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About Utah: Artist extraordinaire John Dalton is finally giving the public an eye-full

FAIRVIEW, Sanpete County — John Dalton is an artist.

Go ahead, name an area of the art world. He’s likely been there and knows how to make that. As a high school teacher, he taught over 9,000 students the intricacies of everything from acrylics to calligraphy to pottery to water colors. He has three advanced degrees, including a master’s in a Japanese ceramic technique called raku. He’s as comfortable with a kiln as he is with a brush or a pen. Give him an easel and stand back.

But there’s one thing he hasn’t done.

He’s never showed off.

Until now.

All through February, and continuing until the Ides of March, the Fairview Museum – Sanpete County’s answer to the Louvre – is showcasing the dizzying, diverse array of Dalton’s art.

Past the room with the enormous skeleton of a 10,000-year-old Columbian mammoth and around the corner from the museum’s collection of original Avard Fairbanks sculptures, an entire corner on the main floor has been turned over to display sketches, etchings, turnings, paintings and ceramics, every one of them a production of Dalton’s creativity.

The idea to do this wasn’t John's. He’s never been a limelight sort of person but, a few months ago, when a scheduled exhibit fell through, his name came up as a suitable replacement.

He and wife Sally moved to Fairview in 1996, after he’d retired from 32 years as a schoolteacher in California and they’d served an LDS mission in Nauvoo, Illinois. That doesn’t make them as rooted in Fairview as the Sandersons or the Stewarts or the Coxes – or the wooly mammoth – but it makes them local enough that more than a few people were well aware that the Daltons' house at Skyline Mountain Estates contained its own private gallery of art.

When asked if the museum could show off his artwork in a one-man show, John didn’t know quite what to say. He’s going to turn 87 on his next birthday and he’s always promoted the creations of his students, not his own.

He finally relented when he looked at the calendar.

“I’m not one to toot my horn,” he says, “but it dawned on me, I’m not going to be around that much longer. So why not?”

At the grand opening of his exhibit Jan. 30, his children and grandchildren surprised him by driving in from California, Colorado and Cedar City.

There, for the first time in nearly 87 years, their father and grandfather’s talent was on public view.

Laid out on the walls and the tables, it’s an impressive collection with an amazing range. On one wall there’s the first still life he ever painted, a table scene done in oil when he was in the Army in Japan in 1949. Right next to that is a still life he did when he was on his mission in Nauvoo, a pen and ink of Wilford Woodruff’s home sketched in 1995, nearly 50 years later.

His personal favorite is a painting he did of his grandparents' home in Grace, Idaho, where he spent time as a youngster during the Great Depression.

There’s a fine and ample display of ceramics and pottery, although John couldn’t include the porcelain heirlooms he repaired while he was on his mission in Nauvoo – because they’re still there.

At the bequest of Nauvoo Restoration Inc., he pieced together broken fragments of fine ceramic pieces once owned by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff and other early LDS Church leaders. Looking better than new, the heirlooms are on display in Nauvoo museums.

These days, John continues to dabble in art. At church meetings or other gatherings, he’ll find himself sketching the back of someone’s head or neckline. At home he’ll paint with pencils or pens or oils or watercolors. His favorite thing to do? “Whatever I’m doing right now.”

When he was a boy growing up in Michigan (his mother, he says, used to babysit Mitt Romney), he remembers not coming down for supper because he’d lose track of time, staying up in his room and drawing.

“I’ve done it all my life,” he says.

As the walls of the Fairview museum amply attest.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com