Donald B. Anderson will be remembered as founding father for the arts in Roswell
By Christina Stock
Today, we continue with the fourth 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).
In the last part, published on July 12, we featured the history of Anderson, his family, and the expansion of the RAiR to a new compound in 2007, northeast of town. Both compounds were open as residence for only a short time until the move to the new compound was made. The new RAiR compound was reserved for the six artists who would receive the “gift of time” — a year to pursue their art without worry of rent or income. The previous compound on Berrendo Road became known as the Historic Studios. The Historic Studios remained open and were popular for former RAiR grant winners to rent when they returned to Roswell; and many returned to visit Anderson, some even moved fully to Roswell.
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The historic studios at Berrendo Road, formerly known as Roswell Artist-in-Residence compound, were found historically significant and listed in the National Register of Historic Places on Aug. 7, 2017. They remain a popular artist retreat until today.
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.”
To be continued.