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SUU plans museum to honor Jim Jones and other local artists

Published: Friday, Dec. 11 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Artist's rendering of the Southern Utah Museum of Art, which is planned for a corner of SUU's campus in Cedar City.

Provided by SUU

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Long before he died last Saturday, famed Utah landscape artist Jim Jones pledged his home and his final project, which contained 18 of his best landscapes, to Southern Utah University. Now that gift will help the Cedar City university fulfill a commitment to build an art museum, the only one between Springville and St. George.

The proposed Southern Utah Museum of Art still needs donors to come through to begin work on the building, but local community members and others have come up with $3 million of the nearly $12 million necessary for the project. The "easily accessible" plot of land, on the corner of 300 West and University Boulevard, where the 28,000-square-foot museum will stand, will be ready by the end of next summer, according to SUU President Michael Benson.

"We want this to be the first place people visit when they come to campus," he said. "This is something we're committed to making sure happens. And while we're incredibly sad to say goodbye to Jim, and we all feel a big void that he's left, I've said before, his work will live forever."

Jones was one of the first people Benson met when Benson became university president in 2007. Benson was told that if the university would agree to build the facility, Jones would support it. Benson said that since then, excitement for the project has only grown.

"You'd be amazed at how many people have a piece of work or have admired Jim's work for a long time," he said. When he talked to Jones just three weeks ago, Benson said Jones confirmed his trust in the school to complete is last wish. Jones, 76, died while battling emphysema, a disease he fought for some time.

Jones, a Cedar City-native known for his colorful portrayal of the vistas and landscapes of Zion National Park, the canyons of Bryce National Park and Cedar Mountain, which stands behind the SUU campus, turned down commissioned jobs in order to finish the 18 landscapes that currently hang in the basement of the Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery at SUU. His home, which he donated to the university upon his death, overlooks Zion's red rocks, serving as the inspiration from which he painted.

"When we opened the exhibition in October, he put his paint away, he put his canvases away and he died just a few weeks later," Benson said. "I think he knew this was going to be his kind of pièce de resistance. This was his capstone to an amazing career." More than 5,000 visitors, 60 percent of them schoolchildren, have toured the gallery since its Oct. 15 opening. Benson is seeking state Board of Regents' approval today to move ahead with a plan to petition the Legislature for bonding options, in case current fundraising efforts don't come through. No state money will be sought for the project, only ongoing costs for operation and maintenance.

SUU officials are asking students to help foot the bill, promising student exhibition areas in any one of the proposed building's three or four wings of galleries. If the building requires a bond to be built, the cost to students, for the next 20 years, would be $19 per semester.

"We hope this museum will be a source of satisfaction and pleasure for people for generations," Benson said.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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