In August 1964, at the suggestion of a friend, a BYU football player decided to change up his daily jog and run from Provo to the Springville Art Gallery. What he thought was a mile run quickly turned into four, but he just kept going.
He got to the gallery exhausted, hot, thirsty and five minutes after closing. His sad state persuaded the elderly woman locking up to have a little compassion on him so she brought him in for some water. On his way out, he noticed a sculpture.
“Is this ‘Buffalo’ by Avard Fairbanks?” asked Vern Swanson, an art major. “And is this ‘Lady Godiva’ by Anna Hyatt Huntington?”
Shocked, the woman gave Swanson a tour of the gallery and he continued to wow her with his knowledge of art.
“I didn’t know much, but I did know art,” Swanson said.
At the end of the tour, they sat down together for a few minutes.
“One day, you should be the curator of this gallery,” she told him.
By August 1980, the Springville Art Gallery had become the Springville Museum of Art, and Swanson began his work as museum director.
Now, in May 2012, the museum is still growing but Swanson announced his retirement after 32 years of service, effective August 2012.
Swanson is the longest-serving director in the history of the museum. In his 32 years, he has worked to double the size of the facilities and triple the size of its staff and budget. More importantly, he helped grow the museum’s collections, which features Soviet Socialist Realist, American and Utah art. The collection has become so impressive that even Steven Spielberg took note, stopping by to view the Soviet collection with his wife and daughter.
Swanson also worked to foster the community of Utah artists.
“I wanted to make the artist the central hero of this museum,” he said. “They are the ones in the trenches, putting themselves, their talent, their heart and soul on the line for their art.”
His enthusiasm for the art and the artist did not just impact the museum and the artists, but his colleagues as well.
“Dr. Swanson is one of the most intelligent and goodhearted people I know,” said Natalie Petersen, assistant director at the museum. “He will leave a significant legacy.”
While he is retiring, Swanson doesn’t plan to give up his involvement at the museum anytime soon. He intends to continue serving as a volunteer and on the Museum Board of Trustees.
“Contribution doesn’t end with retirement,” he said. “Working at this museum has been a dream come true.”