26th annual Spiritual and Religious Art Exhibit offers inspiration & variety

By Rosemarie Howard

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 5 2011 4:00 p.m. MDT

An Award of Merit was given to Julie Rogers', "Maren, Cheerful and Brave," at the Springville Art Museum's 26th Annual Religious and Spiritual Art of Utah Show. The show runs through Dec. 27.

Courtesy of Springville Museum of Art

More than 200 people attended the opening Oct. 29 of the 26th annual Religious and Spiritual Art of Utah Show at the Springville Art Museum.

Many of those attending were artists whose works are represented in the show. Awards presented by museum director Vern Swanson were the Charles & Ruth Whiting Award, three Director’s Awards, three Curatorial Awards, and 26 Awards of Merit.

New this year is the Charles & Ruth A. Whiting Award, a cash prize presented to Casey Lynn Childs for his oil painting titled “Greater Love Hath No Man.”

“The painting emphasizes John Taylor at the martrydom at Carthage Jail,” Swanson said. “It’s wonderfully composed. The light, the color — everything is there. But more importantly, for this show, you are engaged in John Taylor’s eyes. He’s looking right at you — confused.”

“We have a whole range of artists that submit work,” said Ashlee Whitaker, curator for the show. “Some artists are really well-known, established artists. We’ve also got some up and coming artists and some that just kind of come out of nowhere and amaze us with their work.”

The first Religious and Spiritual Art of Utah Show, in 1985, was the result of a conversation between Mapleton resident David Nemelke Sr. and Vern Swanson, director of the Springville Art Museum.

In 1985, there was no International Art Show sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There was no LDS Church Museum of History and Art. The Mormon Festival of Arts had been discontinued.

“I was thinking that there was a real vacuum,” Swanson said, “a great need for an exhibition that would grapple with the deepest core beliefs and values and spiritual aspirations of our Utah artists.”

The first year, 12 to 16 artists were invited to submit work. This year, the museum sent out 6,000 invitations and received 341 submissions. Of those, 179 (53 percent) were accepted for exhibition.

Swanson said the gallery space has increased, but so have the number and size of the entries. In the early days of the exhibition, it was rare to have an entry exceed 36 x 24 inches. “This year we have several that are 10 feet wide and a couple that are 13 feet wide,” Swanson said.

One of those large works, “For our God is a Consuming Fire,” by Peter A. Sakievich, received an Award of Merit for its fresh approach in depicting “The First Vision.”

“I never conceived the First Vision this way,” Swanson said.

“It’s a theme we see frequently with this show,” Whitaker said, “but we don’t often see it like this. “It is riveting and really striking.”

Although the majority of works in the exhibition come from LDS artists (about 80 percent), members of any faith are welcome to enter the show.

“This is a Utah show. But this show’s open not for Latter-day Saints only; it’s open for every religion, every personal belief,” Swanson said.

There are few rules for entering the show, but Swanson has stuck with them.

“Our tradition is,” Swanson said, “that we ask the artist to enter the piece so that we can see it.”

“The pieces need to be overtly and obviously religious or deeply spiritual,” Swanson said. “We do not allow works of art that denigrate religion or the human form.”

And there are two genres that tend to not be juried in: abstracts and landscapes.

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