Stanford art collector and donor Harry “Hunk” Anderson dies at 95

Stanford neighbor, friend and philanthropist Harry W. “Hunk” Anderson died on February 7 at his home on the Bay Area Peninsula, surrounded by family. He was 95 years old.

Harry W. “Hunk” Anderson (Image credit: LA Cicero)

Anderson was the founder of the foodservice company Saga Corporation and, along with his wife, Mary Margaret “Moo” and daughter, Mary Patricia “Putter”, a dedicated art collector. In 2011, Stanford announced that it would house the heart of the Anderson Collection, one of the most notable private collections of 20th century American art in the world. The collection of 121 works by 86 artists housed in an award-winning building designed by Ennead Architects in Stanford’s Arts District opened to the public in 2014.

The Anderson family has a long history with Stanford, dating back to their 1960s relationship with the Department of Art and Art History, including Nathan Oliveira, artist and teacher; Albert Elsen, art historian and professor; and Wanda Corn, former chair of the department, all of whom were integral resources to the Andersons as they built their collection.

In 1975, the Andersons initiated a graduate internship program for Stanford art history doctoral students that continues today. More than 30 doctoral students at Stanford have interned at the Anderson Collection, engaged in intensive study, and organized exhibitions drawn from the collection.

The family’s first art donation to Stanford was made with other donors in 1993 when they funded the completion of Stanford Wall (1980) by Josef Albers, currently based near Littlefield Center. Albers donated the design for the sculpture in 1973, but the sculpture was not fully completed and installed until after his death.

In a joint statement from the Andersons in 2011 regarding their intention to give Stanford a significant part of their precious art collection, they said: “Throughout our adult lives we have always been closely associated with colleges and universities, and by making this gift to At Stanford, we anticipate that students, the public and the entire arts community will have the opportunity to become fully involved in the collection. Hope this gift makes a great university great and the world a better grain of salt. “

“Hunk Anderson had an infectious enthusiasm and passion for art and for sharing art for the benefit of society at large,” said Stanford President Emeritus John Hennessy. “He would light up whenever he described what each piece meant and how it inspired creativity. It is this common passion that bound us, as we met through our mutual interest in the visual arts. Hunk’s insistence that the family’s remarkable collection go to a place that would keep it in perpetuity, so that it could be used, shared and seen, reflected his philosophy that art can and should inspire us all. All of us at Stanford will always have the deepest affection for Hunk as a generous and kindhearted man.

To date, the Anderson Collection at Stanford University has been viewed by nearly 250,000 visitors. Each work in the museum is available online and the collection has grown thanks to donations from other members of the community.

Head and hands collection

Harry W. Anderson was born in Corning, New York. His father and mother immigrated to the United States from Sweden and Norway, respectively. After serving in the United States Army in World War II, he attended Hobart College in Geneva, New York, where, in his freshman year, he co-founded the Saga catering company to manage the college cafeteria. After he and Moo married in 1950, they moved across the country to establish Saga at other colleges. In 1962, three years after the birth of their daughter, Mary Patricia “Putter”, they moved to the Bay Area and opened Saga’s national headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Harry W. “Hunk” Anderson shared his passion for art with his wife, Mary Margaret “Moo” Anderson, and their daughter, Mary Patricia “Putter” Anderson Pence. They share the lectern at the 2012 unveiling of the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. (Image credit: LA Cicero)

The Andersons began collecting art in the mid-1960s after a trip to the Louvre in Paris, where they admired the works of the French Impressionists. They first collected works by early modernists, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, German expressionists, such as Emile Nolde, and early american modernists, such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and Arthur Dove. In 1969, however, the Andersons made the decision to focus exclusively on postwar American art.

Much of the Anderson’s collection philosophy is based on their equal belief in head and hands – which means they seek ingenuity as well as masterful craftsmanship in the art they collect.

The core of their collection, which is now the Anderson Collection at Stanford University, ranges from works by Willem de Kooning to Joan Mitchell, from Jackson Pollock to Wayne Thiebaud. The collection is rooted in the work of The New York School and incorporates key modern and contemporary artists, brought together in depth and through media. Major movements represented include Abstract Expressionism, Color Field Painting, Post-Minimalism, California Funk Art, Bay Area Figurative Art, Light and Space, and Painting and contemporary sculpture.

Hunk Anderson in a heated discussion.

Hunk Anderson was known for his infectious enthusiasm and passion for art. (Image credit: LA Cicero)

The Andersons saw themselves as the custodians, not the owners, of the artwork in their collection, and the generous donation to Stanford was made for the purpose of sharing their important and vast collection with the world. For all the fun that Hunk and Moo Anderson took in putting together an art collection, they seemed excited to give it away as well.

Taking the pulpit at the dedication ceremony for the building that would become the home of his family’s most treasured possessions, a visibly elated Anderson, standing between Moo and Putter, triumphantly told the college community: “First , Stanford! He went on to share his hope that the new museum would be a stage where people could appreciate the ideas of visual expression.

“Hunk Anderson left the world with a vibrant gift, and his generous spirit and interest in inspiring others through art lives on in the remarkable Anderson Collection,” said Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “We are honored and very grateful that Hunk and his family have entrusted Stanford with sharing their vision, and that Hunk has seen first-hand the benefits of the thousands of enthusiastic visitors, students and scholars who have already enjoyed their collection. Hunk himself was a treasure.

Legacy of sharing

For many years, the Andersons have widely shared their collection through loans to museums and special exhibitions, including Celebrate modern art at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2000-2001) and An American focus at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (2000). The Andersons donated a significant portion of their collection to these museums, including their extensive Pop Art and Frank Stella collections to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. San Francisco Art Museums have received 655 graphic works that have implemented a collection sharing program, which strives to help small museums expand their exhibition capacities through individual loan offers and high-quality exhibitions of works from the Anderson Collection.

Anderson is survived by his wife, Mary Margaret “Moo” Anderson; her daughter, Mary Patricia “Putter” Anderson Pence, artistic advisor in Los Angeles; and his granddaughter Devin Pence, a freshman at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

The family are planning to have a private funeral but can’t wait to have a celebration of Hunk’s life in the spring.

In lieu of flowers, please donate online to the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. Checks may also be made payable to Stanford University; by mail to: Aimee Shapiro, Anderson Collection at Stanford University, 314 Lomita Drive, Stanford, CA 94305.

Norma D. Ross