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Nelson and Olive Sandgren papers

Identifier: WUA121

Scope and Contents

The Nelson and Olive Sandgren papers include financial and personal records, family ephemera, and documentation related to Nelson Sandgren’s careers as an artist and professor, from 1936 to 2016. His wife, Olive Sandgren, is responsible for the creation of a large portion of the items in this collection including all of the financial records and much of the documentation regarding sabbatical trips and vacations. She also collected and maintained all documentation related to her husband’s career, including clippings, exhibit fliers, and correspondence. Series I (Art and teaching careers) contains newspaper articles, exhibition fliers, correspondence, photographs and slides, original art, and books concerning Nelson’s careers as an artist and professor. Series II (Sketchbooks) contains Sandgren’s sketchbooks. Series III (Journals and diaries) includes Nelson’s personal journals and pocket notebooks and Olive’s diaries concerning various life events. Series IV (Correspondence) includes letters by Olive to her family during World War II and Nelson’s teaching trip to the University of Michoacan, Morelia, Mexico. Series V (Financial records) contains records maintained by Olive from 1971-2007. Series VI (Family records) includes records created by Olive to document the health and education of her children and daughter-in-law.


  • 1936-2016


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to researchers.

Conditions Governing Use

Library acts as “fair use” reproduction agent.

For further information, see the section on copyright in the Regulations and Procedures of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections.

Copyright Information: Before material from collections at Willamette University Archives and Special Collections may be quoted in print, or otherwise reproduced, in whole or in part, in any publication, permission must be obtained from (1) the owner of the physical property, and (2) the holder of the copyright. It is the particular responsibility of the researcher to obtain both sets of permission. Persons wishing to quote from materials in any collections held by University Archives and Special Collections should consult the University Archivist. Reproduction of any item must contain a complete citation to the original.

Biographical / Historical

Ernest Nelson Sandgren (December 17, 1917 - August 17, 2006) was a painter, printmaker, muralist, watercolorist, and university professor. He was born on December 17, 1917 in Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada. His family moved to Chicago, Illinois and then to Portland, Oregon, where Sandgren began pursuing art as a career. In November 1941, Sandgren married Olive Palm (December 20, 1920 - June 10, 2008), a Portland native who would be his companion and partner in all aspects of his life. The Sandgren’s love of art and art education influenced the lives of their children, Erik and Jan, as each pursued careers in the arts: Erik as an artist and professor and Jan as a landscape artist and developer.

Sandgren’s art career began with his attendance to Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, where he also played baseball and sang in a quartet. While at Linfield, Sandgren met Bernard Geiser, a painter and priest who helped to foster the foundational maxims that would inform Sandgren’s approach to art. Sandgren transferred to University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, where he enrolled in the ROTC and lettered in baseball. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1943. During World War II Sandgren did basic infantry training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and was a lieutenant at various posts throughout the United States and in the Philippines.

After the war, he returned to the University of Oregon on the GI Bill to complete his Masters of Fine Arts degree. He studied with painters Andrew Vincent, David McCosh, and Jack Wilkinson. He completed his degree in 1948 and continued his studies at the University of Michoacan, Morelia, Mexico with artist and muralist Alfredo Zalce. Nelson and Olive documented their time in Morelia with art, correspondence, and journals.

In 1948, Gordon Gilkey, chair of the art department at Oregon State University, hired Sandgren to teach painting. Through inspiration and encouragement from his colleagues and Gilkey, Sandgren expanded his art to include printmaking, lithography, and woodcut. Sandgren took five painting sabbaticals in Europe and Mexico during his teaching career, including a second trip to Morelia in 1950 and a trip to Chicago in 1953, where he studied at the Chicago Institute of Design. He also played semi-pro baseball for the Los Camineros team in Mexico in 1953. In 1963 Sandgren served as an artist for the American Quintana Roo Expedition, which was organized to document Mayan cities, zoological and botanical specimens, and tropical medicine in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Sandgren created watercolors, sketches, photographs, and video alongside a team of scientists, historians, and professors who documented the expedition. This was the first of several expeditions to explore a previously undiscovered Mayan roadway in Quintana Roo.

In 1986, after a successful 38 year teaching career, Sandgren retired from Oregon State University and focused primarily on his art. In 1988 Sandgren was commissioned to paint a mural at the Mahlon Sweet Airport in Eugene, Oregon. He worked with his selected team of artists, which included his son Erik Sandgren, Carol Yates, and Mark Clarke, to create a 4,000 square foot mural in the main concourse of the remodeled airport. Sandgren also developed the Sandgren Coast PaintOut and Workshop at the Oregon coast to share his love of painting in nature with others.

Throughout all of Sandgren’s endeavors, his wife Olive was a steady presence and active supporter who ensured her family’s success. While Sandgren was primarily concerned with the creation of art pieces and teaching his students, Olive enthusiastically guided all other aspects of their family life. She maintained meticulous records of all transactions and events for her family, including financial records, achievements, and correspondence. She was a constant companion to Nelson on trips to Europe and Mexico, and her detailed journals of daily life during these trips greatly enhance the records and art produced.

Works by Nelson Sandgren can be found in the collections of the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon, the Coos Art Museum in Coos Bay, Oregon, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England, and several corporations.


18 Linear Feet (26 boxes.)


The Nelson and Olive Sandgren papers document the art and teaching careers of Nelson Sandgren and contains extensive personal records of the Sandgren family from 1936 to 2016.


The records are arranged into five series: I. Art and teaching careers, II. Sketchbooks, III. Journals and diaries, IV. Correspondence, V. Financial records, and VI. Family records. Series I includes four subseries: A. Oregon State University, B. Art, C. Photographs and slides, and D. Books. Files are arranged in original order and chronological order. This arrangement was determined through extensive notes from Erik Sandgren, Nelson and Olive Sandgren’s son. His invaluable efforts on this collection impact its organization and how researchers may interact with the materials.

Physical Location

Mark O. Hatfield Library
Guide to the Nelson and Olive Sandgren papers, 1936-2016
Finding aid processed by Jennifer L. Gehringer. Preliminary research and collection review by McKelvey Mandigo-Stoba.
© 2019
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Processed with funds provided by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission's (NHPRC) Access to Historical Records grant.

Repository Details

Part of the Willamette University Archives and Special Collections Collection Descriptions

Mark O. Hatfield Library
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 United States