Sculptor Marian Anderson celebrates a long life and an accomplished career

Marian Anderson Having lived a full life as a working mother, Marian Anderson began a second career as a sculptor at 56. Asked about a signature accomplishment, she says, “One should never think they’ve made their mark. It’s a deterrent!” (Image by Lloyd DeGrane)
Sculptor Marian Anderson celebrates a long life and an accomplished career

Artist Marian Sautter Anderson, ’44 FAA, is creating a sculpture garden of her work outside her studio in South Haven, Mich. She mentions that one large piece is hollow, which allowed her to crawl inside of it to make adjustments. Anderson says she found herself thinking, “Here I am, quite literally surrounded by my work.” 

To be in such a setting is remarkable. To have undertaken sculpture at the age of 56, as Anderson did, is extraordinary. To continue to showcase your work at the age of 100, a birthday milestone Anderson reached in January 2021, is singular.

“I’ve been lucky,” Anderson says about an extraordinary life that began in East St. Louis where her father encouraged her artistic interests as a child. She spent her last two years at Illinois under the stern, watchful eye of Professor of Art Cecil V. Donovan. “He always gave me something that spurred me a little further,” she says of her mentor and the first director of the University’s Krannert Art Museum.

Donovan encouraged Anderson to move to Chicago after graduation, where she began her first career in the 1940s, in what she believes was the city’s first all-female advertising agency. But at Donovan’s request, she returned to the University to teach for a few years. Anderson married a lawyer and settled in New Lenox, Ill., where she started her own enterprises and raised a family of four.

And while the Andersons lived in what she describes as “a cabin in the woods” where she led an atypical life as a working mother, she bristles at any suggestion that she was a pioneer. Did she have to overcome hurdles as a woman in the male-dominated worlds of advertising and modern art? “Never in my life. Nope. It didn’t happen.”

She is driven to keep learning and to discover through doing. It’s obvious in her fluid work (mariansanderson.com), which evidences myriad influences and media. 

Anderson encourages emerging artists to learn to see, cultivate “understanding hearts” and court luck. That word again: Anderson comes back to it often. But at 100 years old, she also knows it has taken more than that
and readily acknowledges, “You know, I’m strong.”