SHERIDAN — Sheridan County School District 2 is the owner of $3,237,500 worth of William Gollings paintings, according to the appraisal the district received from Gary Temple of the Meadowlark Gallery in Billings, Montana.

Members of the Capital Construction Committee at SCSD2 commissioned the appraisal of the paintings after members of the Whitney Benefits Board of Trustees approached the school board in January expressing interest in purchasing the works, pending an appraisal and other stipulations.

Temple, an art dealer, certified appraiser and art historian, visited the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library — where the paintings are housed — to inspect the artwork and assess the fair market value.

In the process of inspecting the pieces, additional history and information was learned.

“For 40 years I have known it as ‘Father DeSmet Leaves the Headwaters,’” Temple said about removing a dust cover from a painting. “We noticed in his diary entry on Feb. 6 that it was ‘Father DeSmet Learns the Water Courses from the Indians’ but it wasn’t until I saw it there in his own handwriting that we knew this was a historical moment for us. As an art appraiser, dealer, history lover and everything I am, when we took that dust cover off it was as if I was standing there talking to Bill himself.”

The records held on “Hunter’s Return” did not afford the district with the information of where it came from. The inspection revealed it was not one purchased by the Parent Teacher Association several decades ago, but rather it came from the estate sale of Gollings.

“It was probably in his studio,” Temple said. “He liked the painting, but things bothered him about it, like the horse’s hindquarters finishing out of the frame, but there were things that he really liked and he wanted to do it over again.”

Other pieces were valued significantly lower than the others, for example an untitled and unfinished piece referred to as “Delivery of Issue Beef” showed signs of alteration and was valued at only $10,000.

“There were several devious people after the estate sale who thought that everything in his studio needed to be signed and the brotherhood of thieves decided they would sign everything, and they did, and that’s too bad,” Temple said.

SCSD2 Superintendent Craig Dougherty said the Capital Construction Committee reviewed the appraisals along with the district attorney and recommended that the board approve a motion to have the district attorney and the attorney for Whitney benefits begin a negotiation for a contract to purchase the Gollings paintings with the understanding that the paintings will stay in Sheridan County.

Whitney Board President Tom Kinnison spoke at the meeting in response to questions from the board inquiring what, exactly, Whitney wanted to do with the paintings.

“We still have a lot of discussion to do with our board, this is moving pretty fast,” Kinnison said. “The intent for them is to obviously be kept here in the community at a place that is safe and visible to the public where students can come out and view this. We’ve had discussions, but nothing is finalized, with The Brinton and they said they’d be delighted to have something like this but we’ve not finalized anything.”

Dougherty reminded the board that this next step in the process doesn’t have anything to do with that will be done with the money, which would fall on the board to decide later.

He added that discussions were held in the Capital Construction Committee of potentially starting an endowment with some of the funds that could be used as a scholarship to continue the gift of the art.

Thoughts are also circulating regarding commemorating the efforts of the PTA in some way, possibly a plaque detailing the history of the collection that would accompany the collection.

The board voted 6 to 1 in favor of beginning the negotiations, with Trustee Jim Perkins voting against the motion.

“I think we’re going to fast, even Tom Kinnison said that,” Perkins said on why he voted against the motion. “I don’t even really know what they are offering yet and now we’re talking about an agreement. I also want to see where the money is going to go first. It’s not that there is anything wrong with them but if I was a businessman I would want to ask a few questions. Is it better to sell it whole? Is it better to sell them individually and break it up? How many appraisals do you want; do you only want one? I only have one reference. Is that how you buy a car?”

Perkins asked Temple if it were his collection,  would he seek a second appraisal.

Temple replied that the question was hard to answer, but did clarify his appraisal was done on a painting-by-painting basis and did not take into account aspects such as the collections value being sold as a group, or the subjective value of keeping the collection in Sheridan County.

“The thing that is so neat about these pieces is that they’ll never be seen again somewhere else,” Temple said. “I would hope that the Whitney board says, wherever they go they stay together, that if they are loaned out to other museums they are loaned out as a group, but then again that makes them leave Sheridan County.”

Trustee Molly Steel added that she knows people in the community are concerned with the sale but she personally believes that having them go to a place where they can be preserved properly and observed regularly will delight the community.

Individual works appraisal amounts

The Verendryes – $500,000

The Trouble Message – $450,000

Father DeSmet Learns the Water Courses from the Indians – $400,000

A Bad Actor – $362,500

Designers of Trouble – $340,000

The Trapper’s Return – $340,000

The Grey Winter – $340,000

Hunter’s Return – $275,000

Pony Thieves – $220,000

Untitled – Delivery of the Issue Beef – $10,000