“Wandering through the Springville Museum of Art is a magical experience, a spiritual experience,” said Dr. Vern G. Swanson, director and curator of the museum since 1980. “The museum immediately attracted me because the work it holds is life-affirming and nourishing.”
In the summer of 1964, Swanson was a young, bewildered BYU student from Medford, Oregon who stumbled away from football practice and hitchhiked to Springville. He never dreamed that his escape was merely a journey home.
Upon hearing about the museum through a few peers, his childhood fascination with art compelled him to trek south. He arrived at the doors sweaty and parched, five minutes after the doors had been locked. Deflated, he turned back to the road and wiped the sweat from his eyes. An elderly docent was walking to her car and Swanson approached her in desperation, asking for water. The woman smiled, jingling her keys, and agreed to let him inside.
Once Swanson’s thirst had been satiated his eyes began to wander. They poured across the walls, the vaulted ceilings and the immaculate tile floor. They landed on a painting that looked familiar. “That’s a Fairbanks, isn’t it?” Swanson asked. The old woman raised her eyebrows and joined him to admire the painting. They esteemed the artist’s brushwork and use of color, and then Swanson moved to the next painting with the woman close behind.
An hour and a half passed, and found the two sitting on a bench on the opposite side of the gallery deep in conversation. The woman slapped his knee and concluded, “You’ll be the curator of this museum someday.” Sixteen years later, he was.
The sense of warmth he felt on his first visit still exists today. Swanson attributes the unique feel of the space to the museum’s vision.
“We want art that appeals to families,” he said. According to the museums’ Community and Values Statement, they do not purchase or display art “which offensively or aggressively challenges public sensitivity to the human form, the handicapped, sexuality, gender, religion-creed, sacred objects, politics, race or ethnicity.”
The emphasis is placed upon artwork that is edifying, uplifting, carefully-crafted and skillfully-created rather than artwork that is intentionally abrasive. While works from many art movements are represented in the museum, a majority of the pieces only vary moderately between the realms of classicism and impressionism.
When confronted with the argument that the Springville Museum of Art is sequestering itself in an irrelevant and outdated category by not displaying more progressive work, Swanson simply explains, “We’re not opposed to the post-modern paradigm, but we asymmetrically support the Renaissance paradigm because it’s more wholesome and enriching.”
When the museum was dedicated in 1937 by David O. McKay, then apostle for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it was set apart to be “A sanctuary of beauty and a temple of contemplation.” Swanson reverences that description and hopes the museum will always embody it.
Check out these other galleries:
BYU Museum of Art
North Campus Drive, BYU, Provo
Window Box Gallery
62 w. Center Street, Provo
Sego Art Gallery
169 n. University Avenue, Provo
Terra Nova Gallery
41 w. 300 North, Provo
Springville Museum of Art
126 e. 400 South, Springville
Open Tue.-Sun., closed Mondays