26th annual Spiritual & Religious Art Exhibit

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.

"Greater Love Hath No Man" by Casey Childs

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.

"Our God is a God of Fire" by Peter Sakievich

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.

Unlike the Spring Salon, this show is juried by the museum’s five- to six-member curatorial staff. This year, they took four days to jury the show.

“This show is more difficult (to jury) because it’s dealing with the innermost feelings of somebody,” Swanson said. “This show is not so much about ‘art,’ but about artists’ core values. They show those core values through their art, and in that sense it is about art.”

“Every work has a story to tell,” Whitaker said, “which is typical with most art. But especially with this show there are very deep and poignant stories that emerge.”

Just one example of how the story and the artist’s core beliefs come together is Ben McPherson’s oil painting titled “Gadara.”

"Gadara" by Ben McPherson

“It’s a commission,” McPherson said in a recent interview, “and it focuses on the moment when Christ casts the spirits from the man into the swine.”

“The swine are now running over the cliff and here’s this Jewish fellow running down after them, lamenting over the loss of his pigs and his wife up above.

“The irony is that instead of embracing this man who’s now been healed, they’re worried about their pigs, which were not their food source — because Jews don’t eat pig.

“The pigs were really excess and represented wealth. So they’re watching their pigs head over the cliff and not focused on what really matters.

“It’s a metaphor — they’re casting Christ out of their lives, not seeing what truly matters in front of them.

“I thought if I could create a painting that was provocative enough for people to ask the question, ‘What’s going on here?’ then this story could be told,” McPherson said.

“Where the rubber meets the road with me and how I determine a painting’s worth painting,” McPherson said, “is if it has some profound message that it teaches.”

“You can walk through the show and learn stuff — theologically, historically and artistically,” Swanson said. “You can really go, ‘I had no idea. I hadn’t thought of that idea.’ ”

There is something for everyone in this year’s Religious and Spiritual Art of Utah Show at the Springville Art Museum. The show runs through Dec. 27, 2011. There is no admission charge. For museum hours and driving directions, visit http://smofa.org

List of awards

Charles & Ruth Whiting Award 

Casey Lynn Childs: “Greater Love Hath No Man

Director’s Awards:

Kent P. Goodliffe: “For God So Loved the World”

Walter Rane: “Where are the Nine?”

Nick W. Stephens: “The Same Yesterday, Today and Forever”

Curatorial Awards:

Cassandra C. Barney: “Mary Magdalene

Michael Aaron Hall: “The Lion and the Dove”

Ruth Menlove: “The Sixth Day”

Awards of Merit 

Brain Argus Buroker: “Leadville Church”

Matthew Chatterlery: “Bedouins Overlooking the Dead Sea”

Lee R. Cowan: “To the Power of M2”

Mark Douglas Crenshaw: “3”

L. Darwin Dower: “Restoration — A Divine Calling”

Bryon K. Draper: “Principle Guide”

Cathy Ann Erdmann: “Abish: Hands of Faith”

Emily Ann Gordon: “Mother and Child”

Ryan Duane Harrington: “History, Present and Future Channel”

Brian Thomas Kershisnik: “Bringing Food”

Rick Kinateder: “Bountiful Temple”

Clayton Michael Lefler: “The Tree of Life”

Howard Van Lyon: “From Fear to Faith’

Benjamin S. McPherson: “Gadara”

Gregory Scott Mortenson: “Angel in Gethsemane”

Del Parson: “Fear Not; It is I”

J. Kirk Richards: “The Breath of Life (From the Dust)

Julie Rogers: “Maren, Cheerful and Brave”

Scott Rogers: “Celebrating a Life”

Peter Andrew Sakievich: “For our God is a consuming fire” — Hebrews: 12:29

Alexander Selytin: “The Bookmark”

Sophie Soprano: “Spirit of Old Nauvoo”

Mark C. Stahmann: “The Worth of a Soul”

David Alan Storey: “Blessings from the Water”

Leroy Transfield: “Ignominious”

Patrick Todd Wilkey: “House of Mary: Cottage in a Palace with Honey and Nectar”

This article was written for and published in the Deseret News and KSL.com 2 November 2011.

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