Birger Sandzen is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art because of his unique landscape paintings featuring bold brushwork and vibrant color and because of his lithographs, block prints, and drypoints.
Esteemed Kansas artist, Birger Sandzen lived three lives in one as a painter, educator and crusader for art. He was born in Blidsberg, Sweden, on February 5, 1871 and grew up in a home where music, art and literature were loved and appreciated. In 1881 he began attending a boy's school in Skara, Sweden. He decided to become a professional painter and moved to Stockholm.
Prior to his arrival in Paris to study, Sandzen had read a book by Dr. Carl Aaron Swensson, the founder of Bethany College in Lindsborg. After corresponding with Dr. Swensson about the potential of teaching at Bethany, Sandzen was offered a position beginning in the fall of 1894. On September 4, he began his duties as a language instructor, while assisting in the art and vocal music departments. By 1899, he had become the principal art teacher at Bethany.
He remained at Bethany for the remainder of his career, retiring in 1946. During this period, and after he retired as Professor Emeritus, he was a prolific painter and printmaker until his death in 1954. During his lifetime he completed in excess of 2600 oil paintings and 500 watercolors. He created 207 lithographs, 94 block prints and 27 drypoints, which when the editions are totaled amount to over 33,000 prints.
Of his artwork, Birger Sandzen's thoughts can be found in many of his letters. In one he wrote "my gift to America is to make one realize how beautiful the simplest landscape is and how alive, vigorous and changing our trees and rocks are. The gift of understanding beauty is the greatest anyone can make to another human being." In another letter, "painting was my greatest ambition - not just to paint pictures to sell, but to understand the country about me and about its formation. When this was understood, I could paint an American landscape and show how beautiful it was to those who had not yet realized how lovely America is."
Birger Sandzen was a founder of the Mid-West Art Exhibition held annually in Lindsborg and the Smoky Hill Art Club. He organized the Prairie Water Color Painters and was a charter member of the Prairie Print Makers.
In addressing the art of Sandzen, critics continually praised his efforts. Paris art critic, Guiseppe Pelletieri, wrote "Birger Sandzen is the poet-painter of immense sun-washed spaces, of pine-crowned luminous, gigantic rocks, and of color-shifting desert sands. The spectator is amazed at this captured beauty. This dreamer-painter is truly a master."
The Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg shares the art and legacy of Birger Sandzen (1871-1954); a painter, printmaker and educator whose influence on the arts of Kansas and throughout the nation is highly respected.
The Gallery, built in his memory 50 years ago, showcases Birger Sandzen's paintings and prints throughout the year. The other major art museums in Kansas also display Sandzen's works as do numerous art museums across the country and in Sweden.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 1-5 p.m.
Admission fee: No charge. Donations welcomed.
Source: Courtesy of the Sandzen Gallery, Lindsborg