This state was founded as a refuge, of sorts, for those who wanted to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience.
It was dreamt that this place would become an enclave of spirituality for those seeking religious freedom—and it has.
Perhaps nowhere in this sanctuary of religious conviction is its mission more clearly manifested than in Springville’s “Spiritual and Religious Art of Utah” show.
The exhibition, held annually at the Springville museum of Art, was started 26 years ago by Dr. Vern G. Swanson, director and curator of the museum since 1980. The initial idea was to hold a small exhibition around Christmastime for children, underscoring the “more significant aspects of the season.” The show was received so well that it stayed open for an additional 11 days, and the tradition has been perpetuated every year since.
The exhibition has widened its scope to include work from all genres and backgrounds, and has become an exhibit tailored to the needs and interests of the whole family. All Utah artists, regardless of denomination or creed, artistic style or medium, are invited to participate in the event. The single requirement is that the work must be “a sincere and empathetic reflection of one’s faith and value system.”
Meandering through the galleries of the old Spanish-Colonial museum, you can feel the sincerity of the artwork in the air around you. They come from a place of deep authenticity. Hope, pining, satisfaction and bliss fuel them. According to Swanson, “This exhibition is not as much about art as the expressions behind it.”
Ashlee Whitaker, associate curator for the past three years, said, “The show is about core beliefs and traditions—anything that evokes a sense of reverence and spirituality.”
The museum itself, as phrased in the dedicatory prayer by Latter-day Saint leader David O. McKay, is a “sanctuary of beauty and a temple of contemplation.” An exhibition of this nature, focused on reverence, spirituality and sincerity, creates a moving, symbiotic relationship with the very walls that contain it.
If you’ve never been to the Springville Museum of Art, this is the time to go. The halls are filled with warmth and light.
“This is a show that everyone can experience and everyone can interact with,” Whitaker said.
When asked what the underlying objective of the exhibition is, Whitaker gently smiled and said, “I hope people will leave the museum with new ideas. The exhibition has power to help viewers develop new perspectives—both of their own belief system and the belief systems of others.”
Therein lies the beauty and power of art.
Springville Museum of Art
126 E. 400 South, Springville
Story and photos by Clark Goldsberry