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."

This year's Salon, for example, includes works by artists such as Phyllis Horne, Edward Fraughton, Brian Kershisnik, Adrian Van Suchtelen, Carel P. Brest Van Kempen, James C. Christensen, Pilar Pobil and others.

Michael Coleman, whose "Light of the Forest" received this year's Director's Award, falls into that category. "It is a masterpiece, a real tour de force in the genre of landscape and wildlife painting," Whitaker says.

"But every year, we also have some unseasoned artists who may be exhibiting at the museum for the very first time. What's delightful is that it can be anyone's year."

Jeff Pugh, for example, whose "Skyscrapers & Cowpies" received this year's First-Place Award from the jurors, "is an up-and-coming artist," Whitaker says. "The jurors were unanimous in that award. It's just amazing how Jeff takes a simple scene and makes it extraordinary."

Her Associate Curator's Award went to a work by Michal Onyon, "an absolutely radiant work. In terms of color and composition, it captures a beautiful energy."

But everything in the show has something to draw you in, she says. Whether it's the interesting twist Travis Tanner puts on the "New York Stock Exchange," the character study Sandy Gagon brings to "She Remembered She Could Fly," the fanciful fun Sophie Soprano captures in "24th of July Parade, Spring City," the realistic approach of Silvia Davis' wooden "Banjo" (which is a dog, not a musical instrument), the intricacy of Tim Little's "Full Throttle" (which is a horse, not a race car), or any one of the other pieces in the show, the exhibition is a treat, Whitaker says.

"We're hopeful that people who come will be as excited as we are to see how Utah's art scene is growing and progressing," she says. "It's so fulfilling, so satisfying to see that every year. And it's a testament to the vitality of fine arts in Utah."

Email: carma@desnews.com

Spring art show

What: 87th Annual Spring Salon

Where: Springville Museum of Art, 126 E. 400 South, Springville

When: through July 3; Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; to 9 p.m. on Wednesday; Sunday 3-6 p.m.

Admission: Free

Info: www.sma.nebo.edu or 801-489-2727

87th Annual Spring Salon Awards

Jurors' First-Place Award: Jeffrey Robert Pugh, "Skyscrapers & Cowpies."

Jurors' Second-Place Awards: Shea Guevara, "Back Alley;" David W. Meikle, "The Grand Canyon."

Jurors' Third-Place Awards: Sandy Freckleton Gagon, "She Remembered She Could Fly;" Travis Richard Tanner, "New York Stock Exchange;" Sunny B. Taylor, "Horizon."

Director's Award: Michael B. Coleman, "Light of the Forest."

Associate Director's Award: Phyllis Horne, "Thaw."

Assistant Director's Award: Silvia L. Davis, "Banjo."

Curator's Award: Zachary David Proctor, "The Artist in His Studio."

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Associate Curator's Award: Michal Luch Onyon, "The Pursuit of Happiness."

Assistant Curator's Award: David Edward Linn, "The Small Section."

Merit Awards: Bruce B. Allen, "Cereal Food Processors;" Mark Bangerter, "Men With Crabs;" Nathan L. Barnes, "Emergent World;" Erin Westenskow Berrett, "Gatekeeper;" John P. Berry, "Rabbit Brush;" Darci Bertelsen, "Alex;" Ryan S. Brown, "A Painter's Inspiration;" Fidalis David Buehler, "Goodman's View: Danger Sliding Rock;" Brian Angus Buroker, "Garden Fantasy;" Heather Campbell, "Lost Treasure;" Larry W. Christensen, "Entering Gethsamane;" M. Morgan Coleman, "Evening Pasture;" Suzanne M. Conine, "Red River;" Mark Douglas Crenshaw, "Sheep;" Blue Critchfield, "Maximizing Happiness;" David Dornan, "Abstract-o-matic;" Deon Duncan, "Portentous;" John O. Erickson, "Summer's Child;" Peter M. Fillerup, "Hard and Fast All the Way;" Edward J. Fraughton, "Monarch of the Plains;" Sharon R. Gray, "Puns, Portraits and Parodies II," Carolyn Guild, "Spirit of Water — No. 1;" John Lytle Helton, "Symphony of Flight;" Mary Beth Hogue, "Maple Symphony;" Craig Neil Hone, "Night Shift;" Mark Missman and Jason Bullard, "He Grew in Wisdom and Stature;" Gerald Theodore Johnson, "Shrouded City;" Brian Thomas Kershisnik, "We Were Artists in Danger;" Steven B. Kropp, "Desert Solitude;" Santiago H. Michalek, "Murphy's Wholesale, Something, Something, Something;" Travis B. Miller, "Spiral Trout;" Anne Morgan-Jespersen, "In the Zone — Mr. Superharp: Colton James;" Matthew Carl Nelson, "The Secret World of Onions;" Carl Randsom Owens, "Passing the Time;" David Roy Pendell, "#1, Going Back Series;" Denis Phillips, "Untitled #17;" Ian M. Ramsay, "Columbia Dock;" Anton J. Rasmussem, "Temple Mountain;" Bruce Dean Robertson, "Camden;" Steven K. Sheffield, "Half Moon Rising;" Sophie Soprano, "24th of July Parade, Spring City;" Anders Sorensen, "Forgotten Windmill;" Shirley Tegan, "Grounded;" Leslie Thomas, "Big Lump;" Dahrl Thomson, "Double Eagle;" Terrel J. Van Leeuwen, "3 Cars;" Adrian Van Suchtelen, "Vanitas: Snowbird Tiger Moth;" Adrian Thomas Waggoner, "Once Upon Ohio;" Anne C. Weber, "Rocky Hillside;" Michael Workman, "Watsatch Front."

Invited Artists: Dennis Domingo, "Paid in Full;" Susette Billedeaux Gertsch, "Cow Bells and Babes."