Many, many people met Reginald Anderson over the decades, but few of them knew what he could really do. As the front-desk guard at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, he greeted visitors and explained where treasures could be found. Eventually, in a late-career triumph, his own creations were shown in the museum.
A native of the historic Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul, Anderson grew up with doting parents and art lessons. He was shy and had a stutter, however, and eventually abandoned art-making. He remained inspired, listening deeply to jazz masters like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis—whose improvisations ultimately brought about sketches that turned into new artworks.
Anderson, who exhibited as Reggie Sanders, made translucent abstractions with soft colors and occasional collaged scraps. "You can only go so bold and so bright," he told an interviewer in 1997; "Subtlety is infinite." His return to art was partly the result of surviving a stroke, and also realizing he could be confident about his creativity again.
The new works drew genuine appreciation from many friends and curators, and even the gift of a trip to Paris in the mid-1990s. Anderson was honored with gallery shows and an hour-long documentary about his life, titled Not a Nickel's Worth of Doubt. He passed away in 2001.