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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Eric Dowdle speaks during the BYU Management Society's Moral and Ethical Leadership Conference in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — As a folk artist, one of Eric Dowdle's greatest fails was "epic and eye-opening."

While working with the charitable organization Quiet Way on a project in Africa, Dowdle decided to make a wooden puzzle out of his Noah's Ark piece as a gift to the Kenyan government.

"We cut out every animal. It was thousands of dollars to put together but it was worthy of the vice president of Kenya," Dowdle said Sept. 14 during the fourth-annual Moral and Ethical Leadership Conference held in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and sponsored by the Salt Lake Chapter of the BYU Management Society. "We were excited to give it to him."

With media and government officials looking on, Dowdle unveiled the gift. The vice president's reaction was not what he expected.

"He goes, 'Oh my goodness. Your painting is broken,'" Dowdle said. "I'm going, 'No, no, it's OK,' and he said 'No, that is unacceptable. I want to talk to customs. This is not supposed to happen.' I said, 'You see, in America, we take our art and cut it up and then we put it back together.' You can see his wheels spinning, 'What an incredible waste of time.'"

Dowdle learned it might be better to be the second person to introduce puzzles into an area than the first, although the children in the community figured things out pretty fast. Even a week later, the government leader was still trying to understand the purpose of puzzles but told the Utah folk artist "it was nice, thank you," Dowdle said.

"It was an epic fail," Dowdle told his audience. "But we can't be afraid to fail. That's very important in the creative process."

In addition to not being afraid to fail, Dowdle emphasized the three parts of creativity: discovering who you are, persevering through the difficulties and continuing to work, work, work.

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These principles will play a role in the creation of Utah's new George Washington Museum of American History, which Dowdle, Operation Underground Railroad founder/CEO Timothy Ballard and nationally recognized composer/artist Paul Cardall are collaborating on, and hope to open in 2026, the nation's 250th anniversary. They hope the museum will help solve the country's identity crisis and celebrate all that is positive, Dowdle said.

"Character leads to civility. Freedom is free thought that leads to creativity," the folk artist said. "There's a positive feeling that we're lacking. And that's why we want people to leave our museum inspired to go out and do something amazing."