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Paper’s walls graced with art treasures

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Visual arts help us connect with our roots, tell us about where we live and what is important to us. They help us develop a sense of beauty and appreciation for the world we live in.

Those are among the reasons why the Deseret News began its art show in the early 1970s, says William B. Smart, who was executive editor of the paper at the time and a driving force behind the show. "We wanted to encourage young artists who were just getting started," and to give these emerging artists an outlet to showcase their works, he said.

"The Deseret News has always been involved in public service. We'd done a lot with sports and education and other areas, but nothing in art. So the art show was an opportunity to step in and fill that void." And, says Smart, the paper wanted to encourage Utahns to buy and hang Utah art.

And to that end, the Deseret News began its own corporate art collection. "We wanted to start with a painting by Le Conte Stewart, one of our fine Utah artists. It took me three trips and a lot of persuasion, but he finally agreed to sell us one." That painting, "Snow Banks," was done in 1960, so it made a nice bridge between earlier artists and those who would be appearing in upcoming shows.

In addition, other pieces of early art were purchased or were donated to the Deseret Art Foundation. Works by J. Leo Fairbanks, Calvin Fletcher, James T. Harwood, B. F. Larsen, George M. Ottinger, Lee Greene Richards, Everett Thorpe, Mahonri M. Young and others provide a retrospective of what was happening in Utah art during the 150-year life-span of the Deseret News.

From 1973 through 1989, a Purchase Award was given at each year's show. Works by Dan Baxter, Ken Baxter, Roger Cushing, Robert B. Day, Randall Lake, Val Moffitt, Delwin O. Parson, Ian Ramsay, Kathryn Stats, Erla Young and others have been added to the Deseret News collection and are hung in prominent places throughout the building.

Many of the artists who appeared in early Deseret News shows went on to become very well known, notes Smart. "The Deseret News now has a very high-quality collection of Utah art."

For a number of years, the Purchase Award painting also appeared on the Deseret News' corporate Christmas card. "I still have people tell me they saved and framed those cards," said Smart.

Between 1990 and 1998, the art show was on hiatus for a variety of reasons, including personnel changes and economic factors. It was brought back in 1999, under the direction of editor John Hughes.

"I felt we had lost a direct connection with the arts community," Hughes said. "Our coverage was good, but we needed more than critiques. We needed to forge links with the artists themselves." Because, he says, the fundamental value of art and what it does for us remains the same.

"The paper is so full of national and international politics and world events," said Hughes. "The arts offer a dimension that is more sensitive, more graceful, more uplifting. We can't neglect that."

E-mail: carma@desnews.com