Birger Sandzén, 1930, in the Art Pavilion,
painting Horses in Wyoming.
Birger Sandzén was born in Blidsberg, Sweden, on February 5, 1871. At the age of twenty-three, after having read a book by the founder of Bethany College, Dr. Carl Aaron Swensson, he came to Lindsborg, Kansas, to join the Bethany College faculty, intending to make a two or three years' sojourn in America and Mexico.
Sandzén liked his new home so much that, except for two trips to Mexico and three to Europe, he remained in the United States the rest of his life, most of those sixty years being spent in Lindsborg. He died on June 19, 1954, at the age of eighty-three.
On September 4, 1894, Sandzén began his teaching career at Bethany College. In the early years, he taught French, Swedish, German and Spanish, while assisting in the art department and the vocal music department. Not until 1899 did he become the principal art teacher at Bethany. Throughout the years he had arduous teaching schedules which included the Romance languages, four art history classes, a class in esthetics for liberal art students, and all of the drawing and painting classes.
When young, he was the tenor soloist with the Bethany Oratorio Society (1896-1901 and 1903-1905) and gave many recitals with his wife, Alfrida Leksell Sandzén, a talented pianist. He wrote Swedish unusually well, and for years contributed to Swedish-American newspapers.
In addition to teaching at Bethany, Birger Sandzén served as a guest art instructor at the Broadmoor Art Academy (later the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center), the Denver Chappell House School of Art, 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 he loved "little Lindsborg" and was dedicated to Bethany College.
As a professional artist, Sandzén produced an astonishing number of oils, watercolors, and prints which found their way into literally thousands of homes and schools, regionally as well as nationally.
In the early twenties and thirties he exhibited extensively, including two exhibitions at the Babcock Galleries in New York. Concerning these exhibitions, Payton Boswell once wrote, "He surpasses all expectations -- by vigor of his technique, the rightness of his compositions, and the gorgeousness of his color schemes that burn as brightly as the face of those many-hued lands. But that his nature is not averse to portraying less dramatic features of the West is evident in Moonlight and The Old Homestead, the melancholy atmosphere being as much a part of it as the brilliant sunshine."
Another critic, L. Merrick wrote, "He has searched for essentials, disregarding unimportant details and extreme realish, but with direct brushwork and love for brilliant color has adapted nature to express artistic emotion. The exhibition contains oils, watercolors, and lithographs and woodcuts in all of which mediums he appears perfectly at home, and in which he betrays a knowledge of structural forms which express his intentions in a forceful, compelling manner."