SPRINGVILLE, Utah — Utah’s oldest museum that is dedicated to art began with donations of artwork from prominent Mormon artists. Today, the museum is celebrating a century of dedication to the visual arts.
The Springville art movement began with sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin and painter John Hafen, both born and raised in Springville. In March 1904, John Hafen and Springville school superintendent Lars Eggertson rode five miles to the Brigham Young Academy in Provo to attend a lecture on the importance of art in education.
The next day, Hafen took a painting from his studio wall and gave it to Eggertson, saying, “I will give this painting to the students of the Springville High School in the hopes that it will become the beginning of an art collection.”
From his then current home in Boston, Cyrus Dallin heard what Hafen had done and sent a forty-inch replica of his Paul Revere statue to Springville to add to the collection. In 1907, Utah artists James T. Harwood, J. B. Fairbanks, and J. Leo Fairbanks donated paintings. To further expand the collection, students started the “art queen” program. For a penny per vote, students elected an art queen, and the money collected was used to buy art that she unveiled.
In 1921, the school organized an art exhibition inspired by the Paris Salon. From that time forward, local and national artwork has been featured annually in the Spring Salon. Sixty-five more pieces of art were given to the high school art gallery in 1925.
By 1935, the collection had grown too large for the high school. Springville students and citizens, the Nebo School District, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints raised the $100,000 needed to construct a full-fledged museum. Claud S. Ashworth designed the Spanish revival-style building, and it was completed in 1937. David O. McKay dedicated it “a sanctuary of beauty and a temple of meditation.”
In 1965, the Clyde Foundation sponsored a two-story addition designed to look like the original building. In 1997, after ten years of planning and fundraising, construction began on the new George S. and Dolores Eccles wing. Seven years and $4.6 million later, the addition was complete. The Eccles Foundation donated $875,000, the state government donated $300,000, and citizens of Springville and the surrounding area contributed a staggering $4 million. Even the local Boy Scout troops contributed by digging part of the basement.
Built to match the original Spanish revival architecture, the addition doubled the museum’s size to 40,000 square feet. The new wing included a courtyard, a bookstore, an elevator, a boardroom, a conference room, a new kitchen, and two art storage rooms. “We built the wing…so we can exhibit more Utah and national art than we were capable of doing before,” said museum director Vern Swanson.
The art museum now has a permanent collection of more than 1,750 works of art, including the largest collection of Utah art in the state and the largest collection of Russian art in North America. More than 4,000 pieces of art are shown each year at the art museum, and more than 80,000 visitors come to see them.
Just like it did more than a century ago, the art museum works closely with the Springville community today. “Arts have always been an integral part of the lives of Springville citizens both young and old,” former Springville mayor said. In fact, Springville is commonly referred to as “Art City” for its dedication to the arts and the art museum.
Every year during Art City Days, the art museum hosts a Children’s Art Festival that draws a crowd of more than 800 children. The art museum also hosts an annual Art Ball, featuring dining, dancing, and demonstrations by local artists. The “art queen” program started in 1907 continues today. High school girls compete for the coveted title, and the one who is crowned art queen volunteers for the museum and organizes community outreach programs, like the high school Junior Art Guild.
IF YOU GO:
The art museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with Wednesday hours extended until 9:00 p.m. The museum is open on Sundays from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and holidays. There is no admission fee, but donations are always appreciated. The museum is located at 126 East and 400 South in Springville, Utah.
Don’t miss these exciting upcoming exhibits:
February 24 to April 4: 35th Utah All-State High School Art Show
April 29 to July 8: 83rd Annual Spring Salon