Donald B. Anderson will be remembered as founding father for the arts in Roswell
By Christina Stock
Today, we continue with the last part about philanthropist, artist, founder of the Roswell Artist-in-Residence and arts supporter, late Donald B. Anderson (April 6, 1919-June 7, 2020).
RAiR and the continuation of a legacy
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Larry Bob Phillips is RAiR’s current residency director and was grant recipient of the RAiR program in 2010. He moved with his young family to Roswell in 2018 to take on the leadership role of the residence as Stephen Fleming, a two-time RAiR grant recipient himself, wanted to retire to concentrate on his art and traveling.
In an email Phillips shared Anderson’s legacy, his memory and future vision.
“Donald Anderson was a man of few words and a great many deeds; the disparity could be a little unnerving,” Phillips said. “By the time most artists met Don, they were aware of his vast success as a businessman, and they had also seen his painting, his museum, and heard of the hundreds of great artists he has supported. After all of this priming, when you met Don and threw out your loftiest, best-worded idea, you’d get fixed in a clear-eyed gaze, receive a benign smile and a brief nod — end of conversation. This setpiece left more than one artist wondering what they had done wrong and goes some distance to explain Don’s wry, understated sense of humor.
“The perplexed artist learned soon enough, however, that Don was as steadfast in his appreciation of the artists associated with his program as any patron anywhere,” Phillips said. “For most of us, this quiet, principled man offered the most generous, unwavering support our work has ever seen. It is often said that the artists who come to RAiR are a family, and indeed, thanks to Don’s ethic, that is what we’ve become.
“As we work to carry his vision forward, his character provides a set of principles to guide us: Be vigorous and hardworking, be generous without encumbering the recipient with expectations, get your ego out of the way letting others’ creativity shine, never under any circumstances bicker or quarrel, and spend money responsibly with an eye toward the future.
“I know for myself that I could improve in some of these categories, but by working together and keeping our founder in mind, the Roswell Artist in Residence will, like Don himself, reach the century mark and beyond. Don’s family, and RAiR’s board and staff will continue to provide one of the best residency experiences an artist can have in the world.
“Thanks, Don! for the innumerable gifts of matter and spirit that keep reverberating through the fabric of the universe.”
Maria Rucker is a stone sculpture artist from Germany who received the RAiR grant in 1999. In her email, Rucker shared a more intimate memory of Anderson. “I have heard that people speak an average of five billion words in their lives, of which four billion are useless,” she said. “No doubt, Don was among those who left out the useless words. That he was a man of action — and what action! — has often been mentioned. He was also a man of craftsmanship — someone who knew how to tackle and knuckle down something. He partly carpentered the furniture for the artist-compound himself in his workshop. The bed on which I slept on Berrendo Road he had created with his own hands. When he found out that I was interested in larger blocks of stone, he offered me his remaining limestone blocks for carving. Some of them weighed four tons. He grabbed them with his front-loader and set me up an outdoor workplace at his home at La Joya Road. Never did I meet anyone who was so committed to art and the creation of art. The way he showed his love for the artists-in-residence, for example, was to give everyone several pots of basil that he himself had sown and planted. Some of the physical labor left him without fingerprints, which surprised officials at international airports. Thank you, Don, for all the things you’ve done!”
Indeed, Anderson was hands-on in his support for the arts and artists. Miranda Howe, owner of Bone Springs Art Space, and a former RAiR member, knew Anderson almost her entire life. “I actually don’t remember when I first met him because he and my grandfather, who was also a painter here in Roswell, Bill Wiggins, he and my grandfather were contemporary artists,” she said. “So I feel like I must’ve met Don somewhere during my childhood and growing up years and certainly at different art exhibitions. But it really wasn’t until I received the residence grant, the gift of time, I began December 2012. That brought me back to Roswell; it was that time that I really became more acquainted with Don.”
Asked about her impressions, Howe said, “It was just exciting. I’ve done several residences in the past and I had tried four times to get into this residence, so finally on my fourth time, I was accepted into the program so it was very exciting and also, you recognize the history of what he has done and the generosity that he has done, as well.
“I was very excited to become more familiar with who he was as a person and being invited over to he and Sally’s home,” Howe said. “They liked to do that with all the residences so they could have a little one-on-one time with each of the artists. When I was a residence they invited two or three people over at the same time so it didn’t get to crowded and it was just lovely camaraderie.
“He (Anderson) was always quiet, but when you asked him a question, he would expand into different stories. Later on, when my residence was over and I started working at the Anderson Museum, there were opportunities to ask him when he and Luis Jimenez — who was an early resident — how they became acquainted. If you had a particular question, his answers were always very inspiring to listen to. But he wasn’t a chit-chatter, he didn’t sit or talk to you. So conversations with you were more purposeful,” Howe said.
Anderson would play an even bigger part in Howe’s life than she thought at the time. When Howe found a building that would be perfect for her own gallery, Anderson supported her. “I remember being at a dinner party with a lot of the local art community and was telling Don and Sally the vision I had for creating this new space,” Howe said. “It wasn’t but a couple days later that Sally called me up and told me that Don wanted to help with my project. I was floored, humbled and ecstatic, and I remember Sally expressing to me later that what I was doing felt like an extension of what was begun so many decades ago, which meant a great deal to me to hear.”
Last year, at Anderson’s 100th birthday, Howe was able to honor him as an artist. Bone Springs Art Space became the last exhibit place for Anderson’s work that he would be able to visit in person. “I had mentioned the idea to Sally, and she was going to ask Don, and he immediately said yes. There were two conditions: None of the work would be for sale, and I couldn’t mention anything on the postcard (invitations) about him turning 100. It was purely about the celebration of Don, the artist, and his 70-plus year painting career. So that’s what we went with; it was great!
Howe was invited to the Andersons’ home to choose the art pieces. “That was such a special time for me,” Howe said. “I tried really hard to choose pieces that were different that the public would be able to see at the Anderson Museum and I was able to show his first painting that he ever did from 1942 and then I made a selection from each decade, 40s, 50s, 60s, all the way until he quit painting. I had a representation of his 70-year painting career here. And to be able to ask questions about particular works of art, as we went. He and Sally came and he came early before anyone else arrived. I was able to wheel him around to each painting on the well. It was priceless, because he would see one and would say, ‘Oh, well that was pretty good.’ And then we wheeled to the next one, ‘Oh, that was a great one,’ because a lot of the paintings that I chose were in places at their home that he didn’t really access anymore, being predominantly in his wheelchair. There were rooms he didn’t go to and so, seeing these works of his in a fresh light in a gallery space, I think he enjoyed that. And what an honor it has been to have the show. “To have the honor of hosting a retrospective exhibition of Don’s work in the gallery that he helped jumpstart felt like a full circle of completion. Bone Springs Art Space wouldn’t be where it is today without the belief and generosity of the Andersons, to whom I am ever grateful.”
Nancy Fleming, Anderson Museum of Contemporary art director, said that the nonprofit RAiR foundation has an endowment that enables the program and museum to continue. “So effectively, we probably write more grants; we already have because of COVID-19, being closed. 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.
Those who drive by the museum may have noticed the black banners covering the art flags. “We draped our banners in black fabric and have a flag at half-mast at AMoCA,” Fleming said. “Many people will think it’s for Black Lives Matter, but in true Don fashion, that is OK because he wouldn’t want us to put the limelight on him anyway.”
For more information, visit rair.org.