Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Sven Birger Sandzén was one of the premier landscape painters of the Great Plains during the first half of the twentieth century. Born in Blidsberg, Sweden, on February 5, 1871, Sandzén left in 1894 for the small town of Lindsborg, Kansas, founded twenty-five years earlier by Swedish Lutherans. There he intended to teach at Bethany College and pursue his art in the American West. As a student of drawing and painting in Stockholm and Paris, Sandzén valued the European tradition, but he was also eager to experience the liberating influence of the open prairies. Over the next sixty years he produced an estimated 2,800 oil paintings, 400 watercolors, 330 prints, and 5,600 sketches.

Best known are the landscapes, whose thick, vigorously applied paint in vivid colors reveal Sandzén's passionate response to nature. He was thrilled by the clear atmosphere and "glorious scenery" he found in Kansas, particularly the Smoky Hill River valley, where he lived, and farther west in Graham County. Sandzén was deeply impressed by rolling hills and ravines, and he cherished other commonplace features of the region such as cottonwood trees, sandstone boulders, and pioneer homes. He was also a consummate professional with a strong sense of civic responsibility. He taught art at Bethany College for over half a century, wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, and helped establish numerous organizations such as the Kansas Federation of Art and the Prairie Print Makers. Sandzén's legacy in Lindsborg lives on through the art department at Bethany College, his recently restored house and studio, and the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery, opened in 1957. Sandzén died in Lindsborg on June 22, 1954.

Bruce R. Kahler Bethany College

Diffily, John. "Birger Sandzén 1871-1954: Through the Corridor of Nature." Southwest Art 13 (1983): 42-51.

Lindquist, Emory. Birger Sandzén: An Illustrated Biography. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993.

Birger Sandzén Papers, Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery Archives, Lindsborg KS.

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