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Walla Walla Foundry owner Mark Anderson remembered for legacy, generosity

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Mark Anderson, with his grandson Jackson, at a Foundry Vineyards event in 2016. June 2016 Lehman Photo

Mark Anderson, the Walla Walla Foundry owner known both for the world-class operation that put his hometown on the global art map and for sharing his passion with the community by bringing public art to the streets and Foundry Vineyards, died at his home last week.

His daughter, Lisa Anderson, said he went to bed last Tuesday and died in his sleep that night or the next morning. Family members believe he had a cardiac event, given that he had not been ill and had a history of heart problems dating back many years. An exact cause had not yet been determined.

Anderson had turned 65 just about three weeks before his death.

A celebration of life will be Saturday, Nov. 23, with a 4 p.m. service at Cordiner Hall and a reception to follow in the Reid Center Young Ballroom.

Described by friends and loved ones with words such as “pillar” and “rock,” he was a quiet force, fueled to expand access to art for all in the community where he was local through and through.

“He was instrumental in so much,” said friend and arts community peer Jeana Garske.

Through the nonprofit arts organization now known as ArtWalla, the city’s public art program came to life with Anderson as a key anchor. Subsequent fundraisers, bronze pours, and annual maintenance efforts are just a few examples of his touches, Garske said.

The public art program that now includes more than 15 pieces of public art on the streets of Walla Walla was kickstarted by Anderson’s generosity. The first three sculptures — Wayne Chabre’s “Guard Pigeon,” Brad Rude’s “Thoughts Discovered” and Squire Broel’s “Blooms in August” — were purchased and installed for $8,000 in 2001. The value of the pieces was much greater, but Anderson and the artists donated their resources to begin to place public art on Main Street. It was a process that spurred much more throughout the years, including the more than 15 Anderson served on the ArtWalla board.

“He was a community treasure and a sincerely wonderful person,” Garske said via email.

“There is such an evidence of his legacy in our community, but nothing will equal his warmly encompassing and sunny smile that will be so missed.”

At his alma mater, Whitman College, art pieces are also interspersed throughout campus as one of the many signs of Anderson’s involvement.

He had worked closely with President Kathleen Murray and developed not only a working partnership but a true friendship.

“The Whitman community is grieving this loss and our hearts go out to Mark’s family,” Murray said in a statement to the U-B. “In addition to being a graduate and great supporter fo the college’s art collection, Mark was a pillar of this community. His memory will live on in his children and grandchildren, as well as in the work he did to make art more accessible for this entire town.”

Born Oct. 22, 1954, in Walla Walla, he was the youngest of seven children. His father, Gus, was born in Stockholm, Sweden, and came to the country at 2. Anderson’s mother, Lois, raised her children and helped when needed in the family business, Anderson’s Auto Wrecking. She also worked as head of housekeeping for Whitman College.

Anderson, a 1973 graduate of Walla Walla High School, went on to Whitman where he graduated with a degree in studio art.

During his junior year there he married his wife, Patty, on March 27, 1976. He was working as a foundryman at Maiden’s Bronzeworks at the time.

In 1980, the couple started Walla Walla Foundry with one client, sculptor Manuel Neri. As word got out about the professionalism of the operation and its inventiveness, more artists came on board. Within a decade the set of buildings that had once been used to mold iron fire hydrants, faucets, manhole covers and tractor parts, a 1990 Seattle Times story described, had a staff of 18 to cast sculptures for artists spanning the country.

Among them was Jim Dine, who had heard about it from a San Francisco sculptor.

“They’ve just grown with me,” Dine told the U-B in 1989. “I think they’re just the best foundry in America.”

Anderson was the recipient of the 1993 Pete Reid Award for Young Alumni of Whitman College and in 1996 was chosen from a field of 80 for the Governor’s Arts Award.

At the time of the latter, Anderson told the U-B he wasn’t sure the artistic world had a need for a foundry when he started it. He was more concerned about helping other artists create their work.

“I have an immense amount of respect for a person who chooses to create,” he said at the time. “And I would say that they are deserving of the help we can give them.”

Started as a bronze casting operation, the foundry has grown in depth and breadth. It works in a range of materials — bronze, copper, brass, stainless steel, silver and zinc — and through numerous processes, producing in wood, resin, glass and wax. The openness to artists and the innovation ingrained there with cutting-edge technology for large-scale works has drawn artists in the hundreds. Among them: Maya Lin, Kiki Smith, Paul McCarthy, Yoshitomo Nara, Simone Leigh, Jim Hodges and more. Employees number more than 100. Anderson has been the operations CEO with Dylan Farnum as president.

The Andersons’ two children, Lisa and Jay Anderson, carry on the family’s shared love of art and wine through Foundry Vineyards, the operation co-founded by Mark and Patty to blend art and wine with grapes made from their Stonemarker Vineyard. The acreage was first planted by the couple on 3 1/2 acres behind their home in 1998 and produces grapes for the tasting room and gallery that evolved in 2011 as a showcase of art and wine in an all-encompassing sensory experience.

Serving the community through art has been part of Anderson’s DNA.

The revitalized Gesa Power House Theatre is another example. Anderson was part of the ownership that purchased the former power generating facility at 111 N. Sixth Ave. and converted it in 2011 to a 368-seat theater now known as the Gesa Power House Theatre. In recent years, efforts have focused on the transition from private to nonprofit ownership so that it can be a truly public facility, daughter Lisa Anderson emphasized.

Her dad became one of the early members of the Walla Walla Piano Group hat started with a mission several years ago to make a concert-quality piano available for community use.

“He became crucial to the work of the group, primarily because of his experience with handling valuable items, though this was his first experience with a grand piano,” recalled Ted Cox, piano group board president and friend.

“I went once to watch his crew move the piano into the Gesa Power House Theatre. I stood and watched while Mark worked alongside too, much longer me, to do the job. He was not a ‘sidelines’ kind of guy. He was the person who made the movement of the piano happen, and never ever complained about the logistics of that process.”

The two became acquainted through interactions at Foundry Vineyards.

He worked with world-class artists but never name-dropped and was humble, Cox marveled.

When the branch of a beloved tree in the community became sickened, and the city had to remove it, Anderson stepped in to offer a way to preserve the historic sycamore.

About a year ago, Anderson met at Pioneer Park with City Manager Nabiel Shawa and Parks and Recreation Director Andy Coleman about the giant limb that had long served as a climbing branch in the crown jewel of the park system.

He quickly volunteered to help at no cost to the city — “before we even had the chance to ask him about the Foundry participating in the project,” Coleman marveled.

“He had played on the limb as a child and wanted to make this project happen for the community so that future generations could enjoy the limb.”

A mold has been taken of the limb and from it a cast bronze reproduction will be made and installed in place of the original next Arbor Day.

For daughter Lisa, one of her father’s gifts was his generosity.

“He’s just so passionate about helping anybody he could,” she said.

No call could be made at the wrong time. No question or quandary seemed a problem. In the days since his passing, numerous stories have come forward from employees and associates grateful for Anderson’s contribution to their lives.

“He gave a lot of personal time,” Lisa said. “I always think about that when I don’t feel so giving myself.”

In Walla Walla, he had a community where he could manifest his dreams. That vision continues now as a legacy.

“One thing we’ve been all talking about so much is how grateful as a family we’ve been,” she said. “There’s so much love.”Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.