In 1930, the Polish government awarded her the Order of Polonia Restituta for achievements in culture, five years after her work was well received at the World Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris, according to Schnepf. Among civilian honors, he said, the Order of Polonia Restituta is "second only to the rarely awarded Order of the White Eagle."

In 1936, Stryjenska was nominated for the Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature but declined the honor.

After World War II, she also declined to join the Union of Polish Artists, an organization connected to the Communist Party, thus becoming persona non grata in her own country. She left Poland after the war and eventually settled in Geneva, where she died in 1976.

Schnepf said the first exhibition of Stryjenska's works since the war was staged in 2008 at the National Museum in Krakow, and later traveled to Warsaw and Poznan. In 2011, the National Bank of Poland made her the subject of a commemorative coin.

As well established as Stryjenska's reputation is, the Runions were not sure the lithographs would draw much interest at their sales booth. Grabowska-Van Haagen suggested they consider donating them to a museum in Poland.

"We didn't give any serious consideration to selling them," Dan Runion said, and so they never had the lithographs appraised. "Frankly, I don't want to know what they're worth."

"How do you put a number on history or heritage?" Grabowska-Van Haagen said.

The Polish Embassy could not estimate their monetary value, but Schnepf said they were certainly desirable.

"Over the years, works of Zofia Stryjenska became dispersed, and complete sets of prints, such as the one donated by Mr. and Mrs. Runion, are a rarity," he said.

It's not clear how the prints got to that auction in Westminster, or whether they might be included in artwork that Schnepf said was "looted from our country" during and after World War II.

But Schnepf sees the donation in the context of the Polish government's effort to restore such losses, including about three-quarters of prewar library collections and more than 90 percent of the contents of central government archives.

"Few countries suffered cultural losses on a scale comparable to that of Poland," he said.

Once Dan Runion contacted the Polish Embassy about the prints in May, officials moved relatively quickly to set up the donation to the National Museum in Krakow.

On Aug. 7, the Runions and Grabowska-Van Haagen went to Washington for a ceremony conducted in an elegant high-ceiling room with pale blue walls. The floor was covered with an Oriental rug, the walls hung with Polish art.

Some 10 or 15 reporters, videographers and photographers from the Polish news media were there for the ceremony, as Schnepf thanked the Runions and presented them with a plaque and a certificate of an Amicus Poloniae — "Friend of Poland" — an award given to United States citizens to acknowledge their contribution to Polish-American relations.

"We were sort of out of our element with all of this, the pomp and ceremony," Dan Runion said, but they enjoyed it nonetheless.

"It was very exciting," he said. "It's the best $110 we ever spent."

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com