This artist’s vision is to celebrate Utah wildlife through murals
The Utah Wildlife Federation is sponsoring a contest for artists, writers, photographers and other creative types to increase awareness of the state’s ‘wild’ life
Chris Peterson is an artist with a vision. In his mind’s eye, he sees walls in every county in the state covered with murals he’s painted of Utah wildlife. A black bear here, a Bonneville cutthroat trout there, a Rocky Mountain elk over there.
He’s already made a prototype. You can see it on the side of the Neighborhood Hive building located just west of the intersection of 2100 South and 2100 East in Sugarhouse.
There, in vibrant colors, stands what has to rank as the largest cutthroat trout ever painted.
It’s this 120-foot long mural that gave flight to Chris’ lofty idea to adorn the side of a building in every Utah county with a similar rendering of a species that is prized by the locals.
Chris, as you might have guessed, is a lover of wildlife, and of Utah wildlife in particular. A native Utahn who grew up at the mouth of Provo Canyon, he’s been a fan ever since his first cast in the Provo River.
As an artist — he was trained at BYU and the Kansas City Art Institute — he can choose to paint any number of subjects, but it’s wildlife he’s drawn to, and wildlife he champions.
It’s his view that the animals in our midst — non-human category — deserve all the attention they can get.
To that end, Chris enlisted the support of noted Utah wildlife guru Brett Prettyman, author of “Fishing Utah” and chairman of the board of the nonprofit Utah Wildlife Federation, to create an advocacy campaign called Celebrate Utah Wildlife.
They created a website — celebrateutahwildlife.org — that spells out their goals, hopes and dreams, and to kick things off they’re hosting a Celebrate Utah Wildlife contest with $10,500 in prizes.
The contest, which runs through May 10, is open to age groups 4-11, 12-17 and 18-plus. There are seven categories, including photography, handmade art, video, music, writing, digital art and digital storytelling.
First prize in each category is $250, second prize is $150 and third prize $100.
In addition to the Utah Wildlife Federation, dozens of animal-supportive organizations are helping sponsor the contest, including such disparate groups as the Utah STEM Action Center, the Hansen Sisters Foundation, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Wasatch Front Scouting and the Utah Division of Arts and Museums.
The contest’s purpose, besides increasing the bank account of the winning artists, is to serve as a promotional kickoff for Chris’ 29-murals-in-29-counties project, also known as Wildlife Walls.
The plan is for the winning entries in each category to become part of a visual show and storytelling exhibit that will travel the state to be part of the unveiling of each Wildlife Wall.
If this all sounds ambitious, Chris will be the first to agree with you. There is plenty of work to be done, including A) Finding the walls in each county and securing the rights to paint them, B) Selecting what animal species the locals would most like painted and C) securing the financing.
But the ball is rolling. Already, for example, Chris reports that negotiations are underway in Uintah County to paint a mural on a wall in the center of Vernal of a Colorado River cutthroat trout, a fish Chris said the Division of Wildlife Resources — one of the donors to the cause — is planning to re-introduce in the northeast part of the state.
If all goes according to plan, Chris and his crew — he plans to utilize local artists to assist him whenever possible — will be on site in Vernal this August, finishing their mural to coincide with the annual Dinah Soar Days Hot Air Balloon Festival.
Chris admits his concern for the future of wildlife in Utah is driving his advocacy. “I recognize a decline in diversity and a decline in habitat and some attitudes around wildlife that I feel aren’t totally sustainable,” he says.
“But at the same time, I choose to be positive, I choose to be present, and to celebrate the opportunity that we have to be alive at the same time and in the same vicinity as these amazing creatures. That’s the message I’d like to spread.”
At a rate of six to eight murals per year, Chris estimates his Wildlife Walls project will conclude with the 29th county sometime in late 2026.
That gives him four years to traipse the state and act out the part of a wildlife evangelical, a Van Gogh of the high plans.
And after the counties are all finished, what then? According to the Celebrate Utah Wildlife website, there are more than 600 different species of fish, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians within the confines of the Beehive State.
More than enough to keep a painter busy for a good long time.