The LeConte Stewart Festival was an annual event at the Bountiful/Davis Art Center, starting back in 1974. It ran for two decades, then fell off the schedule. After a 15-year hiatus, it's back.
"It's been too long, and it was such a meaningful tradition," said Emma Dugal, executive director of the art center.
The revived LeConte Stewart Festival opens with a reception beginning at 7 p.m. next Friday at the Bountiful/Davis Art Center. The exhibit includes works from the art center's collection, a variety of paintings borrowed from museums and private collections, and a bust of LeConte Stewart created by Avard Fairbanks and on loan from Salt Lake County. Works by one of Stewart's students, Diane Turner, will also be on display.
The reception features a lecture about Stewart by Nathan B. Winters, former chairman of the department of art and art history at the University of Utah.
"I've been an admirer of his, and a student of his, for years," said Winters, of Midway. "I have a deep appreciation for LeConte."
LeConte Stewart (1891-1990) is one of Utah's most well-known and influential artists.
"He's a regionalist," said Winters, comparing Stewart's paintings of Utah to Edward Hopper's images of New England. "LeConte Stewart was a regionalist in the Mountain West."
If you look at enough Stewart paintings, you will see Utah through his eyes from that point on, Winters says.
"LeConte could paint sagebrush better than any of the Western artists, because he loved it," he said. "A mountain covered with sagebrush looks bleak to many people, but to LeConte it was a study of browns and olive green and grays."
Winters says Stewart was also a great draftsman.
"He could draw old barns, sheds and highways totally in proper perspective."
As a young boy, Stewart lived in Richfield. When his mother and siblings died, he went to Rexburg, Idaho, to live with his father.
"Just the day he was to graduate from high school, his father died of a heart attack, and he was left an orphan," said Mary Muir, a Salt Lake City woman working on a book about Stewart.
Stewart's uncle gave him the opportunity to earn a teaching certificate from the University of Utah, where he took some art classes from Edwin Evans, and private lessons from A.B. Wright.
Muir says Stewart had a keen intellect and spent many nights studying art at the library. He saved his money and went to study at the Art Students League summer school in Woodstock, N.Y.
"Not long after he left Salt Lake, his uncle died, so he was really an orphan then," said Muir.
The teacher Stewart wanted to work with at Woodstock was unavailable, so he studied with John F. Carlson.
When he returned to Utah, it was with a unique style of art that combined tonalism and impressionism.
"He brought back not only a style of painting, and an understanding of landscape painting which people had not had here before, but he showed a very marvelous association with nature, and with the pioneers that had come into the West," said Muir. "So his art demonstrates that love of the humanized landscape, as well as the pure landscape. ... It was a spiritual relationship he had with nature, and a reverence that was beautiful to see, and you could see it in his art."
A teacher's teacher
Stewart was also a teacher. He taught in schools in Davis and Salt Lake counties, then at Ogden High School. He left Ogden High School to become chairman of the art department at the University of Utah.
"He taught by demonstration, not a lot of lecturing," said Winters.
Muir adds that Stewart taught art to many private students, and often helped out with an art club in Kaysville.
"He was a teacher's teacher," said Dugal. "He had a gift for teaching in a very easy, comfortable way that inspired students. He devoted his life to it, really."
In addition to formal lessons, Stewart would take groups of students into the hills above his Kaysville home, where they would paint together.
"He had a profound influence on the community," Dugal said.
Winters says anyone who looks at Stewart's art eventually becomes a student.
"I would say there are 25 artists in Utah who copy his style now," he said.