The remarkable story of this collection begins in Paris on an autumn morning in 1964. Harry ‘Hunk’ and Margaret ‘Moo’
Anderson were on the final leg of a round-the-world
tour, booked to celebrate their move from New York to California,
when they decided to visit the Louvre.
‘Something came over us,’ Hunk would later recall of the occasion. ‘We felt, for the first time, the beauty and excitement
of the world of art; and had to be a part of it.’
Hunk, Moo and their daughter Mary Patricia ‘Putter’ Anderson would go on to create one of the most celebrated collections of post-war and contemporary art in America, employing what they called a ‘head and hands’ approach to collecting. ‘They strived to ensure that each object had a balance of
the “head” — the idea, concept and ingenuity — and the “hands”: the craftsmanship and materials,’ explains Jason Linetzky,
Director of the
Anderson Collection at Stanford University. ‘These two
principles guided the Andersons in growing their collection
over many decades.’
Hunk Anderson was born in Corning, New York, in 1922. After
serving in the US Army, he enrolled at New York’s Hobart
College to study history and economics. During his third
year, Hunk co-founded Saga, a business that managed the
university’s cafeteria. It proved to be a profitable success,
and soon expanded to regional colleges. By 1973 Saga was
delivering more than 400 million meals a year across the United
States. It was also while a student at Hobart that Hunk
met Moo, his future wife and entrepreneurial partner.
After returning from their 1964 trip to their new California home, the couple agreed they would use their house as a showcase for
the world-class collection of art they intended to assemble.
They began by tracking down works by Impressionists, Post-Impressionists
and early Modernists —
Emil Nolde and
Georgia O’Keeffe among them. They soon realised, however,
that museum-quality works by these artists rarely came to market.
In 1968 Moo took a trip to New York, where she came across
a bound portfolio of 41 etchings and drypoints by the Abstract-Expressionist
Richard Diebenkorn. Purchasing the portfolio inspired them to dive head-first
into the contemporary-art world, buying works by other avant-garde
Willem de Kooning,
David Hockney and
Wayne Thiebaud, who were at the time fledgling, unorthodox
and affordable names.
‘We went to the library, we got catalogues, we saw shows,’
Hunk recalled of their fastidious early collecting. Moo also
enrolled at Stanford University where she studied art history
under the celebrated scholar Albert Elsen. She would later
describe Elsen as being ‘very, very instrumental’ in encouraging
the duo’s focus on their ‘journey to the new’.
The couple also sought the guidance of a small, select group
of American art dealers who sourced works by New
York School artists and their West Coast contemporaries,
Jackson Pollock and
Vija Celmins. It was an approach to collecting that could be said to reflect their own journey from East Coast to West Coast.
The couple shared their collection by offering private tours
of their California home, where visitors could delight in
their informal approach to curation — a
Jasper Johns hanging above a headboard, an
Alberto Giacometti in the middle of the hallway, or an
Alexander Calder suspended from the ceiling.
Over the years, the couple’s collection began to expand from
the house, first to their garden, then to the corridors
of Saga’s headquarters, and eventually to the walls of the
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The Andersons donated important works by
Jim Dine and
Andy Warhol, to name but a few. In 2000 SFMOMA held
its largest ever exhibition,
Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection.
Kenneth Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle went
on to write that, ‘Probably no private collection illustrates
the course of American art since World War II better than
that of… Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson.’
The couple and their daughter also made donations of post-war
art to the
Oakland Museum and the
San José Museum of Modern Art, as well as a gift of nearly
700 master prints to the
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
Then, in 2014, the couple’s donation of 121 master works to
Stanford University made headlines across the art world. Housed in a purpose-built new gallery, featuring artists including
Philip Guston and
David Smith, the gift became one of the most significant
donations of art in American history.
‘It’s good to study art in books, but something happens in
the presence of the originals,’ Hunk would say of the bequest. ‘It affects the brain, taste, feelings and more.’ Today, the Anderson Collection at Stanford has been seen free of charge by more than 250,000 visitors.
The couple continued to expand their private collection, maintaining a focus on emerging talent under
the guidance of Putter from her consultancy business in Los
‘Like all great collectors, the Andersons believed they were
merely custodians of the works they owned,’ explains
Linetzky. ‘They built a collection that had an identity of
its own, but that identity came from the artists and objects
that they selected very carefully.’