Rieger art glass auction is one of a kind for Kansas, auctioneer says

WICHITA — Some people may wonder how Woody Auction in Douglass, a Butler County town of fewer than 2,000 people, could have a glass auction that brings in millions.

John Woody, founder of the auction house, likes to say you could have an auction in a cornfield, and the right people would come.

“Literally, it doesn’t matter where you hold it,” says his son Jason, who now owns the company, which specializes in antique-glass auctions.

“Quality will bring out the buyers.”

The art glass that Wichitan Karin Rieger is selling is of such quality that buyers are coming from around the country and as far away as Japan for a series of auctions that will sell about 3,000 pieces.

The first was March 20 and brought in $1.3 million.

“Kansas has never seen anything of this caliber – ever,” Jason Woody says of the art glass auctions.

“There’s just nothing like the antique glass that is being shown in this collection.”

He says that’s particularly true of the first three auctions.

“You’d have to go to New York to Sotheby’s or Christie’s to see anything of the quality that’s being shown here.”

The next auction is May 29, and Jason Woody expects it to do as well as the first. More are scheduled for Aug. 1 and 2, Sept. 6 and one more yet-to-be-determined date.

Rieger, 83, and her husband, Ernest, a surgeon who died last fall, collected glass over five decades.

“We didn’t sell,” she says. “We just hoarded.”

The Riegers, who also have Rieger Medical Supply, had collected antique furniture before that. A trip to a car wash changed their direction.

Rieger, a native of Sweden, says her parents were visiting when her husband decided to get the family car washed before church the next day.

“When we came home, (my mother) said, ‘I don’t understand. I saw a whole shelf of Galle glass,’ ” Rieger says. “I had heard of Galle glass, but my mother was quite intrigued and enthusiastic about Galle glass.”

The car wash owner also owned an antique store on South Broadway. Rieger says her mother explained what kind of prices Galle glass fetched in Europe.

“And so that piqued all of our interest, and so we tore down to the car wash, and my husband purchased all the Galle glass on the shelf.”

A collection was born – for $5 to $10 apiece.

“We scoured every little antique shop in the Kansas area to find Galle glass,” Rieger says.

Then they began adding to the collection with other types of glass, such as French cameo glass.

“It was not considered up to snuff,” Rieger says. “The antique dealers just kind of wrinkled their noses, which was good for us.”

Very good, as the first auction proved.

“It’s just like everything else,” Rieger says of values. “Some goes up and some goes down.”

She owns about 65 pieces of Tiffany glass, though she’s modest about it.

“We had the good fortune of having owned some of that,” Rieger says.

“Tiffany is an American artist. I always felt that that was important. … We need to take care of the culture of the country,” Rieger says. “Plus, Tiffany, you know of course, was born a very rich baby, and he inherited lots and lots of money, and he used all that money experimenting with different types of glass.”

Though Rieger speaks knowledgeably about artists and styles of glass, she says, “My husband especially was very interested in the techniques. I was more either I liked it or I didn’t.”

Not many years after the Riegers began collecting, their house was hit by a tornado, which Rieger says lifted the roof and set it back down.

Much of their glass survived, but they decided they weren’t going to take any chances.

“We had an old German carpenter build 10 cabinets exactly alike in the basement,” Rieger says.

“At least the glass would be saved,” she says of more tornadoes. “Now we have earthquakes every once in a while.”

Through the years, Rieger says, her mother would write to her and include clippings from European auctions where Galle glass sold at high prices.

“She’d always put a little note: ‘Now remember, I was the one who told you about Galle glass.’ ”

Rieger says her mother and husband would be surprised to find out what the collection will bring.

“They would be absolutely astounded,” she says. “My mother would have again reminded me that she is the one who told us about it.”

Rieger says collecting was something she and her husband had fun doing together.

“We actually didn’t do it … for the money.”

Her wishes for the proceeds are simple. Rieger wants to help with a college fund for her grandchildren, take everyone in her family on a Mediterranean cruise and give her church money to continue its work.

Mostly, though, she wants to ensure the glass is cared for.

“I decided that maybe it’s time for somebody else to own these things and take care of them,” Rieger says.

“In some ways, we don’t really own any of this,” she says of art pieces. “They just go through our hands, and I think it behooves us to be good stewards of the glass and art as part of our culture.”

Rieger let each of her two children choose two pieces of glass to keep, and she kept one piece for herself.

“I debated,” Rieger says of what to keep.

“I kind of wanted a little bit simpler life,” she says of being so selective.

She choice a piece of Swedish glass.

“It had more of a sentimental value to me,” Rieger says. “I grew up just a few miles away from the Orrefors factory in Sweden.”

The rest will be sold along with some furniture.

“It isn’t fair to an auctioneer to cut off the best, most valuable,” Rieger says.

She says it makes sense to sell the pieces over several auctions.

“People get tired, and they get hungry. Hopefully they don’t run out of money, but they get hungry.”

Rieger attended the first auction and plans to attend the rest as well, “the good Lord willing.”

“I met many of our old friends there,” she says. “We are just a crazy bunch.”

Still, isn’t it hard to watch her treasures go?

“Well, I figure that’s another time, another place,” Rieger says. “Some doors close and others open.”