Harry W. Anderson. Photo: L.A. Cicero.

Harry W. Anderson (1922–2018)

Modern art collector and philanthropist Harry W. Anderson, who founded the food service company Saga Corporation, died at his San Francisco Peninsula home on Wednesday, February 7, Sam Whiting of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. He was ninety-five years old. Anderson, who was often called “Hunk,” built one of the most significant private collections of American postwar art. A portion of it is housed at Stanford University, which had to construct a new museum in order to exhibit the pieces by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, among others, from the collection.

“Hunk Anderson had an infectious enthusiasm and passion for art, and for sharing art to benefit society broadly,” Stanford president emeritus John Hennessy said in a statement. “He just lit up whenever he described what each work meant, and how it inspired creativity. It was this shared passion that bonded us, as we met through our mutual interest in visual arts.”

“Hunk’s insistence that the family’s remarkable collection go to a place that would curate it in perpetuity, so that it could be used, shared and seen, reflected his philosophy that art can and should inspire all of us,” Hennessy added. “All of us at Stanford will always have the deepest affection for Hunk as a generous, big-hearted man.”

Born in Corning, New York, on October 5, 1922, to a Swedish father and a Norwegian mother, Anderson left the small town to serve in the United States Army during World War II. In 1946, he enrolled at Hobart College in New York. While studying there, he conceived of an idea to improve dormitory food and established Saga with two other students. Upon graduation in 1949, Anderson traveled the country selling food service. The company eventually became the Saga Corporation, one of the largest food and restaurant businesses in America.

In 1950, Anderson married his wife, Mary Margaret Ransford, also known as “Moo,” and in the early 1960s, after a trip to the Louvre in Paris, they began collecting art. First, they bought pieces by American modernists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Dove, but they were soon captivated by postwar American artists. In 1962, three years after the birth of their daughter, Mary Patricia “Putter,” the Andersons moved to the Bay Area and opened the national headquarters for Saga in Menlo Park, California. In 1966, they gifted a selection of 650 works of graphic art, which is known as the Anderson Graphic Art Collection, to the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. The Andersons also gave fifty-five works to the San Francisco Museum of Art, which were showcased in the exhibition “Celebrating Modern Art: The Anderson Collection” in 2000. One year later, the family announced that it planned to donate a portion of its collection, including 121 paintings and sculptures by eighty-six artists, to Stanford University, which built a $36 million two-story museum for the holdings.

“Throughout our adult lives, we have always been closely associated with colleges and universities, and in making this gift to Stanford we anticipate the students, the public, and the entire art community will have the opportunity to fully engage the collection,” said the Anderson family when the collection opened in 2014. “Hopefully, this gift makes a great university greater, and the world a grain of salt better.” Stanford University’s Anderson Collection has been seen by nearly 250,000 visitors to date.