Auction house trip was experience

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Sunday, October 28, 2007
— Mary Wickhem is a worldwide traveler.

But nothing has thrilled the 85-year-old Janesville woman more than her October trip to New York City.

She was invited to Sotheby’s on Oct. 5 for the auction of Brooks McCormick’s collection of ornithology books and paintings. Proceeds went to the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo.

Wickhem was invited in September to attend the auction and to view the collection at Sotheby’s Chicago auction house because she is a member of the foundation board and was its first board president, serving in that position for 22 years.

Wickhem attended the auction with a small group that included other foundation board members. Activities began the night before with a viewing of the collection.

“Sotheby’s gave a beautiful, private dinner and cocktail hour for us at the auction house,” Wickhem said.

She described the house as “big and beautiful.”

Sotheby’s was not crowded during the 22-hour auction, and most of the bidding was by telephone.

“That interested me. It was fascinating to see,” she said.

“People who wanted to, and were in a position to bid, called in and each were assigned to a phone,’’ Wickhem added.

The auctioneer stood on a platform, assisted by a second person at a podium, who watched bids from the back of the building.

The crane foundation gave Sotheby’s the right to remove any item from the auction if the bid was not high enough, which happened several times. Those items were sold individually, Wickhem said.

“The bidding moves fast. It was really exciting and something I was never privy to before,” Wickhem said.

Sotheby’s showed some of the delegation how they wrap auction pieces for delivery to the highest bidders.

“Some of the paintings went for well over $100,000,” Wickhem said.

Proceeds, in excess of $2.7 million, will benefit the International Crane Foundation Endowment Fund, Wickhem said.


Brooks McCormick, born in 1917, was the grand nephew of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the modern reaper and founder of International Harvester Co.

Although he was the last member of his family—one of Chicago’s most influential families—to play an active role in International Harvester, he was best known for his philanthropy, particularly in the area of conservation.

In 1972, he founded The Conservation Foundation, which has preserved more than 1,000 acres in counties surrounding Chicago.

Upon his death in 2006, Brooks McCormick’s 620-acre St. James Farm near Warrenville, Ill., was sold to the Forest Preserve to guarantee it would remain open space.

Brooks McCormick and his late wife, Hope Baldwin McCormick, supported many of Chicago’s cultural institutions and began collecting books and prints about the history of ornithology in the 1980s. This, too, is when he began to support the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo.

In keeping with his love of nature and his commitment to conservation, Brooks McCormick willed his collection of bird books and paintings to the crane foundation. They were auctioned Oct. 5 at Sotheby’s in New York City for more than $2.7 million. The money benefits the foundation’s endowment fund to support the foundation’s efforts worldwide.


The International Crane Foundation works worldwide to conserve cranes and the wetland and grassland ecosystems on which they depend.

Located on Shady Lane Road, Baraboo, the found was started in 1973 by George Archibald and Ron Sauey on the horse farm owned by Sauey's parents just north of Baraboo.

For more information, call (608) 356-9462 or visit www.savingcranes.org.

Last updated: 10:15 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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