Birger Sandzen painting sets record price in $2.8m auction

Birger Sandzen, “Summertime in the Mountains” (1923) .
Birger Sandzen, “Summertime in the Mountains” (1923) .
  • Maynard Dixon (1875-1946), "The Monument."

    Maynard Dixon (1875-1946), "The Monument."

Auction In Santa Fe 2011 (AISF) offered the largest and one of the most brilliant Birger Sandzen works ever sold at auction, shattering the record for a work by this artist by nearly $150,000. “Summer In the Mountains” (1923), a 60” x 80” oil on canvas, extracted a round of applause and standing ovation when it sold for $632,500, a new world record for a Sandzen work sold at public auction.

Held at the Hilton Hotel in Santa Fe and conducted by Manitou Galleries of Cheyenne, WY, and Santa Fe, NM, the 2011 Auction In Santa Fe sale was destined for high profile recognition early on when owner Bob Nelson announced that 11 works by Birger Sandzen (1871-1954), dubbed the “American Van Gogh,” would be moving across the auction block on August 13 and 14.

The Sandzen works, in addition to several other artists’ works and a 100+ Pueblo pottery collection from pre-1904, were deaccessions from Bethany College, Lindsborg, KS. The pieces were required to go through a lengthy process to be offered for sale, which began in October, 2010.  All the works had been purchased by Bethany or given with the express intent to someday be sold. Donor wishes were strictly adhered to, and ultimately made this record-setting sale possible.

Bob Nelson, a Bethany alumnus, states, “It was a great honor to be chosen by Bethany College to represent them in the sale of these important works. The prices garnered for the Pueblo pottery, as well as for the artwork, exceeded all expectations in the highly competitive art and collectible worlds. Of the “top 10” selling pieces in the nearly $2.7 million sale, 7 of them were by Birger Sandzen, which is extraordinary, yet not unexpected, due to the high quality of the items offered. My staff and I feel privileged to have made history, yet paved a way for the future, all at the same time. Bethany awards over $6 million each year in scholarships, and when we present them with a check for nearly $1.15 million, it will greatly enhance and fulfill their mission toward quality education.”

AISF featured 574 lots over the 2-day sale and experienced approximately a 13% “no-sale” rate, which is average in the current auction environment. With approximately 500 bidders/buyers participating in person, over the internet and via phone and absentee bids, “there was something for everyone,” according to James Nelson, Bob’s son and “right-hand man” as Auction Coordinator.  Other art highlights included a Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) oil entitled “The Monument,” selling for $525,000 and a Robert Lougheed painting going for over $8,000.

Also known for featuring high quality Indian material, other AISF highlights included a 1930’s Teec Nos Pos weaving selling for $9,200, and a 1910 transitional weaving going for over $6,000. A rare U.S. Indian Police shotgun from 1889 fetched $6,325, while a pair of Yankton Sioux moccasins & leggings brought $8,050 and a pair of Kiowa child’s moccasins commanded a price of $7,475.  An extraordinary and seldom-found Crow Keyhole horse face ornament brought $6,900 and the featured Sioux Elk Dreamer’s Society man’s vest fetched $10,925. In addition, an 1860s Santee Sioux beaded bandolier bag garnered a surprise record price of $31,050. Pottery from Bethany College was very strong overall. An Acoma four-color jar dating pre-1900 commanded $5,750 and a wonderful Zuni figural square vessel fetched nearly $5,000.

“We are encouraged by the strength of this sale,” further states Bob, who has been in the art, collectibles and auction business for over 50 years. "Quality offerings bring top prices, even in the toughest economic environment, and this has been one of the toughest I’ve seen. We certainly feel that there is an encouraging upturn in the market for Western art and Native American items, which indicates that collectors and investors are looking for alternatives, which we are pleased to offer.”

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