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Harry W. "Hunk" and Mary Margaret "Moo" Anderson, and their daughter, Mary Patricia "Putter" Anderson Pence

Harry W. "Hunk" and Mary Margaret "Moo" Anderson, and their daughter, Mary Patricia "Putter" Anderson Pence (center), together chose the artworks that will become the Anderson Collection at Stanford University. PHOTO: L.A. Cicero / Stanford News Service

Anderson Gift Brings Masterpieces to the Farm

Some families go camping together. Other families share a passion for golf or cooking. One family has lovingly assembled one of the most outstanding private collections of post-World War II American art in the world.

"A family affair" is how Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, and their daughter, Mary Patricia Anderson Pence, describe the landmark art collection they have built over a period of nearly 50 years—including their decision last summer to give the core of it to Stanford University.

The gift comprises 121 works by 86 artists and will be displayed in a new museum to be constructed in the university's burgeoning campus Arts District. One of the most valuable and significant gifts of art to Stanford or any other university, the renowned collection includes such masterpieces as Jackson Pollock's Lucifer, Willem de Kooning's Woman Standing–Pink, and Richard Diebenkorn's Ocean Park #60.

"Hunk," "Moo," and "Putter," as they're known, have always considered themselves custodians of these works, viewing them as a resource to be studied and experienced by as many people as possible, especially students.

"What we are bringing to Stanford is the real thing," says Moo, who sees 20th-century art as a compelling point of entry into the liberal arts. "It’s good to study art in books, but something happens in the presence of the original—it affects the brain, taste, feelings, and more."

The Andersons began collecting Impressionist art after being inspired on a trip to Europe in 1964. Their passion for new ideas soon drew them to post-WWII American Art, however. "We were fortunate to be able to participate in the first internationally acclaimed American art movement," says Hunk, adding that continually embracing new ideas "propelled them on to subsequent great American art movements."

It was in this environment of new ideas that daughter Putter came of age. She remembers playing tennis with Frank Stella, spending the day with Georgia O'Keeffe, and visiting the studios of Sam Francis, David Hockney, Elizabeth Murray, and other noted artists. "Exposure to such creative talents opened my eyes to new and different perspectives, in business and in life," she says.

Now an art advisor in Southern California, Putter speaks ardently of the collection's potential to promote learning across academic disciplines. "Having a college-age daughter myself, I am proud that Stanford students and those from other colleges and universities will benefit from the collection," she says.

The success of the university's Arts Initiative in recent years factored significantly into the family’s decision to place their collection at Stanford. The upcoming additions of Bing Concert Hall and the McMurtry Building for the art and art history department are just two signs of new momentum in the arts on campus. President John Hennessy also impressed the family as a deeply committed champion of the arts. He brings a uniquely Stanford perspective, says Moo. "He is not copying any other institution. He has his own vision."

The Andersons will continue to participate in the life of the collection—for example, by loaning works that remain in their private collection to Stanford for exhibition. Even so, Hunk says he expects to shed a tear one day in 2014, when the core of the Anderson Collection moves to Stanford for good. "It's like saying goodbye to family," he says, "but it's not going far." In fact, he admits that part of him is looking forward to a new beginning.

"The next phase will be a 21st-century affair," he says. "We'll start with a clean slate."

PAINTING: Sam Francis, Red in Red, 1955, oil on canvas, 78.38 x 78.38 in. Artwork © Sam Francis Foundation, California / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.