Blazing Trails: Robet S. Olpin (1940 - 2005)
by Shawn Rossiter 15 Bytes editor
Robert S. Olpin, long time University of Utah Art History professor, died November 5th of complications following a stroke. Olpin was an irreplaceable authority on Utah art and artists.
It often falls to those who knew a man less than others to sum up his life in publications such as this and Olpin's case is no exception.
I only met Bob Olpin twice, the first time in the spring of 2002, and the last just a couple of months ago. But it was actually some years ago that I was first introduced to the bearded raconteur of Utah art when, late one night, I was flipping through the TV channels and came across his telecourse Art-Life of Utah.
This eighteen part series, created for the University of Utah and chronicling Utah art and society from its inception to the present day, shows Olpin at his best. The choice of artwork is eclectic and personal and the commentary conversational. Olpin always seems to prefer being anecdotal to being pedantic. When he talks about art he seems less like a University professor and more like a personal friend enthusiastically showing you his personal collection.
Though he may not have owned the works he discussed in the telecourse or wrote about in his books, they always do seem very personal to him. That's because he made the study of Utah art his personal mission.
The first time I met Dr. Olpin was in his office on the University of Utah campus. I had come to talk with him about writing a review of the 2002 Spring Salon for 15 Bytes. The only empty, maneuverable space in his office was the arc created by the opening door; the rest of the office was taken up by his desk, himself and his stacks and stacks of boxes, folders and papers -- a life's work on American and regional Utah art. Sitting behind his desk, Olpin made me think of Thomas Aquinas, the great Catholic theologian, composing his Summa Theologica. I'm sure he had an innumerable number of items on his agenda, but he agreed to write the review. I think reviewing the Salon must have been second nature to him, a quick update on the long history of Utah art he elaborated on throughout his career.
Olpin had to blaze his own trail for that career. When he pursued his PhD at Boston University in the late sixties, American art was rarely studied seriously. He had to create his own dissertation program to fit his interests in American and Regional art. After earning his PhD, he was invited back to teach at the University of Utah, where he remained for over thirty ears and served in countless capacities including department chair and dean of the College of Fine Arts.
Olpin edited, authored and co-authored numerous books on American and Utah art, including Waldo Midgley: Birds, Animals, People, Things and A Basket of Chips: An Autobiography by James Taylor Harwood.
A chance encounter with Bill Seifrit, who came to Olpin to complain about some omissions in Olpin's 1980 Dictionary of Utah Art, led to a lifelong friendship and collaboration. Together with Springville Museum of Art director, Verne Swanson, they authored Utah Art in 1991, and its updated revision, Utah Painting and Sculpture, in 1997. These volumes are the standard texts for the study of Utah art.
This trio of Olpin, Seifrit and Swanson formed the nucleus of the Art Nerds, an informal group of scholars, professionals and enthusiasts who met (and continue to meet) regularly to discuss Utah art.
Members of this group, includng Olpin, created a citizens group to petition state and local legislatures to devote a percentage of building costs towards the purchase of art. Most of the percentage for art programs in the state (such as the Salt Lake County program, see next column) are a result of the efforts of this group.
Olpin also served as co-director of the Utah Fine Arts Institute and president of the Associated Art Historians, Inc., a Utah nonprofit corporation.
Olpin was always eager to start new projects. When Tom Rugh, former director of the Museum of Utah Art and History, told Olpin about his idea to publish a book on painters of the Wasatch Front, Olpin's reply was "That's something I've always wanted to do," and he immediately became part of the project. Painters of the Wasatch Mountains, which contains almost 300 color prints and is co-authored by Olpin, Rugh and Ann Worten, is now available in local bookstores.
Olpin was been influential in creating the fine art collection at the Marriott Library and he was the impetus to the Library's recent endeavor, the Utah Artists Project. The UAP is designed to digitally archive and make publicly available all materials relating to the study of the visual arts in Utah. It is in regards to this project that I met Olpin a second time. Ever eager to reach into new realms and take on new projects, Bob was kind enough to stay after a recent UAP board meeting to make sure he and I could get together for lunch, to discuss how we could get his students to write about Utah art for 15 Bytes.
In this very specific respect, Olpin's untimely death at 65, has diminished Artists of Utah. This loss is echoed in every visual arts organization in the state. His enthusiasm, his example and his wealth of knowledge have helped to funnel energy into projects and programs across the state. His teaching has trained many of the professionals working in the visual arts today.
I won't pretend to know the loss he will be to his friends and family, but to our visual arts community his passing creates an irreplaceable void. I doubt any one person will be able to fill his shoes or follow all the trails he blazed.
On Saturday, December 10th, from 11 am to 3 pm, the Museum of Utah Art and History invites members of the community to pay tribute to Dr. Olpin by having their reminiscences of the beloved professor be captured by YourStory: Record and Remember, a MUAH recording studio devoted to the preservation of Utahns' life stories. The recordings will be presented to Olpin's family and a copy will be placed in the oral-history archives of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah. The Museum is located at 125 S. Main in downtown Salt Lake City.
Special Feature: In Plain Site
If These Walls Could Talk
The Salt Lake County Art Collection
by Julie M. Zych
One of the goals of a public art exhibit is to generate dialogue, to encourage people to voice their opinions and to expose people to the art within their community. The walls that surround your local library, government center or senior center tell stories of history, expression and culture. If a picture says a thousands words, then the hallways of these buildings and other local venues scream with appreciation and teachings as the bustle of visitors, politicians and nine to fivers go about their day.
The Salt Lake County Art Collection was instigated over twenty years ago and today includes over 500 works. This museum-worthy collection is accessible to the public, free of charge, at several local venues. Public art has a built in audience: You! Most of you have probably already unknowingly seen part of the collection when you visited one of these locations. This art collection belongs to you, the residents and citizens of Salt Lake County.
The first major purchase for the collection began with ten pieces obtained from the Springville Art Museum. As word spread about the project, donations poured in to help comprise the current collection. Since 2002, approximately 100 new works have been added with the oldest piece dating back to 1876. This past November a reception was held to showcase the new acquisitions and as a memorial to the recently deceased artist Lee Deffebach. The majority of the collection (over 300 pieces) grace the hallways of the Salt Lake County Government Center in both the North and South buildings. Each artist represented in the collection was either born, resided, or has worked in Utah. Their work represents Utah’s local culture and heritage in several different media types including sculpture, photography, ceramics and textiles.
The future of the collection is bright. Goals include expanding the collection with a wider representation of Utah’s artists in order to enhance the collection and provide the community a full array of the visual arts. Collections in folk art, ethnic art, cowboy art and wildlife art are sought. The collection also hopes to increase works created by indigenous people with items such as rugs, baskets and pottery.
For more information on the collection visit: www.finearts.slco.org/
slcoart/collection.html to view catalog click on Art Catalog
Exhibition Spotlight: Salt Lake City
Nathan Florence at David Ericson
Through the end of the month, David Ericson Fine Art features the work of local painter, Nathan Florence. Florence, who received the Board of Directors award at the Artists of Utah 35 x 35 Exhibit, is a classical painter in the sense that he excels in the three traditional subject matters of figure, landscape and still life. His large scale work, though, ihas a very contemporary, feel.
The current exhibit features a series of paintings called "Stories of Flight." In these works, figures are seen in a staged landscape interacting with birds, wings and flying contraptions. The paintings are embued with a sense of wonder and longing. The metaphorical aspect seen in these paintings is common in much of Florence's figurative work. In "Self Doubt" we see the artist opening a gaping wound in his side. In another painting, "Flora" a couple is seen kissing, the male figure entering the frame from the side in an impossible manner. In the background a massive rollercoaster can be seen.
Although figuritve work is his strong point, Florence is also a wonderful landscape painter and recent work include scenes from Utah, Santa Fe, and as far away as the Czech Republic.
Stories of Flight and Recent Paintings will be on exhibit at David Ericson Fine Art (418 South 200 West) through December 31st.
Special Feautre: Art & Politics
What's Your Donation Worth?
The following message from Art-Exchange was forwarded to us by one of the artists in the community.
There is a bill just passed in the Senate that would expand the deductible amount of donated artwork to its full value. Currently the only allowed deduction is cost of materials. However, THIS BILL HAS NOT PASSED THE HOUSE. That's where you come in. The bill will be hashed out in a House/Senate committee that begins to meet soon. Here's how you can help:
1. Call and let your Representative know you would like to see them support the Senate's version of the Tax Relief bill, especially this provision.
2. Go to Art-Exchange Petition and sign up. We will present the petition and names to the chair of the House/Senate conference committee. Our goal is to obtain at least 10,000 names, with at least one from every state and one from D.C.
3. Call and thank your Senator for the Senate's inclusion of this provision and let them know that it is important to you that it remain in the tax relief bill.
4. Tell Your Friends.
You can find more information on this issue at The New York Times.
If you have trouble with the link above, you can try this one.