Shawnee Mission School District extends loan of highly valuable Thomas Hart Benton painting to the Nelson

“Utah Highlands” was painted in 1954 by Thomas Hart Benton and purchased as a class gift by SM North graduating seniors in 1957.

A highly valued piece of art that adorned the walls at SM North for years will continue to be available to view by the public at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art through at least the end of 2021.

Back in 2015, the Shawnee Mission School District and the Nelson entered a loan agreement for the Thomas Hart Benton painting Utah Highlands after speculation about its whereabouts jeopardized the district’s ability to safely keep the painting. The work was purchased for the school as a gift from the class of 1957. It was publicly displayed at the school for decades until 2008, when an appraiser valued it at around $700,000. At that point, administrators put the painting in a vault and replaced it on the school walls with a replica.

After media attention in early 2015 prompted the district to hold a press conference confirming that it was still in possession of the painting, Shawnee Mission security officials said they no longer believed they could safely keep the work on district property. Director of Safety and Security John Douglass noted that the value of the painting far exceeded the take in a typical bank robbery, and was thus a target for theft.

The district entered into an agreement with the Nelson in March 2015 to loan the museum the work. This week, the board of education approved an extension of that agreement that runs through Dec. 31, 2021.