What you need to know about our artistic pioneer heritage

An Artistic Pioneer Heritage

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2000 issue of Pioneer Magazine.

by Mary A. Johnson

As patrons visit the Pioneer Memorial Museum, we receive many comments about the paintings they see on the walls. There are scenes of Saints crossing the rivers, scenes of Saints arriving in the valley, scenes of early settlements, and portraits of early Saints.

C.CA Christiansen, John Hafen, and Alfred Lambourne were some of the talented visual artists in those early days of settlement. What a heritage they left. Because of their recordings on canvas, we are able to live vicariously in the past and understand a bit more about pioneer life.

Church leaders had a great interest in developing the talents of artists and in having them learn the newest techniques. This interest represented an opportunity for budding artists to study with the masters in Europe as they were encouraged—and even subsidized—in their efforts.

Art, in its different forms, is used as a measuring rod of cultural civilization. Using this as a guide, one can see how much culture came to the valley with the early Saints. Not only were there visual artists, but there were musicians, poets, and dramatists.

Music was an integral part of pioneer life. Hymns were sung in Church services, around campfires, and by those walking the dusty miles. Choirs were organized and bands were formed in most communities. Bands led parades and brought spirit to community activities. The many pianos and other instruments found in the Pioneer Memorial Museum attest to the importance of music to these early Saints. Singing was an important activity in early Utah and was heard in the theaters as well as in the churches.

Of course, the theaters served mainly as a place for dramatic presentations. From almost the beginning of colonization in Utah, it was evident that there was much dramatic talent here. The old Bowery on Temple Square, the Social Hall, the Bowring Theater, and the Salt Lake Theater were some of the buildings used for dramatic production, and there was much local talent to play in them. The names of Philip Margetts, John Kay, Horace K. Whitney Henry Bowring, John T. Caine, and Hiram B. Clawson come to mind when we think of early Utah drama. Women performers were also recognized, including Marcy Tuckett, Annie Asenath Adams Kinkedden, and her daughter, Maude Adams, and of course, Margaret Gay Judd Clawson. These talented individuals, along with others, brought much joy to those who attended the performances.

In the late nineteenth century, there were seven Utah women starring in Broadway in New York City and delight and surprise were expressed by one writer in the New York Times. “What a lot of talent comes from the Far Western State of Utah! … Is there something in the Rocky Mountain’s air to produce so many artists” (Chronicles of Courage, DUP).

Just as the great dramatic tragedies of the past acted as a cathartic for those heavily burdened with serfdom and poverty the dramas and comedies of pioneer times served as relief from hard work, poverty, and pain for those diligent seekers of a higher way of life. One might say that while their deep religious yearnings and convictions were the meat and potatoes of life, the served as frosting on the cake.

Because of the desires and diligence of these early artists, we have inherited a great artistic world. We are surrounded with wonderful visual art produced by local artists. We enjoy outstanding stage plays, musicals, and poetry readings. Professional music programs from solo, ensemble, or symphony invite us to listen and to be lifted to a higher plane. Surely we have a wonderful heritage in the arts, which we owe in part to those early pioneers who desired a high cultural standard in life.

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