Arthur Anderson finds a home for his ‘family’ of art

Painting by Birge Harrison, from the collection of Arthur Anderson.

Arthur Anderson

For the past year, the West Shokan-based art collector and philanthropist Arthur Anderson was actively working to place his collection of Woodstock art from 1900 to 1950.

“Woodstock is a nice location for personal reasons, but seems too limited and off the beaten track for substantive study use,” he emailed in explanation of his search for a permanent home for his study collection. “Finding collection storage and use is a major endeavor, as I have found, and a strategic special sauce for a collection needs to be identified, in my experience.”

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This past week, the New York State Museum announced the acquisition of Anderson’s “significant collection of artwork of the historic Woodstock Art Colony,” which includes 1500 paintings, works on paper, sculptures, and archival material and by more than 170 artists from the first half of the 20th century. The release dubbed it “the largest comprehensive art collection of its type.”

After interviewing half a dozen museums over the past several years, Anderson decided the one that most closely met his requirements was the state museum in Albany. “It is especially important to me that they happily lend to museums and historical societies at no charge, in particular those in Woodstock, New Paltz and the Hudson Valley,” he said.

The deal that moves his collection to state museum control, according to Anderson, was facilitated by Sarah Pasti, executive director of the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art at SUNY New Paltz. “The Dorsky has a longstanding relationship with the New York State Museum, which ‘explores and expresses New York State’s significant natural and cultural diversity, past and present,’” Pasti noted. “A significant aspect of The Dorsky’s mission focuses on Hudson Valley art and culture, so we have an overlap with the New York State Museum when it comes to the Hudson Valley.”

Pasti advocated for Anderson’s consideration of the New York State Museum. “Since The Dorsky’s collection is focused on fine art and does not contain archives, the state museum seemed to me to be the perfect home for Arthur’s collection,” she said “And so it will be!”

Four Friends, by George Bellows, depicts the artist with his friends and fellow artists (left to right): Leon Kroll (1884-1974), Bellows, Eugene Speicher (1883-1962), and Robert Henri (1865-1929).

“Some works on paper will be going to the Dorsky Museum, since these it can readily store,” explained Anderson this week. “It is win-win, given the New York State Museum has a liberal lending policy to other museums and historical societies, and it lends without charge.”

The state museum heralded the importance of drawing Woodstock’s arts legacy into its collection. “The Woodstock Art Colony collection highlights an important piece of New York’s art history with both regional and national significance,” said the museum’s Board of Regents chancellor, Betty A. Rosa.

As he collected, Anderson also took to supporting local arts institutions, including the Woodstock Artists Association & Museum, Byrdcliffe, and the Dorsky, which named a wing after him. He eventually moved a historic barn onto his property to store and exhibit the collection for friends and family.

The collection features works by some of New York’s and America’s influential artists of the 20th century, said Mark Schaming, appointed two months ago to be the state’s deputy commissioner of cultural education as well as the State Museum director. “Arthur Anderson is a deeply thoughtful collector and has amassed a spectacular collection, which we are now able to share with scholars, researchers and all New Yorkers,” Schaming said. The collection “shines a light on Woodstock as an innovative center of artistic development in New York from the early to mid-1900s.”

Pasti noted several Dorsky exhibits that the state museum has presented in recent years. Two more will premiere in New Paltz in the coming autumns of 2018 and 2019 before moving on to Albany.

Anderson, who lives in West Shokan but spends much of each winter in southwest Florida, bought his first local painting “of a woman in bright red lipstick” from a Saugerties antiques dealer years ago. That got him interested in provenance, the story behind ownership and exhibition of a work, as well as the “relationship stories” that linked Woodstock area artists of the early 20th century.

Anderson says he started in collecting knowing nothing of art history. The collection evolved and gained focus with the more he learned.

Unlike many who collect, Anderson added that he has always had his eyes on the building of a study collection filled with as many drawings, sketches and prints as paintings. Over time, this built demand for what he owns from curators building large but not necessarily blockbuster exhibits. He was looking for “breadth and depth.”

Last winter, he called his search for a permanent home for his collection “a methodical quest.” Instead of sending out what he’d put together with an endowment, he was carefully providing massive amounts of digital backup: provenance histories, anecdotes, relationship information among artists, timelines…what he termed “the infrastructure” for a show. All was digitalized and housed online at the Collectrium, a management service owned by Christie’s Auction House.

“Education and availability for lending are my objective, and my preference is to have it all in one place, provided the museum has liberal lending practices so others can tap into it from time to time,” he said of that search.

This week, Anderson — who moved from an academic background in chemistry, American history, and law to financial success and first came to the area as a weekender — noted how his collection would be getting its first overall viewing at the state museum in Albany in autumn of next year.

“I began to collect and study for my own personal pleasure and to also build a research library,” he explained to the museum’s Regents. “I also began to attend area auctions and saw exceptional works going for not much money and about to disappear from the scene forever, so I began to buy. Many needed conservation and re-framing, so I did that as well so they looked like the artist originally intended.

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“In time, a dear friend asked me ‘What on earth are you doing, Arthur?’ I realized I was building a collection of the historic Woodstock art colony not just for me, but as a legacy.” Finally, he added to his collection the original Marg and Rudolph Wetterau 1926 color drawing showing the location of all of Woodstock’s artists’ houses.

The names of dozens and dozens of artists were all on the map. It is unlikely such a concentration of dedicated and talented artists existed at that time in any other community in the world

“I look at all I’ve collected as family,” the collector himself said. “I still have to take care of them.”