Although Kenneth C. Madsen was born, reared and currently resides in Salt Lake City, you won't find his name in any history books about Utah artists. It's amazing how he has maintained such a low profile here. Maybe it's because he hasn't entered local exhibits or doesn't have his paintings represented in Utah galleries. The truth is, most of his paintings are purchased by out-of-state buyers.

As a result, Utahns will be surprised to learn that Madsen has been invited by Charles W. Ferguson, founder and CEO of the National Independence Day Festival and Parade in Washington, D.C., to design a cover of the program for the July 4 parade there.The theme for this 1992 parade is "A Celebration of Discovery." In Ferguson's letter to Madsen, he writes, "You have come to our attention as an accomplished artist, very capable of painting a scene depicting the sailing ships of Christopher Columbus." Included in the letter is the request, "If your painting can show an emerging forth into light, it will fulfill our needs as a scene, using the three humble ships sailing to a new world."

Ferguson added that the original painting will be given to President Bush in commemoration of the quincentennial of the discovery of the Americas."

On Oct. 11, Gov. Norm Bangerter signed a letter to Bush stating, "We Utahns are proud that Kenneth C. Madsen, a native son and artist, was selected by the National Independence Day Festival and Parade Committee of Washington, D.C., to paint a picture representing the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria . . . It is my privilege to join with the National Independence Day Festival and Parade in presenting this original painting to you."

When Madsen received Ferguson's letter last May, he began serious research until he found the pictures of the ships models that appeared accurately rendered and best portrayed the mood.

Although the artist usually works in oils, he chose acrylics for this commission. He needed to use paint that would dry fast.

Madsen was born in Salt Lake City on Oct. 31, 1927. When 3 years old, he exhibited a fascination for visual art, preferring to create his own work rather than filling in areas in coloring books.

At age 7, he was introduced to photographer Ida M. Wilcox, who encouraged him to pursue his artistic inclinations. After high school, Kenneth joined the Navy and sailed extensively among the South Pacific islands. This gave him ample opportunities to sketch boats, islands and the many moods of the ocean.

After he completed his military obligation, he returned to Utah where he enrolled in the Art Barn. For nine years he studied fine and commercial art under some of the best artists of Utah.

His art studies also included three years with the Famous Artists Schools of Westport, Conn.

For a short time, Madsen taught in the evening art classes in the Granite School District. Later, he joined a colleague and conducted private art classes.

He then became staff artist and art history course coordinator with the International Exchange School, conducting art ateliers aboard many cruise ships that took him to dozens of foreign ports and cities. Madsen feels that this teaching abroad extended his frame of reference as far as subject matter is concerned.

His versatility has allowed him to work meticulously in a 1-inch square microscopic study of the cellular formation of an amoeba. He was equally at home painting a 12-foot by 90- foot mural of Lake Tahoe. His free-flowing western mountain scenes and powerful seascapes have captured the attention of collectors around the world.

- Galleries are still featuring their Christmas exhibits. But 1992 will bring a bunch of exciting exhibits. Here is a sneak preview of coming attractions and their opening dates:

Sunday, Jan. 5 at the Art Barn - two-artist show by photographer Laurel Casjens and watercolorist Lily Yuriko Havey.

Sunday, Jan. 5, at the Utah Museum of Fine Art, U. of U. campus - "American Arts and Crafts."

Monday, Jan. 6, in the Collett Art Gallery at Weber State University - "Visions and Revisions: Robert Cumming's Works on Paper."

Friday, Jan. 10, at the Eccles Community Art Center in Ogden - "Fourth Black-and-White Competition."

- Lectures, workshops and classes.

Monday, Jan. 13, 7:30 p.m., Utah State University, Laval S. Morris Auditorium, Fine Arts Visual 150 - Slide lecture by David Becker, a contemporary Hieronymous Bosch.

Wednesday, Jan. 15, 8 p.m., Weber State University, Browning Center, Monson Theater - Lecture by New York artist Christy Rupp about her concerns with environment and wildlife.

- By Richard P. Christenson