Two Birger Sandzén paintings were returned to Hoisington USD 431 in late February, to the relief and surprise of Superintendent Bill Lowry. He was amazed at their appearance. The paintings were actually high-quality photographic reproductions of the original pieces that the district sold at auction last summer, along with a small Sandzén watercolor painting.
The rare art collectively fetched more than $170,000 during a catalogued art auction conducted by a Kansas City-area auction house last summer. Decades earlier, the paintings from the famous Swedish-American artist came to Hoisington directly from Professor Sandzén, who served as director of the art school at Bethany College, Lindsborg, from 1894 to 1946.
"The history of the artwork sold it for buyers; they were all private pieces," explained Lowry. "I don’t believe any of our paintings went to galleries before coming here. They have unique stories behind them."
The money generated from the auction sales is being used to establish an endowed scholarship for Hoisington High School students who advance to college. Lowry said the USD 431 Foundation is in the process of developing scholarship criteria, and the district plans to announce its first scholarship recipient in May.
Lowry credits Barton Community College for coordinating the effort and arranging the use of DirkSoulis Auctions, which was able to get 20 percent more than it had projected for auctioning the pieces. The district had tried to sell the artwork twice before, using private bids, but bids fell well under the reserves set each time. Last year, Barton stored and protected the pieces in its Shafer Gallery, even exhibiting the works for the first time last spring.
More than 500 bidders participated in the Dirk Soulis 11th Annual Spring Fine Art Auction last June through telephone, Internet and attendance at the auction gallery. The three winning bidders were from Seattle, Wash., Salina, and Joplin, Mo.
The 30-by-40-inch oil on panel, titled "Wild Horse Creek," a landscape inspired by scenery around Hill City, sold for $107,500. According to a local newspaper account of that day, the oil painting was originally purchased from Sandzén at a discounted price of $250 by the Hoisington High School graduating class of 1946, which dedicated the piece in memory of two classmates.
The other oil painting, a 24-by-20-inch Kansas Landscape at twilight titled "Autumn Colors," sold for $55,000. Not as much is known about the piece, but more than likely, it too was purchased at a discount. The artist consistently offered considerable discounts to schools and libraries to promote art appreciation, especially among youth. That painting was purchased by the Hoisington High School class of 1953 in memory of a classmate.
The 1940s watercolor painting, a gift from Sandzén to the school district, according to Hoisington’s school newspaper "The Cardinal," sold for $9,500, nearly triple its original auction-house estimate.
The originals hung in the old district office for decades, for protection and as a precautionary measure. But the replicas can more easily be shared with the students, he said. He’s also wanting to share in establishing the new scholarship by encouraging all Hoisington High School alums to contribute to the scholarship fund and in presenting awards to students.
"The first scholarship especially, I’d like to get class members from 1946 and 1953 to present the award," said Lowry. "We’ll give it out before school starts next August. I think it will be exciting for the whole community."