C.A. Seward

1884 - 1939

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Biography for Birger Sandzen contributed by Ron Michael, Director of The Sandzen Memorial Gallery, Lindsborg, KS - www.sandzen.org

Kansas artist Birger Sandzén lived three lives in one as an artist, educator and promoter of the arts and humanities.  He was born in Blidsberg, Sweden, on February 5, 1871 and grew up in a home where efforts in music, art and literature were appreciated and encouraged.  In 1881 he began attending a boy's school in Skara, Sweden.  While there, he studied drawing and painting with Olof Erlandson, a graduate of the Royal Academy in Stockholm.  After graduation in 1890, he continued his studies for a semester in French and Esthetics at Lund University.  At the end of the term, he made the decision to become a professional artist and moved to Stockholm with the intention of enrolling in the Royal Academy.  He tired of waiting for an opening and instead joined a group of young art students taking classes from artists Anders Zorn, Richard Bergh and Per Hasselberg.  These classes would eventually evolve into the "Artists' League School."

After two years in Stockholm, Sandzén moved to Paris and continued drawing and painting in the studio of Edmond François Aman-Jean.  Aman-Jean, a Symbolist painter, was a close associate of post-impressionist pointillist artist Georges Seurat.  Students from twelve nations were pupils at the time and Sandzén befriended several of the Americans.  This friendship influenced his eventual move to the United States.

Prior to his arrival in Paris, Sandzén had read a book by Dr. Carl Aaron Swensson, the founder of Bethany College in Lindsborg.  After corresponding with Swensson about the potential of teaching at Bethany, Sandzén 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.  His initial art duties were to teach watercolor painting.  By 1899, he become the principal art professor at Bethany.  Throughout the years he had arduous teaching schedules which included the romance languages, art history and esthetics, in addition to the drawing and painting classes.

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.  In addition he was a consummate draftsman, filling over 80 sketchbooks.

Although difficult to summarize in one statement, a key to Birger Sandzén's thoughts about painting can be found in a paragraph from an article he wrote for The Fine Arts magazine in January 1915.  "Fortunately, every artist has the opportunity of consulting a teacher that is always ready to give the very best advice to the sincere and unsophisticated disciple.  The name of this great master is Nature. . .  Individuality and nature in honest partnership will always create new and fascinating works of art, that will never grow old and never weaken."Further insights can be found in many of his letters: "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."

Throughout his career he exhibited extensively and his works are found in every major Kansas art museum and larger museums throughout the United States and Sweden. Birger Sandzén was a founder of the Midwest Art Exhibition, held annually since 1899 in Lindsborg, and the Smoky Hill Art Club.  He organized the Prairie Water Color Painters in 1933 and was a charter member of the Prairie Print Makers in 1930.  He was a member of the Philadelphia Water Color Society; the New York Water Color Club; the Society of American Etchers, Gravers, Lithographers, and Woodcutters; the Taos Society of Artists; and other important professional groups.

He was constantly in demand as a guest artist and instructor, teaching at the Broadmoor Art Academy (later the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center), the Chappell Summer School in Estes Park, Stephens College, the Kansas City Art Institute, Utah State College and the University of Michigan.  He refused many permanent positions at other outstanding institutions because of his dedication to Bethany College and Lindsborg.  He also gave lectures on art throughout the region.

Birger Sandzén received honorary doctorates from Midland College in Nebraska, the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. In addressing the art of Sandzén, critics have continually praised his efforts.  M. K. Powell, Art Critic of the Kansas City Star, wrote "Birger Sandzén is an artist of strong uncompromising creative vision, a pioneer interpreter of the great wonders of the West.  His craftsmanship in several media is equal to his vision."  Paris art critic, Guiseppe Pelletieri, wrote "Birger Sandzén 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."  Perhaps highly regarded art historian Dr. William Gerdts summed Sandzen's career best he wrote "Sven Birger Sandzén was the most influential – and one of the most original – artists in the history of Kansas."


Seward Mentor - Birger Sandzen 1871 - 1954

Images on this page (top to bottom, left to right): photograph of Sandzen taken by C.A. Seward. two Sandzen landscape paintings , Sandzen lithograph and woodcut , biography of Sandzen by Emory Lindquist, (1993, Univ. of Kansas Press). “The Smoky Valley,” 1922 edition of book of Sandzen’s prints,  photograph of Sandzen and C.A. Seward, Sandzen lithograph, “Utah Poplars” with inscription to Seward, and photograph of Sandzen Memorial Gallery, Lindsborg, Kansas.

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Sandzen & Seward shared a lifelong friendship based on their mutual goal to develop support for the arts in Kansas.

View some of Sandzen’s letters to Seward - click Here.

To view more information about the prints of Birger Sandzen - click here.

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When Sandzen’s art dealer, Carl Smalley published the first book of Sandzen’s lithographs, he sent an autographed copy to Seward. 

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