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UMFA Exhibition Revisits Utah’s Unique Past

Jan. 5, 2006- “Revisiting Utah’s Past,” on view at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts from January 14 through July 23, 2006, presents paintings and sculpture from the Museum’s collection that document Utah’s unique history. In partnership with the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library and the Utah State Historical Society, the exhibition also includes historical interpretive materials such as photographs, books, and journals that provide additional perspectives and connections to artists’ perceptions.

Paintings that document Utah’s past, like western art in general, explore the interaction of humanity and nature. The works in this exhibition offer viewers an artistic perspective of early Utah and the western region, and insight into who wanted to live there and why, and how regions changed as increased numbers of settlers arrived. “Revisiting Utah’s Past” encourages visitors to view and analyze historical western images from various points of view and reconsider generally accepted ideas. It may be discovered that these Utah works yield information previously overlooked.

Compared with other western expansions, the settlement of Utah was not typical. In contrast to settlers moving west by choice to claim land that could be adapted to their purposes, Mormon pioneers were exiles seeking safety in a desert environment. This perspective gave Mormon settlers and artists a sense of optimism that may have allowed them to overlook the hardships endured and focus on the positive aspects of their newly founded Zion, as evident in a journal entry by artist George Martin Ottinger:

“As we drove out of Emigration Canyon and got a view of the Valley with its Great Salt Lake glistening like burnished silver on the morning’s sun. The rich green foliage and neat white villas of the city – the air of peace and quiet hovering over the ‘Rose blossoming in the desert.’ We could not but stand speechless with admiration and wonder. It was so beautiful and as we cast on thought back over our toilsome journes [sic] we could not help but give one – long hurrah. The accumulated hardship of days was forgotten – Our heaven was reached.”
-George M. Ottinger diary, 1861

During the early years of Utah’s settlement, there was little time or support for the arts. A few intrepid artists painted portraits for genealogical purposes and scenic backdrops for the Salt Lake Theater.

Among the prominent early-Utah artists are George Martin Ottinger (1833-1917), Charles Roscoe Savage (1832-1909), and Danquart Anthon Weggeland (1826-1918). Savage and Ottinger operated a photography business, and Weggeland and Ottinger taught painting and drawing at the University of Deseret. Alfred Lambourne (1850-1926) documented the route west in 1866 with paintings and “descriptive drawings” of the journey.

In 1890 several artists, including John Hafen (1856-1910), were sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to obtain formal art training at the Acadèmie Julian in Paris, France. Upon their return to Utah in 1892, these artists worked on the many murals and paintings that adorned the Salt Lake Temple, which opened in April 1893.

Other artists who studied abroad such as James T. Harwood (1860-1940), along with those sponsored by the Church, had a strong influence on Utah art. Their classical standards, which were less than innovative, nevertheless rendered their subjects with meaning that gives insight into the society in which they worked.

Special Roundtable Discussion: Collecting Utah Art Saturday, February 4, 11 a.m. to 12 noon · FREE and open to the public In conjunction with the exhibition “Revisiting Utah’s Past,” the UMFA is pleased to present a roundtable discussion on collecting Utah art, Saturday, February 4 from 11 a.m. to 12 noon. Local experts share their experiences and offer advice on building an exceptional private collection of Utah art.

“Revisiting Utah’s Past” is dedicated to the memory of John L. (Jack) Jarman and Helen Brown Jarman, who generously supported the Museum’s exhibitions program and the expansion of its collections. Major support for this exhibition is provided by Zions Bank.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Utah’s Passport to the World, is located on the University of Utah campus at 410 Campus Center Drive. The UMFA’s mission is to engage visitors in discovering meaningful connections with the artistic expressions of the world’s cultures. General admission is $4 adults, $2 seniors and youth ages 6-18, children 5 and under free, UMFA Members free. Museum hours are Tuesday – Friday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Wednesdays 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Weekends, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; closed Mondays. For more information on programs and exhibitions, call (801) 581-7332 or visit