Editor's note: The following is a transcript of the seventh episode of Therefore, What? — a podcast from Deseret News opinion editor Boyd Matheson. It's been edited for clarity.
Boyd Matheson: America is facing a crisis, not a crisis of government, not a crisis of business or the economy. It's a crisis of remembering. One of the greatest threats to a vibrant civil society is simple forgetfulness. What we forget, our children may never know; what our children do not know, our grandchildren are unlikely to possess. Real remembering includes not only the history of those who have gone before, but the principles they live by. Our communities, our nation and the world is in need of a renaissance of remembering. Artist and entrepreneur Eric Dowdle shares his vision of how to create that renaissance of remembering in Utah this week on Therefore, What?
We are pleased to be joined today by Eric Dowdle. He's a TV personality, world-renowned artist, and really, the ultimate master of vision and creativity. One of the things I really appreciate about Eric is that like the founders of this country, he really gets it that inspiring ideas, transformational thoughts, powerful principles, these things are the things that really matter. And Eric's got a very unique gift to bring to life the talent, the vision and to pull people together. Most of all, what I love about Eric is that he's committed to creating a space where character and creativity and liberty — that liberty contained in America's history and founding — can be brought forward. So Eric, welcome to the program.
Eric Dowdle: Well, thank you, Boyd, after an introduction like that, I want to sit back and listen to that cool guy you're talking about. But it’s just me. I'm sorry.
BM: Hopefully we can find him.
ED: Well, thank you for those kind words. Thank, you.
BM: You bet. It's great to have you on and as you've traveled the country, and the world, as you try to capture as you do so well, just that essence of a place — for everything from simple puzzles that you're doing from places all around the world, to the intricacy of — I loved seeing the other day your depiction of the Air Force, including the "candy bar bomber" in that, and really capturing the principles that go with the story is really a magical thing.
ED: Well, I think you said it right there. People love a good story. And whether it's your own personal life, your own personal activity, or event or function, or your city or town, there's some pride around what you're doing. And in the end, we want nice things to be said about us, don't we? And in doing a painting or a piece of art that hopefully can capture that moment or thought, yeah, folk art really has an ability or way of telling a story. It breaks a lot of rules, which I like, in the art world, it's not photorealistic.
I color inside the — OK, I don’t color inside the lines but you know, it's folk art. And that's why sometimes folk art and when I was a kid, it's looked at as, you know, the lesser kind of art, because it doesn't look like a photo. Anyhow, that was my background so that when I jumped into it, I discovered this. I mean, it was a delightful experience moving back East where folk art’s big, coming from the West and seeing this form of art that allows you to really tell a story. And so that's what I've engaged in in the last 30 years. And it's brought me to a point where now I think there's so many more stories to tell, and everybody wants their story to be told. So we're jumping into the deep end of the pool.
BM: That's great. And it's so true. Everybody wants to be part of a story. And I really think that is the essence of America, is that there is this unique story in liberty and hope and opportunity. And so I know that's been kind of picking at you and nudging you a little bit over the last few years. I know you you grew up on the East Coast, you're born here in Utah, and then moved east. Tell me a little bit about that experience and how you connected to those American stories when you were back East?
ED: Yeah, well, thanks for asking. And I was born in the West and there is a difference between the West and East. In fact, when I moved from Wyoming to Boston, I literally had somebody come up to me in a public setting and they were like, tell me about the Indian situation in the West. They really thought that I had taken handcarts to the Mississippi and got a bus of some kind. And so there is a disconnect a little bit, but when I moved back East, the history of America came alive. And it was exciting. It just felt so real. And I saw a patriotic side of the country that exists in the West, but it's a little bit different because it didn't happen in the West. And as I was going back and forth, and eventually I moved out here to Utah. I experienced the same thing here. But it was a pioneer history or heritage. And it's a great story. And it's very beautiful and I have the same feeling surrounding that as I do the American story. But again, there seems to be a little bit of a disconnect. And it wasn't until a time where I was standing on the back porch of Mount Vernon, George Washington's home in Virginia, where I looked over the Potomac and I thought, wow, some way, somehow we need to bring this feeling to the West. We need to bring this building, Mount Vernon, to the West, and that was 30 years ago. And the vision hasn't died. It's just really been a matter of patience for the right time for this to happen. And with America turning 250 in 2026, now's the time. And that's what we're engaged in, or what all this travel and all this information has brought about. And I can see that we need to tell a different story, or a more accurate story even in a lot of ways, about our history so that our children can kind of have I mean, Boyd I don't know what it was like for you growing up — you had a good childhood, you felt like you belonged to something great. Or you are a citizen of an awesome country. Tell me about how you grew up, and then I can relate it to why we're doing this.
BM: Yeah, you know, I was really fortunate — grew up in a family of 11 kids. I think we share large family stuff in common.
ED: Wow. We should’ve been neighbors, we could’ve formed our own city or something.
BM: Yeah, and one of the most interesting things — so we had a little tradition on Saturday evenings, where all 11 of us were expected to be home Saturday night, 5 o'clock, and we'd sit around the counter and I don't know about your house, we had like the mother of all counters, like a café counter, and we'd all sit around and my dad would make pancakes for us, and you know this better than anybody — in large families, pancakes do not come in stacks. One of my older sisters, she would always say, you know, eating pancakes with the Mathesons is like the early stages of labor pains. You get them one at a time and about 10 minutes apart. And so we'd hang around. Yeah, but yet it was during that time where we were waiting for those precious pancakes to come our way that my dad was asking us questions. And he was sharing stories and helping us feel part of all kinds of different stories, whether it was the founding of the country, whether it was our local community, or just opportunities to make a difference. And I think we're forgetting that. And to me, the biggest threat to the country is that we forget our place in the American story.
ED: Well, I'm just picturing that experience. And I believe as I've traveled and seeing some of the transition in people's homes, and how we do different they — Boyd, eating dinner as a family is one of the most important things you can do as parents if you're going to pass on that patriotic tradition, or feel a gratitude for what you have. What a brilliant idea of your parents. So I picture that same — well, we have the same kind of experience, we had different rules. One was anytime we're eating, you just keep one foot on the ground. Because that one pancake, there was a serious competition for it.
Yeah, I bet we could go off on a whole story of eating in a large family and the scarcity of food.
BM: We might have to do a separate podcast on that one.
ED: No doubt it would be a fun one. But here's what I'm hearing from your story and what I've seen today that has you, I, and frankly, anybody who's had a background where they've seen the gratitude or traveled enough to see what we have. The narrative that is out there today for our children isn't the same one we grew up with. It's not a positive one. We're concentrating on our negatives or the mistakes we've made; the problems and because of the news cycle, if you aren't lighting your hair on fire, nobody's watching or listening. And if that's what's going on with our children over and over, I equate it to raising kids in the sense that if every day I reminded my children of what they're doing wrong, or what they did wrong, or how ashamed that they should be for who they are, which is what it feels like as a youth today in America. Well, it's going to affect your personal self-esteem. And what I kind of feel as I've traveled around the country is this yearning inside of all of us for a better self-esteem. As a nation, because we, the news cycle, and the conversation in our schools, frankly, it's in our schools, where we're talking about our problems, and kids come home, and they talk about "Did you know, we did this did, you know, we did that?" And it's more of a negative, and I'm going all right, if we're going to build this Mount Vernon in Utah, if we're going to build a museum, then that is the cornerstone. We're going to tell the story as of the positive, or at least in any story you do tell, there's always a moral to the story, there's always a silver lining, this is what we learned. And this is where we're going. And it's exciting. And it's wonderful. And when you approach history from the achievement perspective, your self-esteem goes up. All the sudden you're a citizen of a great nation. And I don't believe our youth really have that feeling, and that passion that you and I had. And so I see that, and I'm going, well, I can't sit back and just let it happen. I can paint pictures of cats the rest of my life and have a very good life. I need to paint pictures of things now that matter.
BM: And that's part of your art, your ability to create a place and a space for people to feel like they're suddenly part of that picture. They're part of that story. And I want to get to some of the specifics in terms of this vision, in terms of really bringing a place and a space out here to the West, where people can come and experience those principles through music, through art, through story and history. Give us some of that vision. Because I don't know that there's anything more important out there. I often talk about it in terms of that forgetfulness, that you know, faith and freedom can can crumble really fast in the face of forgetfulness. And that lost sense of story.
ED: You make a good point, I hope I can give you the Reader's Digest version or the thumbnail, that's an art term for you, a thumbnail of this project. What we need, what we're trying to accomplish here is we need a physical facility here in the West. There are people who can't load up the family and go east to see the history and be around all of that. And even in going east there feels like there's a change in the story. And as I've experienced interviewing many of these historical places, there is a concerted effort to tell a different story. And it's not the story I grew up knowing. And so I would like us to — the goal is to bring all that history into one facility, a physical facility, where we educate and celebrate that through the creative process. And so let me explain. I mean, again, back to the painting and the art side of it, where I would like to participate in the museum. I want to work with other artists and musicians and people who have this same vision in that we're declaring this a renaissance, if you will, of the arts. It's time now to do new paintings, and create new music and have a place for those. But now with today's technology it goes way, way beyond just a painting. We now need to film and understand the story behind that. We need the music to give us the energy and the emotion behind it. And then, I mean, now an element that we can't even put into our business plan at this point, because by the time this gets built, virtual reality, we don't know where it's going to be. But there needs to be an element of that so that the younger crowd can come in. And yes, they'll see George Washington's writings, some of his relics and some historical pieces, but they need to come alive, there needs to be motion around that. So this physical facility that we're going to build is massive. In order to tell our history, you know, it goes way back before 1776. But it also goes forward from today. And we oftentimes get stuck in the revolution. We talk about America, right? What about the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, and who were the great leaders then? And what are the great inventions? And where's the character and the creativity at those times? And what are we doing to make sure that goes forward? In the end, when somebody finishes going through our museum, we want them to leave with a spirit of civility, which is George Washington's cornerstone, and a feeling of celebration and hope for what they can do as a citizen going forward. Let me ask you this, have you ever been to a naturalization ceremony where somebody becomes a citizen?
BM: Absolutely. One of my favorite experiences. I'm a crier anyway. But it is instant. Because it's so exciting to see someone who has gone through that process, usually battled through that process, and they know exactly what they're raising their hand to do, and the story that they're about to become part of. It’s a thrilling thing to watch.
ED: It is. I was born into this, and so are you. So we never went through that. And as you transition. And again, to watch it — I don't want to admit to being a crier, but I do. Usually alone. But you can't help it at a naturalization ceremony. In fact, you look around, you're going — if you are not moved to tears as these people leaving countries or circumstances of difficulty have found their way here and are looking for a better way of life. And they are weeping knowing that they are becoming a citizen. And you're going I've always been one. Yeah, where's my emotion. And yes, it's like anything when you've had it for a long time you take it for granted. Well, when they go through our museum, we want to create a process, some curriculum, some online curriculum, where all of the work we're doing, if you're not able to access this information, or the reason why America is great through school systems, or through your personal studies, you will have a place no matter where you live, but especially in the West physically, but anywhere because of online curriculum, people will have a place to go and refresh that spirit that is so readily available, or that we see in these new citizens, new blood, it is an exciting thing, and we want to move people like that.
BM: Fantastic. Well, this is going to be a great thing to watch as we go through the next few years as we march towards 2026. But Eric, we appreciate your being on the podcast today. And for your vision. This is one of those of those grand, audacious, very American pursuits. And I appreciate your vision in this because it does matter. This is something that can really move people and, as you said, create that space to feel the principles of freedom in a whole new way. So thanks for being with us today. We'll continue to follow you as this marches forward.
ED: Thanks for giving me a voice on your program. I appreciate it so much.
BM: All right. All the best. Eric Dowdle, thanks so much for being with us today. I love Eric's passion and enthusiasm for the principles and the stories that have made America great and will continue to make America great for many years to come. I just kept thinking over and over and over as I listened to Eric, that really the problem we have is if we don't create space for that kind of remembering we get in trouble. Faith and freedom and family, those things all falter in the face of forgetfulness. It's where commitments that used to be really solid and concrete, they crack and they crumble through neglect and forgetfulness. And we're seeing that all across the country. We forget who we are. And what we have to remember is that casualness or neglect by one generation can rapidly spiral into apathy in the next. And I think that's one of the things that Eric was really trying to get us to, in terms of the "Therefore, what?", what are we going to do about this? Because if we get casual, if we become neglectful, I think how rapidly that can spiral into apathy. And apathy is really one of the great challenges in the country right now. It's always one of the great challenges. You know, we're trying to do something in this country that really hasn't been done in history. We're trying to outlive our own success. All the great empires, Mayan Empire, Roman Empire, Greek Empire, British Empire, they all achieved some level of greatness. But then they got comfortable, they rested on their laurels, they started to forget who they were, and the principles that allowed them to succeed and to thrive and grow. And then they started to settle and they became apathetic, they lost that drive, that commitment to excellence. And that's always the beginning of the end, whether that's a country or a business.
I would always tell businesses when I was a business consultant, the most dangerous day in the life of a business is the day you hit number one. It's the day you’re successful, it's the day you get the great accolades and press. Because it's so easy to rest on your laurels and forget what got you there. And then you get wiped out by someone who's hungry. And I think we're seeing that. There are hungry nations around the world that are going to compete. And if we're not careful, if we continue to forget who we are, what the principles are that made this country extraordinary, and has lifted more people out of poverty, and has fueled more freedom and dreams than any civilization in history. That's scary to me. And we all have to think about that. Because, again, if we get casual in that commitment to principles, the people that we love, the people that we lead, the people who are part of our community, they may start to wonder what we know. They might start to question what we believe. They may really wonder, what is it you're going to do next? And really, our children should never have to question where we stand in relationship to our principles and values. Our friends and neighbors should never have to strain to discern our commitment to character, and to the cause of freedom and liberty. And so that's the real test.
And the thing that excites me about what Eric has is this vision, just imagine a life-size real version of Mount Vernon in the state of Utah. A place in the West that will house great music, great art, great stories, great exhibits where people can experience the greatness of the country. And he's brought in some wonderful people to work on that with him, from Paul Cardall, a great musician, and composer Timothy Ballard, who will lead a lot of the story and the history components. That's really exciting stuff. And it's a challenge for us. The reality is we don't even need to have a place to go to as long as we're creating space in our homes and in our communities for those principles to really come to life. It is about telling the stories. More important, it's about helping the young people in this country to feel like they are a vital, important part of the American story. Because if we are going to make this country truly extraordinary for the long haul, if we're going to outlive our own success like few societies ever have, it's going to take some real work. It's going to be a real challenge, but it is something we're up for. So I love the ideas that Eric shared today. And more importantly, I hope it gives you something to think about in terms of how are you passing that on? How are you going to create space for those that you care about, or those that you lead in your business or community to feel like they're part of that story? So it'll be fun to watch over the coming years, the George Washington Museum of American History will be a fascinating place to visit and to really bring the American story to life.4 comments on this story
Remember, after the story is told, after the principle is presented, after the discussion and debate have been had. The question for all of us is "Therefore, what?" Don't miss an episode, subscribe to this podcast on Apple podcast or whatever you're listening today. And be sure to rate this episode and leave us a review. Follow us on Deseret News.com/podcast and subscribe to our newsletter. This is Boyd Matheson, opinion editor for The Deseret News. Thanks for engaging with us on Therefore, what?