Harry Anderson had long been a Seventh-day Adventist and famous illustrator by the time he and his family became members of the Danbury-Bethel church. But as the years passed it proved that our humble little church was a perfect fit for this very humble and quietly talented man.
Harry Anderson self portrait, 1956.
Joseph Harry Anderson was born August 11, 1906, in Chicago, Illinois. In 1925, when it came time for college studies, Harry enrolled at the University of Illinois intending on becoming a mathematician. However, he soon discovered that he far preferred drawing and painting to any other course of study. So, in 1927 he moved to Syracuse, New York to study at the Syracuse School of Art.
Letter to cousin, March 20, 1926.
Upon graduation, Harry worked for several months doing illustrating during the day and selling candy at night in order to save money and make ends meet. About a year later he was able to returned to Illinois where he began the slow process of building an illustrating career in depression era Chicago. Natural talent and determination paid off and by 1937 he was doing work for several major magazines, such as Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, The Saturday Evening Post and others.
In 1940, Harry married, Ruth Huebel, a girl that worked in his building and had on one occasion posed for him. Four years later, in 1944, Harry and Ruth joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After becoming an Adventist, Harry felt that it would no long be appropriate for him to do the kind of secular projects he had been largely engaged in. And he willingly accepted the financial implications of that decision. But he would not lack for work for long. Within a year, Harry was contacted by the Review & Herald Publishing Association, asking him to come and work with them. You see, at that time the Review was looking to improve the level of illustrating quality in its publications and they were thrilled when he accepted their offer and eventually relocated to Maryland.
One of the first paintings Harry would do for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, “What Happened to Your Hand?“, is perhaps also his most beloved. Harry would go on to paint more than 300 hundred works for the Review, largely as a gift to the church, as he would accept barely more than minimum wage for any of them. Harry believed that it was his privilege and duty to use his talents for God and he was pleased to be able to be such a blessing to so many.
In the 1951, wishing to be closer to New York City, so that he might have closer interaction with other artists and so that he might have access to a better selection of experienced artistic models, Harry and his family relocated to Ridgefield Connecticut where they were welcomed into the Danbury-Bethel Church family.
For more than four decades Danbury-Bethel would be Harry’s church home, all of those years at Elmwood Chapel. He was part of the renovation projects, his woodworking skills put to great use as he fashioned pieces for the church with his own hands. In fact, there are a few of those items still in use by our church today.
But Harry invested more than his manual skills into the church. He was a frequent adult sabbath school teacher and would preach. Interesting occupations for a man that was far more comfortable out of the spot light. It seems that the humble intimacy of our congregation and the Elmwood Chapel were just as good a fit for him as he was for us.
In the 1980s Harry would suffer a stroke. There was great fear that he would not fully recover and be left unable to do the art that he so loved. He and his family prayed that God would either heal him fully or allow him to die. God’s answer was a full recovery and a return to the studio and to the church life he loved. But the recovery was not without effort. After the stroke Harry took up crocheting to strengthen his right hand that had been weakened by the stroke. His self prescribed physical therapy worked and his hand strength was regained.
Harry continued to be active and interested in the growth of his church throughout his life. He was deeply committed to helping to secure a new property to replace, the too small, Elmwood Chapel and in his late eighties, Harry donated dozens of autographed prints of several of his most treasured paintings, to the Danbury-Bethel Church.
These prints were then sold with the proceeds going to the Church building fund. Ground for the new church building, on Turkey Plain Road, was broken on March 17, 1996. Harry would pass to his rest eight months following the ground breaking on November 19, 1996, at the age of 90.
Few men have left behind them such a substantial legacy as Harry Anderson. His art conveys his nature and his passion. Even in the commercial work there is a peace and a humility that so characterized the man who painted them. Capable of painting anything, he only painted subjects in line with his convictions. And he will be most remembered for his paintings of Jesus.
Portrait by Harry Ahn