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HISTORICAL CHRISTMAS: WATERCOLORIST HARTVIGSON TAKES CARE TO MAKE PAINTINGS ACCURATE, COMBINING ART AND LOCAL HISTORY.

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If you haven't seen a print or two by watercolorist Rebecca Hartvigson, during your holiday shopping, I'd be surprised. Her ubiquitous watercolors of the Salt Lake Temple, Beehive and Lion House can be found in galleries, bookstores, on post cards, calendars and book covers. One of her recent watercolors, "Christmas Eve Visitor," is a historically correct rendering of the Beehive House decorated for the holidays.

"I like to do a Christmas painting every year," Hartvigson says. "I spend so much time in my studio getting everyone else's Christmas dreams ready that I don't have time for my own." She begins by decorating her studio. Then "I play Christmas music until my family cheers when I put the tapes away in January."Born in Salt Lake City, Hartvigson grew up in Bountiful. "As far back as I can remember," she says, "I loved to draw and color and work with clay." By the beginning of her sophomore year in college her love of art was such that she changed to a double major: history/fine art. (There's a combination to chill the hearts of all career-conscious parents.) After graduation, she began teaching art in the Davis County School District, only to give it up three years later when she married.

For the next eight years, Hartvigson devoted most of her energy to raising a family. She would paint only when her chil-dren were in school and late at night when everyone was in bed, sometimes until one or two in the morning. "Just after my fourth child was born," she says, "I ran into Kirk Randle at the Salt Lake Arts Festival. He was advertising an art class he was teaching at Snowbird. My husband encouraged me to take the class. Little did he know he would never have a clean house again."

Hartvigson takes great pride in the historicity of her paintings. "My love of history resurfaced," she says. "Now I combine art and history." She researches old buildings, photographs at the Historical Society, Church archives and other old books and photographs to find the correct look for the period she paints; she wants to make sure she gets it exactly right, or as close to right as possible.

After her extensive research, she sketches the scene on Arches paper with a #2 pencil - she uses a #2 because when her children were young they used her art pencils and the #2 was all she could find around the house. After the light sketch, Hartvigson begins applying thin watercolor washes, gradually building up glazes until she is satisfied. Some of her buildings, like the Salt Lake Temple in "Softly, Gently," have up to 10 layers of color glazes.

The sumptuous colors, subject matter and masterful control of the medium are what make her watercolors so wonderful to look at. In "Christmas Eve Visitor" Hartvigson delineates every flute on each porch column, every fold of the red ribbons on the wreaths, each twig and branch on the snow covered trees with such precision and life-like clarity, the viewer is astonished. I find myself yearning to enter the home and relax next to the roaring fire while downing a frothy glass of eggnog.

Hartvigson is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Patty Sessions, a midwife who came to the Valley at the behest of Brigham Young. Sessions helped deliver many children - her diary reads like a who's who of children born in the valley - and often had Apostles and other Church leaders over to dinner. (Porter Rockwell was a frequent visitor.) This extraordinary lineage is a powerful motivator to Hartvigson, stirring feelings of reciprocity: She must give back some of what she was given; she must inspire others as she has been inspired.

Hartvigson's thinking is not unique to her. History is replete with artists acknowledging the gift of inspiration. In Steven Spielberg's film, "Always," Richard Dreyfuss dies in an exploding airplane after saving a friend from the same horrible fate. On the other side, Dreyfuss encounters Audrey Hepburn - someone sent to help him adjust to death. They get to talking and Dreyfuss is reminded of his first solo attempt. "I flew that plane," he boasts, "like Fats Waller flies his piano."

"And you think you did all that by yourself?" Hepburn says.

"Well, there certainly wasn't no one else up there with me."

Hepburn tells him someone was there helping, and there's a word to describe it.

"What word?" Dreyfuss asks.

She tells him of people from all walks of life. "They reach for it, pray for it. And quite often," she says, "just when they need it most, they get it. It's breathed into them. It's what the word means. . . Spirituous. . . Divine Breath. . . Inspiration."

Hartvigson believes in Divine Breath; and because she does, her watercolors are honest, producing in the viewer a longing for the halcyon days of Christmas in Salt Lake City.