Paintings bring rural Utah to life in the city


    By Emily Stone

    The rural landscape of Utah during 1920-1950 is revealed in a collection of paintings at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City.

    “Landscape and Life: The Rural Setting of the Latter-day Saints,” features the work of two Utah artists LeConte Stewart and J. George Midgley.

    “The goal was to put together a small, high-quality, attractive exhibit that focused on the rural landscape,” said Robert O. Davis, senior curator of the museum.

    The two artists, although different in their approaches, capture the essence of the agrarian heritage and religious foundation of the pioneer settlers.

    “Landscape” features 25 of Stewart”s paintings and 27 of Midgley”s photographs and is grouped into 12 sections that portray regional characteristics of Utah”s rural landscape. The sections include: The Farm in the Landscape, Barns in Rural Utah, The Mormon Village, Men Working the Land, Depression Era Landscapes, and Latter-day Saint Meetinghouses.

    Davis said the exhibit would make viewers nostalgic for a time that has passed on.

    A variety of text sources accompany the works. Scriptural texts from the LDS standard works, quotes from the artists and counsel from Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff enhance the viewing experience.

    Several of the pieces came from the museum”s collection. Other works were borrowed from various private collections and other local museums.

    LeConte Stewart was born in 1891 in Glenwood, Utah, but spent most of his life in Kaysville painting the rural landscape. He honed his impressionist technique studying with art teachers in New York and Pennsylvania.

    Throughout his 80-year career, Stewart produced thousands of paintings, mainly oil landscapes, which he usually painted quickly and on-site.

    Stewart”s paintings, which have a photographic quality from a distance, are formed by broad strokes and a thick palette.

    Stewart said he felt that impressionism was the most important painting innovation of all time.

    Midgley was born and raised in Salt Lake City, attending local schools and LDS Business College. He was an insurance executive and photographer.

    Around 1910, Midgley taught himself the bromoil transfer method of photography, which produces a quality similar to etchings or lithographs. He eventually became one of the nation”s leading practitioners of this method, a process that had become nearly extinct. Ten of his photographs were accepted into the permanent archives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

    Midgley”s bromoil transfer prints are thick with mood.

    “”Notturno,” one of Midgley”s best-known works, depicts Lombardy poplars in an eerie, out-of-focus style. The Lombardy poplars were a favorite subject of Midgley”s.

    A quote by Gail Martin accompanying “Notturno” describes the poplars: “Regally tall, breaking the skyline with their flame-like symmetry, they stand against an evening sky, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of Gray”s ”Elegy in a Country Churchyard”.”

    Davis said that these men understand and have a gift for communicating the land in a way that we can understand it.

    “Landscape and Life” is on display through April 18, 2004 at the Museum of Church History and Art, 45 North West Temple Street in Salt Lake City.

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