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Sanford "Sandy" Michael Besser

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Published: November 29, 2011

Sanford "Sandy" Michael Besser, a full-time resident of Santa Fe since 1997, died at the age of 75 at his home on Friday, November 25th. Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1936, son of Ida and Herbert Besser, Sandy moved to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1944 at the age 8 and lived there until 1997. Sandy graduated from Vanderbilt University on a ROTC scholarship (B.A. '58) and was stationed at Treasure Island in San Francisco while in the Navy.

He spent the majority of his career with the investment banking firm Stephens Inc. of Little Rock, Arkansas. Sandy and his wife Diane Pettit Besser, whom preceded him in death in 2001 after 36 years of marriage in which they found the perfect balance of Sandy's sharp wit and Diane's signature grace, earned a strong local and national recognition as art collectors.

A voracious collector since childhood (post-cards, swizzle sticks, to name a few), he was collecting art in earnest by the mid-1960s and was instrumental in the growth of the Arkansas Arts Center. He also was responsible for overseeing the building of a corporate art collection for Stephens Inc. The Bessers' eclectic collections ranged across 20th century drawings, tribal arts from Indonesia and Africa, contemporary Hispanic carvings and straw appliqué from New Mexico, figurate ceramics, and perhaps most popular of all, the crazy teapots. He was recognized as one of the top 100 collectors in the country by Art & Antiques magazine in 2002 and is credited with helping emerging artists gain recognition in the competitive world of contemporary art. He truly loved artists as well as their art.

Sandy and Diane made a commitment to sharing their collection with both the novice and the aficionado, including gifting the majority of their collection over time to a number of institutions, including: Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Spanish Colonial Arts Society, and International Folk Art in Santa Fe, Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe and the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock. In 2007, following a large gift to de Young Museum in San Francisco, Besser celebrated his 70th birthday with the opening of the eponymously named exhibit, The Diane and Sandy Besser Collection.

Sandy's personality was one of a kind. A king of word play, he was always ready to engage both friends and strangers with his wickedly dry sense of humor. Everyone who knew him remembers the laughs he provided the most. Sandy, also known as "Scrappy Besser," was not afraid of confrontation. In the art world his opinions were strong. Some battles created enemies, but more battles created change for the good of the appreciation of art.

He is survived by his sons and their spouses, Matthew Besser and Danielle Schneider of Los Angeles, and Grant and Alexandra Besser of Boulder, and Kenneth and Virginia Besser of San Francisco. He is further survived by grandchildren, Cole, Carson, Quinn and Natalie; his sister, Maxine Marshall of Scottsdale, Arizona; his beloved dog, Ruby.

Memorial services for family and friends will be held at his home on Wednesday, November 30th at noon. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Coming Home Connection, 418 Cerrillos Rd., suite #27, Santa Fe, N.M., 87501.

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