One night in 1903, three gentlemen from Springville, Utah, took a buggy ride to nearby Provo to hear a lecturer tell how the fine arts can have a refining influence on people's lives. They were so impressed that John Hafen, already an established artist, donated Water-powered installation one of his paintings to the Springville high school in hopes that it would start an art collection. Other Utah artists followed suit and by 1907 the original art collection for the Springville Museum of Art was underway.
The high school took the lead in the development of the museum. They ran an "Art Queen" contest: each vote cost a penny and you could vote as many times as you wished. The money went for purchases of art, which the winning Queen unveiled. In 1921 the students held their first annual Salon Exhibition patterned after the Paris Salon, which has continued till this day. Young Abe Lincoln
By 1935 the museum collection was so large that a separate building was needed. Townspeople raised $100,000 for the construction of a very attractive museum building, which was completed in 1937 by the WPA.
We came upon this museum quite by chance: our AAA guidebook mentioned that its collections include Soviet postwar art. We wondered how so many Soviet-era paintings Three-D leather work came to this city of 20,000 souls, so we stopped by. Arriving just at opening time, we waited at the door for awhile, till a fellow visitor sought another entrance and came through the building and let us in. This is an example of the friendly informality of the place -- no entrance fee, few visible guards, but plenty of spacious galleries well-filled with paintings and sculpture.
The greater part of the museum's collection is art by Utah artists, arranged more or less chronologically. Most are representational works, sunny and warm landscapes, 'Da Winnah' portraits or story-telling paintings and sculptures. We especially liked the sculpture of the young Abraham Lincoln, and were impressed by another sculpture, of the winner and loser of a boxing match. Although, as the curator's card noted, "political satire 1960 Presidential election is rare" in Utah art, there was an interesting allegorical picture of the 1960 general election, and a sharply drawn portrait of four card-playing women which we enjoyed.
We were pleased, given the constraints of the collection, to find so much variety. Two large and complicated assemblages -- a flying machine and an elaborate concoction of water-wheels, were fun and well-constructed. There were curiosities -- notably a temporary exhibit of three-dimensional scenes made from leather -- and a surpringly large number of surrealist works. One gallery featured a dazzling display of modern digital art.
Moldavians reading Pravda But it was the Soviet art which most captured our attention. The museum director began visiting the Soviet Union during the 1960s. From that time, he was able to purchase paintings "at a reasonable price" according to the staff member who told us. This collection represents works from mid-twentieth century forward and includes scenes of workers, families, children, and some landscapes. We were reminded that artists in the USSR had to be very careful to praise the Communist system; but now that the USSR has fallen we found the heroic paintings of communist life to be fine art, despite the politics. Soviet steelworkers
Why hadn't we heard about this museum before? It turns out that it is "America's largest non-accredited art museum", so it doesn't make its way into standard museum listings. Current plans call for the construction of a new wing and equipping the musem building with the heating and air conditioning controls and access for physically impaired visitors, as required for accreditation. Despite these technicalities, the museum is first rate, and the town of Springville proudly bills itself as "Utah's Art City."
We encourage anybody passing through this part of the country to make a special detour to the Springviille Museum of Art. For more information, see the website at http://sma.nebo.edu/.