Giving the gift of art

Jay Benedict
Collegio reporter

PSU recently received a unique donation from a longtime friend of the university.
Norma Monahan Reals bequeathed 31 pieces of art to Pitt State as part of her and her late husband William’s final estate plans. The artwork had previously hung throughout the couple’s home in Wichita. The value of the collection has been appraised at $150,000.
“The collection of art was a lifetime passion of my parents. My mother wanted to have this collection donated and displayed it its entirety, in public, in exactly the same way that she arranged it in her living room for all to enjoy and appreciate,” said William Reals Jr.
The pieces were on display in Porter Hall’s University Gallery for public viewing, and now most of the pieces will be held temporarily by the Art Department until permanent homes can be found for them.
The collection contains works from two Lindsborg artists. Several of the pieces were created by Swedish-American artist Birger Sandzen. Sandzen is most famous for his oil landscape paintings.
During the Reals’ visits to Lindsborg to view Sandzen’s work, they became acquainted with artist Lester Raymer. Raymer is known for everything from his paintings to sculptures and metalworks. The donated Raymer works are mostly paintings, but also include a metal cross.
So far, only one piece has a guaranteed permanent residence: Sandzen’s “Peonies” painting will be placed in the Crossland House, PSU President Steve Scott’s on-campus residence. The Art Department will temporarily hold on to the remaining pieces until suitable galleries are available.
According Ellen Carter, PSU director of major gifts, several spaces are being considered. One of the main spots is the soon-to-be-completed Bicknell Family Performing Arts Center. The space that the center will have may be beneficial because Norma requested that works on the south wall of the gallery be kept together.
“The Raymer wall mimics how the Reals displayed the work in the family’s residence and the work also tells us a story about how the family treasures and leaves a record of their existence and their contributions to the community,” said Rhona Shand, chair of the Art Department.
“She chose PSU because of her family ties and deep roots in Southeast Kansas,” Bill Reals Jr. said. “We hope you enjoy this collection as much as our family has enjoyed it over the years.”
“We’re very pleased the family, Norma specifically, made this gift, “ Carter said. “Students, and the public, will be able to enjoy this and learn from it for years to come.”
The Realses have been friends of PSU for years, despite neither of them being graduates. William graduated from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where he met Norma. The two married in 1944. Norma was a Pittsburg native and came from a family of miners and farmers, of which many of the descendants are here.
This connection with the area has been the catalyst for several donations over the years. In 1987, the Realses donated 10 acres in Cherokee County to the university. This plot became the location of PSU’s KRPS public radio station tower and helped the dream of having a local public radio station become a reality.
The Realses also made another donation in 1988. The 153 acres of reclaimed mined land spanning the Crawford-Cherokee County lines near Cherokee eventually became the Francis A. Monahan Outdoor Education Center, which is maintained by the Biology Department. This site is used as a wildlife refuge and to study the long-term environmental effects of strip mining and subsequent reclamation of the area.
William Reals died in 2002. Norma Reals died in July 2013.

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