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A happy ending: Dale Nichols painting ends up in David City museum

A happy ending: Dale Nichols painting ends up in David City museum

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The Dale Nichols painting sold for $350 in New York in 1938. A photograph of it was featured in The World-Herald’s farm report in 1940, but then it seemed to vanish.

Nebraska artist Dale Nichols’ missing painting is now hanging at the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art in David City, a happy ending to a mystery of more than 80 years.

Joel Ward, owner of Twist of Fate Estate Sales, delivered it to the town 25 miles southeast of Columbus earlier this week.

Painting 6

Joel Ward hands a Dale Nichols painting over to Gabrielle Comte, collections manager of Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art.

“It’s very satisfying knowing the painting is there where it belongs,” Ward said. “It’s hard to put into words. This is what we wanted to have happen.”

Ward was preparing an estate sale for an Omaha family when he discovered that Dan Sanley had been searching for the painting for years. Nichols painted “The Sanley Farm” in 1933 and took it to New York for an exhibition a few years later. But then it dropped out of sight.

Sanley, whose family lived next door to the farm in the painting, was overjoyed that it had been found. He wanted to purchase it and give it to the Bone Creek Museum.

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Bill Sanley and Ruth Nichols are relatives of the artist Dale Nichols. Ruth is a founding board member of Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art in David City.

But a bid of $35,000 didn’t match the family’s expectations, and it looked like it would be sold to someone else. Enquiries came in from every corner of the United States, Ward said.

“It’s incredible. I had given up,” Sanley said. “When I made the offer and they turned it down, I was just happy they found it.”

Painting 1

Joel Ward and Logan Woodington of Twist of Fate Estate Sales unload the painting in David City. The painting is now displayed at Bone Creek Museum and will eventually hang in a Dale Nichols gallery in a new larger museum.

But then an article in The World-Herald changed everything. Sanley’s nephew in Omaha, Dr. Mike Sanley, agreed to put up some money to reach the $60,000 minimum bid. So did his parents, John and Theresa, who enlisted the help of others in the family.

Bill Sanley, a 95-year-old nephew of Nichols’, called Bone Creek and said he wanted to help, too. He grew up on the farm in the painting and has a World-Herald article from 1940 that featured the painting hanging in his house in David City.

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Bill Sanley admires Dale Nichols' “The Sanley Farm.” He grew up on the farm in the painting.

Dan Sanley also got offers of help on his Nebraska Bohemians Facebook page. Others called the museum.

“We are thrilled,” said Anna Nolan, the museum’s founding president. “It’s just meant to be.”

The painting eventually will hang in a Nichols gallery planned as part of a new larger museum a few blocks away from the present location.

Painting 3

Bill Sanley and Ruth Nichols with the painting of the Sanley Farm.

A reception to share architectural drawings and renderings will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Ford Building at 312 N. Fifth St. in David City. The Nichols painting will be available for viewing at the present location at 575 E St.

“We feel this enlarged museum will be an important addition to the arts in Nebraska as well as tourism in our state and Butler County,” Bone Creek president Ruth Thoendel said.

Dan Sanley, who lives in San Diego, said it may be a while before he’s able to travel to Nebraska to view the painting in person. Now that his quest to find it is over, he’ll turn to the book he plans to write about Nebraska’s Czech immigrants.

Painting 5

Bill Sanley and Gabrielle Comte talk about Dale Nichols creating his painting of the farm.

He’s thrilled that his family came together to purchase the painting for Bone Creek and thankful that Ward contacted him when he discovered its history. Ward and the family who sold the painting are happy, too.

“The nice thing was is there was nobody disappointed that the painting ended up in the museum,” Ward said. “Everyone collectively agreed that it should end up there.”


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Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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