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Drawing together — exhibit honors artistic couples

Are they, perhaps, proof of the theorem that great minds think alike? Or, do they more readily support the axiom that opposites attract?

Does the creative spark foster the attraction, or does the attraction fuel the creative spark?

Will they be noted more for their similarities or their differences?

These are questions explored by the E-Spousing Art exhibit opening today at the Springville Museum of Art. More than 30 of Utah's artistic couples are featured in the show, including some from the state's past such as James T. and Hariott Harwood, Maynard Dixon and Dorothea Lang Dixon, Mahonri and Dorothy Weir Young. They are joined by contemporary artists such as Denis and Bonnie Phillips, Rebecca and Clay Wagstaff and Glen and Barbara Edwards, to name a few.

"I love this show," enthused Vern Swanson, director of SMA. "It not only goes from the beginnings of Utah art but includes all styles, all media, all conceptual persuasions."

It came about because he and Donna Poulton, curator for the show, were talking one day about art dynasties in Utah. The Fairbankses, the Fletchers, the Salisburys. Their discussion of parents and children led to one of husbands and wives, and the light went on, so to speak.

A search of the museum's database (10,900 artists, living and dead) yielded more than 50 couples, and that list was "reluctantly reduced" to a more manageable 34. There are even a few ex-spouses who agreed to be part of the show.

The museum staff thought it would be fun to explore the creative process from this direction, said Poulton. "We thought there might be a lot of give and take, a lot of sharing not found in other relationships."

And while it would take a lot more than one art exhibit to get to the psychology of how the creative process interfaces with a relationship — wouldn't that make a great graduate dissertation? she asked — this exhibit "may help start a dialogue about what attracts one creative person to another."

The artists themselves have a lot to say about the role of art in their marriages. In artists' statements submitted with their works, they talk about some of the ins and outs of sharing both art and life.

"Some may doubt that two creative people can successfully combine marriage and artistic drives and expression. Our experience was that we complemented each other, we enriched each other in ways which impacted our creations," writes Warren Luch. "Certainly differences did arise, but, for the most part, we were able to bridge differences with humor and patience in hearing each other out. There were many times when I would ask Phyllis her opinion on a color or a shape, on ideas or entirely completed art. If she gave me an answer I didn't like, I would reply with: 'Who asked you?' "

A shared art experience is a "significant part of life" for Sam Wilson and Kristie Krumbach, "but similar to many other aspects of our lives," writes Wilson. "We have to share the mortgage payments and we need a rather Byzantine connection with health and life insurance policies. Kristie cooks, pays bills and makes all the 'arrangements.' I worry about world peace and mow the lawn. We do pretty well with the necessities. If art improves the quality of life, it certainly enhances our particular partnership. With different media, we don't compete, we complement each other …. Since art is always coupled with rejection, we are most fortunate that we are each other's most receptive and supportive audience."

And Sophia Pitakis and Michael J. Mogus have this to say about working together: "The perception is that, because we agree on most things outside art, we would agree on art. Well, this is true with our ideals. However, getting there isn't always pretty. But in the end, we've done our best to get the job done."

The show is "an innovative way to honor Utah's artists," said Sharon Gray, assistant director at SMA. And it's exciting that "we can do these things. We have a lot of juried shows. But in between, and with our new wing, we have the room to expand and be experimental in ways many can't."

Swanson hopes people will look at the art pairings and think a little about the dynamics of relationships. In some, he said, you will see "very simpatico interests. And even though specific styles are vastly different, they tend to belong to the same camp. Traditionalists tend to be with traditionalists, and non-traditionalists tend to be with non-traditionalists." Then, he says, you will come across some couples that don't fit that mold.

And that is one of the best things about the show, he said. "Just because people are married, they aren't joined at the hip. That wasn't true in the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries. But today, husbands and wives really have their own voices. Just because they work together, they don't work just the same."

And he hopes people will walk away from the exhibit "realizing the tremendous freedom and diversity that exist among Utah's espoused artists."