The Collection of a Lifetime

Mary Patricia “Putter” Anderson Pence, Harry W. “Hunk” Anderson ’49,
LL.D. ’67 and Mary Margaret “Moo” Anderson at their home in front of
works by Donald Sultan and Terry Winters. (2013) Photo by Linda Cicero

by Andrew Wickenden ’09

The Anderson Collection, one of the world’s most substantial gatherings of modern and contemporary American art, began 50 years ago as a modest undertaking driven by the passion of Harry W. “Hunk” Anderson ’49, LL.D. ’67 and Mary Margaret “Moo” Anderson.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Hunk enrolled at Hobart. At the yacht club in Geneva, he met Moo, then a student at nearby D’Youville College. Hunk and Moo both graduated in 1949 and were married in 1950, by which time Hunk had co-founded the food service company Saga with William F. Scandling ’49, LL.D. ’67 and W. Price Laughlin ’49. When the Saga national headquarters opened in Menlo Park, Calif., in the early 1960s, Hunk and Moo settled in the San Francisco Bay area. Soon after, on a trip to Europe, they embarked on what would become a lifelong love affair with painting and sculpture.

“We went to Paris in 1964, to The Louvre, and were so amazed at what we saw that on our way home, we said, ‘Let’s see if we can put together a collection, a couple dozen works,” Hunk recalls.

When they returned to San Francisco, Hunk and Moo sought out works of late 19th and early 20th century masters, with the idea of collecting “the best of the best.” But they soon realized, Hunk says, that they “couldn’t collect the best of the best because most of it was already in museums. We had a good collection of a couple dozen impressionists and post-impressionists and cubists, but we knew we couldn’t do everything and couldn’t do it well. So we worked our way out of that older period.”

As Hunk and Moo collected, they studied and researched and were increasingly drawn to abstract expressionism, the first internationally acclaimed art movement in the U.S. By 1969, they had turned their attention from the Early Modernists to focus exclusively on post-1940 American art.

With guidance from Stanford University faculty historians like Albert Elsen and artists like Nathan Oliveira, Hunk and Moo enriched their artistic education and made inroads with key personalities in the New York art world. By 1975, the Andersons were well on their way toward “putting together a great collection of art with key abstract expressionists as a backdrop.”

Jackson Pollock’s “Lucifer” (1947) was one of the earliest paintings of the post-1940 era that Hunk and Moo sought out in “a chase that took two years.” An exemplary piece of Pollock’s drip technique, “Lucifer” measures more than three feet tall and eight feet wide, a raw canvas spattered and blotted with black and gray and green, a blue so pale it’s almost white, and drizzles of orange, purple, and mustard yellow.

Now, thanks to a significant donation from Hunk and Moo’s private collection, “Lucifer” and 120 other works that once adorned their home have found a new home at Stanford as part of the Anderson Collection, which premiered in September 2014.

Embodying Hunk and Moo’s attention to the vision and craft of the artists – “the head and the hands,” as they put it – the collection features 86 artists, including Pollock, Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn and Willem de Kooning, and represents some of the most noteworthy movements in 20th century painting and sculpture.

“East meets west,” Hunk declares, noting examples of East Coast schools of abstract expressionism as well as techniques and movements unique to California schools such as the LA Light and Space movement, and the use of resins and ceramic materials.

The collection is housed in a 33,000-square-foot-building that includes dedicated gallery spaces, offices, a conference room, a library/study area and storage spaces, offering students in Stanford’s course on abstract expressionism a sublime de facto classroom.

“The art that’s going to Stanford will be of increasing value to future generations. There’s nothing better than looking at original works,” Hunk says.

Since 1975, more than 30 Ph.D. art history candidates have been interns at the Anderson Collection.

“The catalog itself was developed by Stanford art interns,” Hunk says. “It’s great for them and great for us. They contribute to the collection and I think we really help them along.”

In the past, other pieces from the collection have been loaned to museums and special exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Hunk and Moo have also gifted significant portions of their collection to these museums, including their extensive Pop Art collection and their gift of seven Frank Stella paintings to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and more than 650 graphic works to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, establishing the Anderson Graphic Arts Collection at the de Young Museum.

That philanthropy, Hunk says, has been “an overall philosophy that we’ve had about collecting. Moo and I have always liked the idea of leaving this good earth having made it a grain of salt better because we’ve been here. Giving these 121 works to Stanford is a part of that idea. It goes a long way toward meeting that objective.”

As for a favorite piece in the collection, the Andersons feel like “they’re all our children,” though they “are still particularly drawn to abstract expressionists.”

Hunk and Moo’s daughter, Mary Patricia “Putter” Anderson Pence, is more involved in the contemporary art scene, researching the market, traveling to New York art fairs and introducing her parents to the work of today’s best artists. Putter has introduced new artists into the collection like Nick Cave, Julie Mehretu and Tauba Auerbach.

But whether you’re looking at abstract expressionist heavyweights like Pollock and Rothko or young, new artists, “if you look at the past, present, and future,” Hunk says, “great art will stay with you.”


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