In Remembrance – Dan Anderson
"The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit, especially privileges granted by one country or organization to another."
Dan Anderson’s life was a myriad of people, places, and all kinds of art-related objects. But it was also relatively simple and pure: Let your creativity feed, influence, and meld with everything and everyone in life. "Working in clay" was, in reality, "living with clay," as Dan wrote for SP in 2003, a memory from his undergrad time at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls with Doug Johnson. Behind it all, though, was Dan’s "pay-it-forward" approach to mentorship, an enormous, nearly bottomless appetite for collaboration, and a lifelong pursuit of artful, imaginative, exploratory immersion.
If you ever had the chance to drop in on him and Caroline at their archive-like, tree house-inspired home and studios in Edwardsville, you saw that Dan lived the life of a "forever student," one whose curiosity, eccentricity, and worldly artistic taste fed his output as a professor, mentor, clay cohort, kiln collaborator, and friend to so many.
Stemming from his seminal (and very lucky) one-on-one year with Richard DeVore at Cranbrook, Dan’s entire outlook on what it meant to be an artist shifted from simply being a maker to something much broader: a resource. And it is from this ethic that we all remember Dan’s legacy. It is as if Dan were saying the quiet part in real-time: "What I do as an artist doesn’t matter a heckuva lot if I’m not helping the next generation continue this good work." Even as the potter passes, the pots remain. But more importantly, so do the people you helped along the way. What they do, where they take the field, the questions they ask, the answers they seek, and, ultimately, their artwork and ideas are every bit a part of one’s past legacy as it is an important building block for future ones. Over his thirty-two years at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Dan made good on that ethic, inviting over 250 visiting artists – nearly eight per academic year – highlighting the importance of having as many voices available to his students as possible. To Dan, a chorus of views was untouchably better than a monotone solo act.
The legacy Dan leaves behind finds its foundational footing in this pursuit of mentorship. We all know how tickled Dan was by the two-way relationship one can have while teaching: At some point, inevitably, the teacher becomes the student. Hosting Joe Pintz as his first apprentice in 2001 was a natural segue from academia to the "real world classroom" for Dan, a rare opportunity to share his life as a maker with a student looking to become equally immersed. As Dan said, "it’s rare to have this type of relationship. It feels fabulous sharing my knowledge and experiences with someone like Joe. Just like I was able to share my mentors’ worlds of experience, the reciprocity Joe feels is something like repaying a much-needed and well-used loan from a bank."
If this is the type of loan program in which we are all shareholders, then I say we are putting Dan’s currency to good use these days. Like the cords of wood fed into the mouth of the Mounds kiln, the fuel with which Dan fed his life was renewable and sustainable. It was optimistic, caring, and inclusively curated. ALL – and I do mean ALL – were welcome at the Mounds. Ask anyone who knew him, and they’ll tell you the same. But if you need more evidence, travel back in time to the dumpster behind the clay studio at Cranbrook, circa 1969. Richard DeVore snagged one of Dan’s discarded pots and took it home, where, later, Dan saw it on a shelf, writing that "Richard saw it for what it was; I had thrown it out for what it wasn't."
It feels safe to say that Dan saw us all for who we are and not for what we lack. But now we are tasked with upholding his optimism, continuing his broad, captivating energy, and, above all, paying it forward so that the next generation can write their own stories with as much flavor, inspiration, and informed curiosity as he did.
For Dan Anderson's article "Mentoring: Past is Prologue" see the June 2003, Studio Potter print issue archives on Mentorship - Vol 31, No. 2, page 26.