Chaplin's Opus . . . continued from page 1
seeing Chaplin for the first time on the Weber State University campus :
"When I first saw David Chaplin I had signed up for a design class with him.
I didn’t know anything about him and when I saw him the first thought I
had was ‘He’s not from around here. He’s from back east.' He was all dressed
in corduroy. He had a corduroy jacket with the patches on the sleeves. His
coat couldn’t cover his long arms. He had a beta hair cut and these great
big sixties glasses on. I thought to myself, He’s gotta be from Boston.”
But Chaplin was a local boy. A Westerner, at least. A native of Wyoming,
he had studied at the University of Utah and began teaching art in Salt Lake
City in his twenties.
What Chaplin had was dash. He had the look of an artist. An eccentric. A
personality. But for as much dash as his personal and artistic style might
intrigue his students, Chaplin was a mild-mannered individual, often difficult
to read. A man of few words, he would often look over a students work, pipe
in hand and utter a few words of encouragement or the ever enigmatic, “That’s
But Chaplin’s words could mean a great deal to his students.
Salt Lake City artist Layne Meacham was in the seventh grade when he met
Chaplin as his art instructor at Hillside Junior High in the early sixties.
By his own account, Meacham was a zitty-faced fourteen year old troublemaker.
Chaplin allowed him to take three art classes just to keep him in school.
One day, while Chaplin was walking around the classroom, looking at the art,
he stopped at Meacham and held up his piece to the class. It was an abstract
mass of paint, a south pole to the realistic renderings the other students
were trying. Chaplin said, “Now this is art! I wish I could paint this way.”
“You can imagine what that did for me,” Meacham says. “What he was saying
was ‘Here’s the f***- up, but here’s what he can do.’ Needless to say that’s
why I’m doing art forty years later.”
“The great thing about Chaplin,” Meacham continues, “is that he was
real with me. He had groupies that would follow him around, but he would
just talk to me one on one. I remember one day he had me come into his office.
He lit up his pipe and said to me ‘So, what do you want to do?’ ‘Go to
Europe,’ I said. ‘Well, that’s a good idea. Make sure you do it on your
Meacham pauses for a moment in relating the incident. "You know, to
this day I’m not sure why he said that."
Trent Alvey, another Salt Lake City artist, was also a student at Hillside.
She was thirteen, had recently moved to Salt Lake from rural Utah and
had a troubled family life. “Learning art from Mr. Chaplin led me to the
slow discovery that I had an outlet for my feelings. By learning
to make art, I had a powerful tool, a process for channeling emotions,
a method for sorting out a very confusing life. Just by doing art,
I could feel better. More free. Less burdened. Almost carefree. From
those years of Mr. Chaplin’s art instruction, I had a survival kit for the
rest of my life, even though I may not have realized it at the time.”
Chaplin seems to have had a unique talent for inspiring his students
and then getting out of their way. “Mr. Chaplin gave me freedom when other
teachers gave me popsicle sticks and white glue,” says Sri Whipple, one
of Chaplin’s more recent students in Park City.
But even Chaplin, at least in his early days, was not immune to handing
out popsicle sticks, as Alvey relates. “I recall one art project specifically.
We were instructed by Mr. Chaplin to build anything we wanted with toothpicks
and glue. Some people were working on challenging architectural structures,
others on extensive barnyard scenes, as I recall. I had learned
to take his words literally, if he said, “anything” he must have meant
it. I proceeded to take all of my toothpicks and pile them up randomly
with one hand, glue in the other, mixing enough of one to secure the other,
thereby building up a beautiful and unpredictable sculpture . . .
I was praised heavily by Mr. Chaplin. The courage that I gained from
that experience was invaluable. He had a way of evening the playing field
for the kids, like myself, who were either misfits or a bit too particular
for the mainstream, giving us permission to continue in our own way.”
As for his teaching philosophy, Chaplin says “I was not interested
in making little artists. I was interested in making people who could be
literate as far as the visual world was concerned . . . I was looking
for ways to let kids know that art is a real thing. That it’s not just
something you do for your mom and she hangs it on the refrigerator for two
weeks. But that it really exists in our society, and there’s a reason for
the way it looks.”
The efficacy of Chaplin’s teaching
philosophy can be seen by the results of the retrospective at the Kimball.
Rather than a group of imitators, the former students in this exhibit all
have a unique and individual style. “Looking at [the exhibit] I feel really
good that I don’t see a lot of my work in their work," Chaplin comments as
he mills about the gallery prior to hanging. "I think it’s nice that all
of these people have gone off in their own directions . . . Everyone has
a responsibility to find his own way to do it instead of doing it the 'right
way.' Because when you look at the 'right way' of doing art you’ve lost the
Chaplin could afford to allow his students freedom, even his seventh and
eighth graders, because he knew how to inspire their respect and hold their
“One day in class, I remember that there was a tremendous buzz going
around the room, because one of our eighth grade mates had written a pornographic
story,” Alvey recalls. “It had been passed around to anyone curious
enough to read it. Finally, Mr. Chaplin froze the projector on a
piece of Modigliani’s, as he was trying to show slides of early twentieth
century modern painters, and said, ‘What is all the excitement about?’
He intercepted the tattered piece of paper going from student to student.
‘Oh, this!” he said. ‘This is a very creative piece of story telling,
but not appropriate in school.’ And with that he crumpled it up
and put it in his pocket. He dismissed the situation, so that it then
seemed very unimportant and we could all go on with what we were there
Part of Chaplin’s teaching philosophy was also to show the students how
to teach themselves. “I also have a philosophy that the more you know about
something the more you enjoy it, the more you get a kick out of it . .
. With my students we talked about design elements, color theory, modes
of expression, history. History was very important to my teaching.”
Erdmann says that Chaplin “introduced me to educating myself about
art.” He remembers his first day at Chaplin's design class at WSU. “He
came in, his usual mild mannered way and said 'Hi, I’m David Chaplin. Here’s
the class outline. A lot of you aren’t going to like me very much. You’re
either going to learn to buckle down and work or get the hell out of here.’
Then the smile came over his face. He said, pointing out the window, 'Right
over there is a great big white building. It’s called a library. Everything
you need to know about this class and about design is in that building.
In the back of your class outline is a list of books. Make sure you read
at least two of them. I’ll see you a week before the quarter is over,' and
that was it. "
"So I got to know that library well," Erdmann continues. "I came into his
office after a while to talk with him about some things. He said, ‘Well,
have you done your homework?’ ‘I think so,’ I replied and then he talked
with me about my questions. As I was leaving he said, ‘Oh, by the way, you
get an A.’”
Chaplin was an artist in his own right and his work was as inspiring
as his teaching method. At the end of that first quarter, after discovering
publications like Architectural Digest and Graphis, artists like Rauschenberg
and Larry Rivers, Erdmann went to a faculty exhibition. He remembers one
of Chaplin’s paintings. “It was this large, 3 x 4 painting. Bright as hell:
magenta, red, pink, yellow. Right down in the lower left hand corner was
a Uno candy bar wrapper, all folded out, and I thought ‘Wow, that’s art.’
Because I had been reading about Rauschenberg and it really related. And
so I asked Chaplin, 'Why the hell did you put that candy bar wrapper on there'
and he said, 'Because I like Uno candy bars. There’s no other reason. And
there’s no other reason necessary.' And from that I thought that I would
be able, at some point in time, to create my own work.”
And Erdmann, as well as many of Chaplin's other students did create their
own work, many even making a career at it. And in the Kimball's "David Chaplin's
Opus," the artists' work has returned to honor the mentor who inspired them.
The juxtaposition of the mentor's pieces and the former students who have
become colleagues provides an unusual look at the creative output, artistic,
instructional and inspirational, of one of Utah's best loved artists and educators.
"What I think is great about this show," Meacham says, "is that it's real.
It's not some political, school board thing giving him a gold watch. It's
a grass roots effort. These are the people he influenced honoring him for
what he's done."
David Chaplin's Opus will be on display at the Kimball Art Center in old
town Park City May 7th through June 21st , with a reception for the artists
Friday, May 7th, 6 to 8pm. Wednesday May 19th, Judith McConkie will speak
on "The Importance of Art and Art Teachers in Public School Curricula." 6
to 7:30pm. Chaplin's students appearing in this exhibition are:
Thalo Porter Tempest
Trent Thursby Alvey
-- Shawn Rossiter
Information for the news nibbles
section can be sent to:
The deadline for the next issue is June
Extended information on many of these announcements
can be found at the
-- Tuesday, May 2nd eleven local artists spoke to the Salt
Lake City Council at a town meeting in regards to recent issues surrounding
the street artist ordinance. Another meeting will be held on Tuesday May
11th at 7:00pm. The town hall meeting will be in the north wing of the City
County building on the 3rd floor. Those wanting to speak will need to fill
out a yellow card and may want to attend a meeting at 6:00 on the 3rd floor,
south wing of the City building, 451 South State.
-- Mainly Art has scheduled a meeting for Seagullfest after the town hall
meeting on the 11th to begin at about 8:15 at Mainly Art.
--Trent Call and Lisa Hubbert received the Howard S. Clark
Annual Art Scholarship, given to two University of Utah graduating artists.
Their works will be on display at Williams Fine Art through May 13th.
-- Springville Museum of Art Spring Salon Awards:
First: J. Kirk Richards "Harvest" oil on panel
Second: Joe Carter "Thor" oil on canvas
Dahrl S. Thompson "In Waves" marble/arragonite sculpture
Third: Sarah Lee Richards "Complete"oil on board
Kim Riley "Vatican Musuem Stairs" photograph
Carolyn Coalson "Khamsin" oil on paper
New Call for Entries recently posted to the
Artists of Utah Forum
-- Eccles Community Art Center's 30th Annual Statewide Competition
-- Dangerous Art at New Visions Gallery
-- Rose Wagner Arts Center Exhibition Openings 2004-2005
-- AAUW Women Artists Exhibition
--San Rafael Swell Western Paint Out