The valuable Thomas Hart Benton painting that disappeared from a library wall at Shawnee Mission North High School years ago could be back in the public eye within weeks.
“I think that’s terrific,” Marsha Pachter, Shawnee Mission High School class of 1957, said Thursday. “Now that makes sense.”
A story this week in The Star said school alumni were begging to see the painting, “Utah Highlands,” and wondering about its whereabouts.
That prompted school officials to move the painting from an undisclosed location in a district school to another “secure location,” said John Douglass, director of safety and security for the district. The move was necessary to protect the safety of Shawnee Mission students, he said.
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But the district is negotiating with another entity that would be able to display the painting publicly and securely, Douglass said.
Pachter helped pick up the painting from Benton’s Kansas City home in 1957 after students bought it as a class gift for their school. They paid $750.
The painting long hung in the library at Shawnee Mission North. But after it was appraised several years ago at $700,000 — “It knocked their socks off,” Douglass said — school officials worried that it might be stolen. They removed the painting and put a photo of the work in its place.
The $700,000 appraisal first appeared in The Star in a 2011 story.
As alumni have asked school officials about the painting in recent years, they were assured it was in a safe place. But because they weren’t allowed to view the painting, some wondered whether it was hanging over an administrator’s fireplace or perhaps had been sold.
No, district spokeswoman Leigh Anne Neal said last week, but she wouldn’t say where it was. On Thursday, she provided documents that showed the painting was insured.
If The Star hadn’t published its story about the alumni questions, Douglass said, “frankly, we would have gone about quietly storing the painting” where it was.