolls for my siblings and I to paint and decorate. He lived more of life than most people could ever dream of,” Aidan Anderson said.
Don Anderson’s granddaughter, Pattie Larson, too, has a multitude of cherished memories she wrote in an email. “I have memories of my grandfather throughout my life,” Larson said. “Memories of him driving the boat at the family cabin in Grand Lake, Colorado. Of hiking in Glacier National Park when I was obsessed with banana slugs. Of the adventures in England, smiling at the antics of sheep. He was an adventurer and opened the world for his family. My favorite memories of my grandfather, however, were in his home, watching him paint while sitting on the spiral staircase in his studio, meticulously mixing colors and creating landscapes both imaginative or from memories. It was like magic. His care for his gardens was just as careful and loving, watching him going from plant to plant spritzing. I’ve never known anyone with such a vibrant green thumb for orchids. Sitting in his chair in the kitchen, with book (and later Kindle) in hand. Keeping up to date on current events or reading tales of the sea. He was a quiet and private man, but I will miss that vibrant twinkle in his eye and his enduring amusement at the world around him. His life touched everyone around him and opened so many doors and possibilities for others.”
Larson’s mother Rebecca Anderson was amazed at the adventures and achievements of her father-in-law. In the first part about Don Anderson’s life, published June 14 in the Daily Record, she had shared what he told her about his upbringing in gangster-era Chicago. In an email, she wrote, “He and his first wife Pat spent several months with Jane Goodall and her first husband in Africa. (Goodall is considered the primatologist having worked to save and study chimpanzees in Africa for more than 60 years.) I will be forever grateful for what he gave to my children. Deepest thanks to my sister-in-law Sarah and Anne for the loving care they gave to him and his wife Sally in his final days. Quite a run, Don.”
Anne Midgette is Don Anderson’s stepdaughter, she shared memories of her stepfather in a phone interview. “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.
“He was amazingly generous, he spoke in actions much more than in words in many ways. Actively taking us on trips and fostering what we wanted to do. Another friend of mine said, ‘The most important you lost is somebody who really encouraged you doing what you wanted to do.’ He believed in our visions for ourself beyond just the material success. I felt he understood what made me tick. For my stepfather, creativity was the most important value. Creativity was a value for him, 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 whom he collected and encouraged, and it was true in his own work. He was a prolific painter himself, that was something he thrived so much pleasure out of and was so proud of and he achieved a lot in that realm and his work is on display at the Anderson Museum along with the work of the artists he supported and helped over the years. He supported them, of course, over the auspices of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program, for more than 50 years. It is his own unique vision that has led to the establishment of this lasting institution and the legacy of that vision with one work of each artist that has been there since 1967,” Midgette said.
According to Midgette, Sarah Anderson, the only surviving daughter of Don Anderson, had been by his side just as Midgette’s mother Sally Anderson was until he left this world. “Her (Sarah Anderson’s) two brothers, Donald and Joseph, both passed away, so she is his only surviving biological daughter, and grew up in this house as it was being built around them,” Midgette said. “I didn’t move into the house ’til I was 15, and my brother was 10. She was remembering the adventurous trips they took and saying how incredibly broadening it was as a young person to be made aware of so many different countries and ways of life beyond their own. And she is a wonderfully creative person — she makes amazing quilts and clothes and fabric sculptures. My late stepbrother, Donald Anderson Jr., was also a jewelry maker. So the creative gene ran strong in the Anderson family.”
A family of artists
Daisy Craddock was an RAiR recipient in 1989 and lives in Germantown, New York, however, she said she met the Andersons as in Sally and Don Anderson much earlier. “My first memories of Don date back to the early 1980s. It was a game-changer for me when Don and Sally bought a painting from my first one-person show in New York City, and I was invited to apply to the Roswell Artist-in-Residency. Don could change an artist’s life like that. We became dear friends over the years, but I am just one of many who were fortunate to call him friend and supporter. My painting, “Last Light,” hung in Don and Sally’s New York apartment for many years and now hangs in the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art,” Craddock said.
“Getting to know Don and Sally was one of the great gifts of my residency in Roswell. An engineer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and artist, in his prime, Don was as comfortable moving houses or mounds of dirt around on a tractor as he was making his luminous paintings of places, imaginary and real. Don and Sally remained absolutely devoted to each other and it was always a joy to spend time with them,” Craddock said.
Craddock was one of the many RAiR recipients returning to Roswell for the 50th anniversary of the program. “At 99, Don was not attending most of the festivities, and so the artists came to him,” she said. “I was able to witness a steady stream of artists who stopped by to pay homage to this soft spoken man who had the vision to build and endow a vibrant arts community in Roswell, New Mexico and then built a museum to house the fruits of his vision. Ever a man of few words, Don took everything in and thoroughly enjoyed himself that weekend. Known for his twinkling eyes and puckish grin, you can bet that when Don had something to say, we all listened.”
Many artists have passed on, only their art speaking for them and their stay at the RAiR compound. One of these artists was Karen Aqua. Her husband, musician Ken Field, wrote in an email about the couple’s memories and the generosity of Anderson. “My late wife, animator Karen Aqua, was an Artist in Residence in Roswell in 1995, a return residency after her initial stay in 1991-92. I was able to join her for only a few weeks at a time due to my full-time job back home in Boston. During one of those visits, we were honored by an invitation to join Don and Sally at their home for cocktails. I mentioned that I was looking for a place to practice my saxophone, having enjoyed the resonant acoustics of the studios on the old compound. To my surprise, Don offered me the use of the Henge (the Anderson’s private home) while he and Sally were in England for a few weeks, and told me to speak with Ron Young, his groundskeeper, to gain access,” he said.
“It was a life-changing offer for me, as I know that so much of Don’s generosity was for so many others,” Field said. “I decided to rent some recording equipment, and over the course of that few weeks, I recorded what was to become my first solo CD, “Subterranea.” The cover had a photo of me standing outside the Henge playing my saxophone. The release was extremely well-received, distributed and reviewed internationally, and paved the way for much of my creative work that has followed. The Henge was a transformative place for me, and Don was the transformer.
“Years later, after Karen’s passing in 2011, Don and Sally hosted a beautiful memorial event for her at the Anderson Museum, during which I was moved to tears by their generosity, and by the response of the Roswell community. And several years after that, when my band Revolutionary Snake Ensemble was invited to perform at the UFO Festival, we took some extra time to lead a small improvised music and sound jam session in the Henge — a high point being Don’s solo on broom, which he engaged in with gusto, as he engaged with most everything in his life,” Field said.
“There are many wonderful things one can say about Donald B. Anderson, and so many largely inadequate ways to express gratitude for his boundless help and contributions, but I’ll remember him most fondly as a most excellent and inspired broom soloist, engaging in life with joy, creativity and humor,” Field said.
Some of the recipients of the RAiR grant applied only once and got accepted, others had to apply up to six times, never giving up because it became well-known in the art community about the quality and generosity of the program and the support of the residents of Roswell. Stewart MacFarlane had to apply three times before he got accepted. In an email, he wrote, “My first recollection of Don Anderson was of receiving a bright, brief letter from him letting me know that I had finally been awarded an artist-in-residence place in Roswell in 1987. It was a friendly congratulations after I’d applied three times, over a 10-year period.
“My time in Roswell in 1987/’88 was amazing and it was all thanks to Don. I was able to fully concentrate and produce my best work. I realized at that time the huge impact that Don had made on a small New Mexican city. He had managed to share the charm that he’d discovered in Roswell, with creative people from all over the U.S.A. and a few from overseas,” MacFarlane said.
“When my residency was finished and I’d left Roswell, I never forgot about the wonderful experience and I remained in touch with Don and Sally, regularly writing to them. There was a world recession in the early 1990s that impacted the residency and closed it for a short while. Don allowed me to return at that time for several months to work, without officially being on the residency. He also allowed me to have the first exhibition, in 1991, at the new space he had just developed, which he called Gallery 409. Soon this was to become the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. In December 1994, I dropped by Roswell on a road trip from Nebraska to Mexico. I visited Don and he purchased a drawing from me, then invited me to stay for three months, which I happily did, before continuing on to Mexico,” MacFarlane said.
It showed the generosity of the Andersons and that artists became true family members when MacFarlane asked if he could get married in the Andersons’ home in 1996. The answer was a clear yes and — flying in from Australia — the couple flew in. “They also allowed us the use of the Anderson Museum for the reception, as well,” MacFarlane said.
“Roswell, and the artist’s paradise that Don created, was always in my thoughts. Whenever the ‘real world’ proved too hard, I hankered to get back there. I wrote a letter in 2007 asking to return to the residency and Don consented. A program was instigated to bring back some of the artists who had been given residencies in the ’70s and ’80s. I came back for a year in 2007/2008, with my wife, Jane and daughter, Lily. During that time — much to my young daughter’s amazement — Don and Sally invited us to fly to Denver in his private jet for the day, where Don had his office. It was an incredible and unforgettable experience,” MacFarlane said.
“I was working on a large, multi-figure painting and Don consented to pose in a tuxedo — something he would only rarely wear,” MacFarlane said. “He was always open to an artist’s ideas and was very generous with his time. During that year, I was inspired to ask if he would collaborate with me, the two of us, painting some paintings together. Don hadn’t been doing a lot of studio work at that time. His business must have been taking priority. I asked if he’d paint one of his unique landscapes, so that I could add a figure, or two. Don warmed to this idea and soon brought me two canvases for my additions. It proved to be fun for both of us. Don then started painting more regularly in his studio again. When I returned to Australia, we continued our project. Don mailed me some canvases he’d worked on. I exhibited two of our collaborations at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2013, along with other works of mine.
“Visiting Don and Sally in recent times, he was still sharp and alert to the end and shared wonderful stories. Don is irreplaceable and was a gifted, brilliant artist in his own right. He was a calm, humble and humorous gentleman who significantly impacted my life for the better, which I know to be the case for so many others.”
The last part of this four-part series about Anderson’s legacy will be published in the next edition of the Vision section.