Sandzén remembered on 150th birthday

Chad Frey
The Kansan
The community of Lindsborg will celebrate Birger Sandzén's 150th birthday in 2021.

Birger Sandzén left his mark on Lindsborg — not only is the city's art gallery named after him, but one of his works remains on very public display at the Lindsborg post office. 

This upcoming year the gallery will celebrate Sandzén's 150th birthday, with an upcoming exhibition of his work and the publication of a new book. 

The post office contains a Section of Fine Arts mural titled “Smoky River,” painted by Sandzén in 1938.

Smoky River was painted close to Lindsborg, with the style that he was well known for with strong brush strokes. At the time this work was completed, Sandzen was 67 years old. 

During the Great Depression, public art in federal buildings, including post offices, was created by artists employed by the United States government. In one federal program, 1,400 post office murals were created in more than 1,300 cities and towns.

The current Lindsborg Post Office was built in 1938 in the Classical Revival style and was added to the National Historic Register in 1989. Sandzén's mural, titled Smoky River, in the lobby. Sandzén was paid $390 to paint this large mural in 1938. Sandzén also painted murals in the Belleville (1939) and Halstead (1941), Kansas post offices.

The Sandzén Gallery is planning a special comprehensive exhibition of works by Sandzén that will open on Jan. 17, 2021. The exhibition, Sandzén at 150: Celebrating the Vision, commemorates the artist's birth on Feb. 5, 1871, and will showcase works from the Gallery's permanent collection.

A book is also being published to accompany the exhibition. Sandzén was born in Sweden and studied art in Stockholm and Paris prior to emigrating to Lindsborg in 1894 so that he could teach at Bethany College. He remained there for the remainder of his career, retiring in 1946. 

Throughout this period, and after he retired, he was a painter and printmaker until his death in 1954. 

According to the gallery, during his lifetime he completed more than of 2,600 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. In addition he was a draftsman, filling over 80 sketchbooks.

The exhibition is generously underwritten by the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Charitable Trust and will continue through March 7, 2021

Post office mural  "Smoky River" was painted by Birger Sandzen and placed in Lindsborg in 1938.

The Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery is located at 401 N. First Street in Lindsborg and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The gallery is closed on Mondays. Admission is free, with donations appreciated. We ask that visitors wear masks and practice appropriate social distancing. For more information about Birger Sandzén and the Sandzén Gallery visit www.sandzen.org or call 785-227-2220.