For decades, Illinois school administrators did not know that
hanging on the walls of Oak Park and River Forest High School was a
treasure trove of art.
But in the fall of 1998, Don Vogel, the division head for information systems and instruction technology at the suburban Chicago school, became curious about the painting of a hilly landscape that hung above his desk. "I thought, 'Let me see what I can find out about this artist,' because I really liked the painting," he said.
Hen," by Indiana artist
Ada Walter Shulz.
(Oak Park and River Forest High School)
He searched the Internet for more information about Dale Bessire, a southern Indiana artist. Mr. Vogel then got in touch with a gallery in Brown County, Ind. Lyn Letsinger-Miller, an art expert at the gallery, provided him with a list of other regional artists whose work is collectible, which started Mr. Vogel on a hunt for more art around the school. That shimmer of curiosity led to a gold mine of paintings that were originally donated to the school in the 1920s and 1930s.
Mr. Vogel said the cost of insuring the art proved prohibitive, so school officials decided to sell the paintings and use the proceeds for scholarships. "We decided in the end that our mission as an education institution was not to be a conservatory for paintings," he said.
Last week, 20 paintings that hung in the 2,750-student high school brought $327,150—far more than the $125,000 originally estimated by art dealers.
"I think even the auctioneer was stunned," Mr. Vogel said. The painting that had been in his office, "November Haze," sold for $10,000. "Yellow Hen," by Ada Walter Shulz, had for years hung above a secretary's desk in the personnel office. It sold for $85,000.
Vol. 19, Issue 36, Page 3