The Anderson Collection: a private art collection becomes a public treasure


The 1947 Jackson Pollock painting “Lucifer” used to hang over Mary Patricia Anderson Pence’s bed. The 121 works collected by Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson and their daughter Mary Patricia now hang on the walls of a free museum on Stanford’s campus that opened to the public this September.

Focusing on post-WWII American art, the stunning collection includes 86 artists, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Ellsworth Kelly and Mark Rothko.

The museum has been drawing large crowds since its opening. Aimee Shapiro, the director of programming and engagement at the Anderson Collection, said: “We’ve evened out averaging 2,800 people a week since we opened. So we’ve already had 16,000 people here in the five weeks that we’ve been open.”

The museum, like the Cantor Arts Center next door on the Stanford campus, doesn’t charge for admission. “Adding a twenty-dollar ticket to a museum experience is quite prohibitive to families or to people who are not upper-middle class … It’s completely free — so if you have three kids and a spouse, you don’t have to pay a hundred dollars to walk into a museum for an hour,” Shapiro said.

“Institutions can sometimes be intimidating,” said Sophia Villarreal Licona, the arts in student life coordinator at the Stanford Arts Institute. “They can be expensive or hard to get to … I think that the fact that the museum is free is fantastic. It does a lot in terms of accessibility … but it is not the end of what the museum needs to do in terms of reaching new audiences.”

One such effort was the theatrical dance performance “Scene in Action,” staged by Stanford dance professor Aleta Hayes and a seminar of students. The performance brought huge crowds to the museum that may not have seen the collection otherwise.

Taylor Litchfield, a dancer in the production, praised the collection and the staff for not only inviting them into the space but also teaching them about art history in the process. “Only at Stanford,” Litchfield said. “It’s amazing how generous [the Andersons] are to donate their art and this entire collection.”

Editor’s note: Peninsula Press is a project of the Stanford Journalism Program at Stanford University.