Facebook Twitter



Clif Davis, one of the region's most respected and gifted scenery designers, was into recycling long before it was the "environmentally correct" thing to do.

Several years ago, when Clif and his wife, Pat, were producing shows at both the outdoor TriadTheatre and in a converted warehouse just south of there (about where the Delta Center now stands), I gained a new appreciation for behind-the-scenes feats of creativity.Pat had been directing a production of "Camelot."

From an audience's-eye-view, the scenery and props replicated King Arthur's majestic kingdom - a mythical world of lavish castles and knights attired in polished, heavy armor and helmets.

Upon closer inspection in the scene shop, I discovered the realistic helmets were really fashioned from nothing more exotic than recycled plastic milk jugs, cut into the shape of a headpiece and coated in metallic paint.

Clif, who died Sunday evening after a brief but courageous battle with cancer, was renowned in local theatrical circles both for his creativity and clever frugality.

He could create scenery in such huge theaters as the Promised Valley Playhouse and the Grand Theatre - even the Huntsman Center and the Polynesian Cultural Center - that looked far more expensive than it actually cost.

Splendid castles in Heidelberg for "The Student Prince". . . realistic cockney street scenes for "Scrooge" . . . the dark backstreets of Harlem for "West Side Story". . . there is not enough room to list the hundreds of memorable stage productions that carried Clif Davis' indelible imprint.

Clif did not have a big ego.

While he selflessly took time to share his talents with those around him - students, actors, directors and technicians - he preferred staying in the background.

One director has known Clif more intimately than any other. Together for 44 years, Clif and Pat Davis were a remarkable team - both at home and on stage.

Shortly after Clif's death, Pat gave some personal insights into her husband's life and career. Here are some excerpts, quoting and paraphrasing Pat's remarks:

- " `Phantom' will be the first show where Clif won't be able to be with me. The set you'll see when you come into the theater is the set he designed a couple of weeks ago on a napkin. We're taking all of our shop drawings from those designs. He kept apologizing because his hand was so shaky."

- "Clif designed my first LDS Church roadshow when I was 16, and he has been designing for me and with me ever since. I have never done a show without him."

- "Our audiences were thrilled the year before last when a life-size horse carried Prince Charming across the stage in `Into the Woods.' But few in the audience knew where the idea began - as part of a huge Currier & Ives style Christmas card that Clif created when he was 16. The Salt Lake Tribune had a contest, with a prize of $25 and a turkey for the home with the most outstanding Christmas decor. So Clif went to work creating a horse-drawn coach, with the horse looking as if it was coming right out of the card. That life-size papier mache horse was the inspiration for the one in `Into the Woods.' "

(And, yes, the Christmas project was judged `the best' and Clif was able to give his family both the turkey and the $25 - a lot of money in those days.)

- "Clif hated haunted houses - just hated them, but Wheeler Historic Farm needed to raise enough money to improve the farm. His friend, Glen Slight, who had been supervising the farm's Haunted Woods, asked Clif to help out while he went on an LDS Church mission. Clif donated many hours building a life-size pirate ship so that it wouldn't look corny with its skeleton crew, and he built an Old West ghost town saloon and dance hall - all because he was committed. The farm was overwhelmed at the response when they quadrupled their previous attendance figures."

- "Clif's ability to communicate his craft to his students was uncanny because he wouldn't just tell them what to do; he'd show them. I was there one night during the `Joseph' rehearsals when everybody was on stage and he called to them and said, `You guys stop a minute and come out here.'

"There was an absolutely gorgeous rainbow and as we were standing in the parking lot he said, `You've got to take time to enjoy what's been painted out here for you' and as we stood there and looked at a rainbow that we all would have ignored, all the colors he incorporates into his work were displayed there.

"I've talked to several of his students and so many have written since his illness, and the theme that I hear repeated constantly is `He taught me how to take time to look at the Master Artist's work.' And I think that's what Clif did."

- "I remember when Edie Metko, who was teaching our students who have disabilities, came back to his shop where he was building a set and said, `Clif, I really hate to bother you but we have a student who can't reach the computer. Is there any way you'll have any spare time to build him a platform?' And Clif stopped everything and went right back with her and measured it and within a day the platform was built and the student was working on his com-puter."

There are many other stories involving Clif Davis as well - his work with the late Keith Engar on the LDS Church's General Board . . . how he single-handedly painted the exterior of a neighbor's home in the Avenues in just two days . . . how Clif and his brothers helped their parents through the dark days of the Great Depression by making wreaths during the Christmas and Memorial Day holidays.

Many theatergoers are likely not aware that Clif also generously donated props and materials to other theaters in the region as well as for the March of Dimes haunted houses, the annual Gourmet Galas and Bruce Hanks' Medical Alert fund-raisers.

"But you never saw his name attached because it was never, never important to him," said Pat.