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Utah County baby-sitting art

Friberg proof has happy audience, is safe from tots

PROVO — Rian Robison knew it was time for a change when his 18-month-old twins started eyeing his very expensive, limited edition, artist's proof of "The Prayer at Valley Forge" hanging on the wall.

Now, about a month later, the famed painting of George Washington kneeling in the snow is on loan to the Utah County Commission. It hangs on the wall of a conference room — safe from little fingers but open to public view.

"(The painting) was in the hallway up by my master bedroom and I thought, 'I've got to get rid of it before (my kids) do anything to it.,"' Robison said. "They'd look at it like they were going to pound it and I thought, 'OK, it's time."'

As an avid art lover, Robison bought the Valley Forge proof — of which there are only 25 in the world — straight from Arnold Friberg four years ago. Robison bought the proof, which is 15 percent smaller than the original, just so he could meet Friberg face to face.

"Arnold Friberg won't come anywhere without a purchase," Robison said. "So I thought, 'I own tons of this guy's art, and I've never met him.' I thought, 'I'm going to do it, I don't care."'

That was in 2003, and sure enough, Robison's purchase brought Friberg to Provo. The world-renowned artist, who is widely recognized throughout The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his paintings of Book of Mormon characters, unveiled the proof during a Fourth of July celebration in Provo, delivered a speech and rode in a parade.

Robison says the event made the entire year special. Although the proof has been in his home since then, Robison says he always intended to share it with the public at large.

The piece will be in the care of the county for the next 10 years, at least, Robison says.

"It may even stay 20 or 30 years — who knows," Robison said. "I just thought everyone should enjoy it. It's a wonderful piece. It is moving."

Utah County has taken out a $35,000 insurance policy on the proof while it is in its custody. The painting is hanging on the second floor of the county office building in a conference room, where Commissioner Larry Ellertson says he likes to point out its presence.

"I really do like it," Ellertson said. "I've asked people, as we've had meetings in there, I say, 'Do you see anything different in here?' and the people pick up on it and express a like for it. I think that's an appropriate painting to have there. We are very appreciative of the fact that (Robison) is willing to share it with us."

The county has more than 100 pieces of art in its collection that rotate through being on display in the Historic Utah County Courthouse and the county Health and Justice Building.

"We have all kinds of paintings," said Utah County Public Works Director Clyde Naylor. "We have paintings that are worth as little as $200 and some that are worth $8,000.

Naylor said the county often receives paintings that are on loan from the Springville Art Museum, but rarely, if ever, has the county received a painting on loan from an individual.

The county also receives art on loan from the Utah County Art Board, with exhibits that rotate out of the Health and Justice Building every month. The Art Board sponsors two art shows a year during which artists are awarded monetary prizes. The fall show is going on now at the Health and Justice Building until Nov. 23.