A Salon to see: Annual art show in Springville draws more than 1,000 entrants

Published: Saturday, April 23 2011 5:00 p.m. MDT

2011 Spring Salon Jurors' Third Place Award - Image #57 TRAVIS RICHARD TANNER "New York Stock Exchange"

Like the leaves popping out and the flowers lifting their heads, the Springville Museum of Art's Spring Salon is a welcome sign of the season.

Now in its 87th year, the Spring Salon is also a sign that Utah is continuing to grow a rich and vibrant art community.

"Best show ever," says museum director Vern Swanson, as he should.

The show is supposed to get better every year, as local artists continue to hone their skills and raise the bar of excellence.

What makes this year's show so exciting is not only the number of works in the show — 253 — but also, the variety of style: landscape, abstract, portraiture, fantasy and more; and the variety of media: oil, wood, acrylic, steel, graphite, mixed media, photography, bronze, crayon, pastel, assemblage, watercolor, ceramic, silver gelatin, and so on.

"This year's show is absolutely phenomenal in terms of variety and scale," says Ashlee Whitaker, associate curator for the show. "There really is something for everyone."

Although there are about the same number of works as in past years, the exhibition fills all the galleries on the main floor and spills over into a couple of galleries on the upper floor, she says, mainly because "the physical size of many of the pieces is much larger."

But her excitement about the show is not just about size.

"The quality is simply outstanding," says Whitaker. "We really feel like it is a visual representation of the Utah art scene, how it is expanding, how it is producing quality works in all media and styles."

That has been the goal of the Spring Salon from the very first. The first salon was initiated by Virgil O. Hafen, the son of artist and museum-founder John Hafen, who had returned from studying art in Paris in 1920. While in France, he had been introduced to the salon idea and went to Springville High School with the idea of hosting a similar event.

In February 1921, the school put together an experimental show, which was so well-received, the first official Salon was launched the next year.

That first exhibition featured only Utah artists. But in 1923, it was expanded to include out-of-state artists, as well. The purchase prize was increased to $500, and invitations were sent to leading artists throughout the country.

Swanson is currently writing a history of the Spring Salon and notes that over the years, among the many outstanding national artists to have works in the Salon were Childe Hassam, George Inness, William Sargeant Kendall, Thomas Moran, Norman Rockwell, Georgia O'Keefe and others.

The Spring Salon proved popular with viewers. By 1927, more than 40,000 people came to view the show, and by 1937, some 60,000 attended the Salon — especially impressive when you consider the population of Springville in 1940 was only 4,777.

It has been held every year since, except for three years during World War II, when shipping restrictions and gasoline rationing made it impractical.

The show has come full-circle, says Whitaker. "Now we again restrict it to Utah artists, or those with Utah ties, and even with that we more than have our hands full."

This year 1,008 works were entered into the show; finalists were selected by jurors Adam Price, director of the Salt Lake Art Center, and Philipp Malzl, a professor of art history at BYU.

The Salon is still considered Utah's premier fine art exhibition and is always a highlight at the museum, Whitaker says.

What is so fun, she says, is that "every year you see a lot familiar names, many of whom are among Utah's most-honored artists."

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