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About Utah: State inspires student mural

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First-graders at Dilworth Elementary pose in front of the "Utah" mural -painted by  Dilworth's fourth-graders. The mural is currently hanging in the City-County Building.

First-graders at Dilworth Elementary pose in front of the “Utah” mural -painted by Dilworth’s fourth-graders. The mural is currently hanging in the City-County Building.

Chris Peterson

The newest artwork hanging at the downtown Salt Lake City-County Building was painted by 75 of the freest spirits you could ever hope to meet.

Unencumbered by the tenets of convention, unbridled by the expectations of others, undefiled by the pursuit of filthy lucre, these amateur artists have collectively created a truly stunning work of art.

But they are so unconcerned about fame and glory, they didn't even sign their work individually, preferring to go instead by their collective moniker:

The entire fourth grade at Dilworth Elementary School.

Their favorite subject this year is art.

Well, after recess.

Their mural reflects a new twist on an old subject. Namely, the state of Utah.

Learning about the state we all live in is one of the major courses of study for a Utah fourth-grader, so when it came time to choose a subject for the fourth-grade art project, art teacher Chris Peterson thought, "Hey, why not Utah?"

Peterson, 33 and no stranger himself to being a free spirit — he once went on a walkout to the wild places of Utah and spent three months painting the unmatched beauty — had every fourth-grader draw a sketch about any aspect of the great Beehive State they chose.

Some chose the mountains, others the red rocks, others the cities, others the desert; some chose the beehive.

When the sketches were completed, Peterson set to work assembling them into the mural.

Then he taught the kids how to paint what they had created. They chose the colors.

Finally, he had their moms touch it up "just a bit."

The finished product is "as collaborative as it gets."

Peterson, a prolific artist whose paintings routinely sell for $2,000, takes one look at what his fourth-grade proteges have produced and gushes.

"It has a beautiful na?ete to it," he says. "I rate it highly, and part of the reason is it's not created by adults."

"If adults try to control something like this, it loses its spontaneity," he adds. "The way it ended up is far different than I would have imagined. It has a really interesting horizontal movement across it. Your eye is drawn to different things. There's really a lot of symbolism. You could seriously spend half an hour just looking at the detail."

Look closely and you'll see the state fruit (cherries), the state flower (sego lily), the state animal (elk), and a giant bunny (drawn by a girl named Bunny).

You'll see the spiral jetty at the Salt Flats, Y Mountain, the block U, a ski lift, petroglyphs, the Salt Lake Temple, Great Salt Lake sunsets and a tiny replica of Dilworth School — a tribute to Mary Dilworth, the first teacher in Salt Lake.

Plus, Dilworth is where the kids hang their backpacks.

When the mural was finished, Peterson was so proud he decided it should be displayed in a public place. He called Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who agreed to hang it in the City-County Building.

You can see it there now.

But hurry, because in a week or so it will make its way back to Dilworth Elementary, 1953 S. 2100 East, for the school's art fair.

After that the Salt Lake School District offices have dibs on it for the month of June.

In July it will hang in the Sorenson Unity Center.

And in August it will complete its summer tour at the Chapman branch of the Salt Lake Library system.

After that, Peterson would like to see the mural displayed in the state Capitol.

He'd like the lawmakers to see the good that is coming out of the extra funds they recently appropriated for art study. The original increase was for four years, but budget constraints have already trimmed that to three years.

"Hopefully," he says, "they'll see this and add more years instead of take them away."

"I believe in the ability of art to help people things in a little different light," says the art teacher. "Art is a fantastic way to bridge our divides."

Especially when fourth-graders are holding the brushes.

Lee Benson's column run Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com