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July 2005
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Special Feature: Art in Plain Air
Salt Lake City's Gilgal Garden
photographs & text by Shawn Rossiter

What is Mormon Culture and what type of art does it create?

No, I don’t plan on tackling that question in this small of a space, but a few places around town might help you rethink Mormon culture. Oftentimes, Mormon culture is associated with a time capsule impression of the American mind in the 1950s: a cuisine based on mass produced consumer products such as Jell-O; a fashion sense confined to a short-sleeve white shirt, tie and dark polyester pants regardless of the weather; and a lifestyle solidly anchored in nine-to-five, two-car garage suburban living. The art published in the church’s official magazine, the Ensign, often times (but not always) reflects and encourages this stereotype, with impressionistically touched narrative paintings of the Bible and glowing landscapes with a Thomas Kinkaide touch.

But then there’s the Gilgal Garden in Salt Lake City. The creation of a Mormon bishop and professional mason, the Gardens is one of the most unique sculpture gardens you’ll find . . . well, anywhere. The garden contains twelve original sculptural arrangements and over seventy stones engraved with scriptures, poems, and philosophical texts. But these are not sculptures of happy families, father swinging young daughter around. The sculpture garden is a post-modernist amalgamation, done at a time when modernism was still modern and had yet to be posted – and I doubt its creator, Thomas B. Child, had heard of either. It is a permanent installation, a combine ala Rauschenburg and a unique quirky vision akin to Simon Rodia’s Watt’s Tower or the Palais Ideal of Facteur Cheval.

Child was the master planner of the Garden and directed the formation of the artwork, not unlike the old time masters and even some of the contemporary big names. Utah sculptor Maurice Edmund Brooks carved the features on the most well known sculpture, a sphinx-like work with the facial features of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. Brooks used an oscyacteylne torch to do this, an innovation of Child’s. The torch, normally used for cutting steal, removes the waste rock and fuses the surface of the remaining stone, giving it a polished look.

The vision of this one man has now become a city park. Appropriately enough, the garden backs up against the Chuck-o-Rama parking lot, and I think there is no better emblem of the Mormon culture than that culinary establishment where you will find scones, ice cream, zucchini bread, funeral potatoes, Jell-O and all the other treats common to Ward parties. It was my grandmother’s favorite eatery. She used to love to point out the picture of 19th-century polygamist convicts at the Sugarhouse prison. The one dressed in civvies, she would tell me, was her grandfather, who was a gardener. We later found out she was mistaken. The man in the picture was a prison guard and not her grandfather. But we didn’t have the heart to demolish her cherished notions. If you’re willing to take you own preconceptions of Mormon art in hand, visit Salt Lake City’s Gilgal Garden for a stroll through a unique imagination.

Our pictorial series, Studio Space, will continue in our next edition of 15 Bytes.
Editor's Note: Our new feature, Art in Plain Air (a working title, any suggestions?) is designed to highlight and document artwork in public spaces as well as publicly-viewable private spaces. Our future, grand scheme, includes public art mapped across the state of Utah.

If you would like to become involved in this project, or know of public art we should make mention of, please contact us at

On the Spot

Salt Lake City Artist Dana Costello:

Dana Costello

photo by Lance Clayton

There's quite a pile of books by my bed right now, but I have been focusing on a biography of Remedios Varo called "Unexpected Journeys."


I don't have a mantel, but my living room has about 30 of my own paintings on the walls; a friend of mine says they are like protective talismans but I think it's kind of a form of storage.


It's a toss up between Pablo Picasso and Frida Kahlo. I think I would be more interested in the experience of sitting for either of them than the actual product. Too bad they're dead, maybe we can do a seance. John Currin would be my chioce for artists who are alive.

About 15 Bytes:

15 Bytes is an online ezine devoted to the visual arts in Utah. It is published every six weeks by Artists of Utah, a non-profit organization.

Editor: Shawn Rossiter
Assistant Editor: Laura Durham

Interested in writing or photographing for 15 bytes? Contact the editor.

15 Bytes is published the first Wednesday of every month. No edition will be published for the month of August.

AoU Partnership:Salt Lake City
Utah Artist Project

In the past year, you may recall our requests to help find the contact information of a number of Utah artists for an ongoing project at the University of Utah's Marriott Library.

Well, now you can see the results of your assistance and many hours of work by volunteers and scholars at the University of Utah. On June 23rd, the Library officially launched its Utah Artists Project, a website resource featuring Utah artists and their artwork.

The website serves as an educational resource for those studying Utah art by improving access to artist information while promoting the work of Utah’s most prominent visual artists.

Thus far, the website hosts 70 artists and over 500 art images. The file for each artist includes: images of art works, Marriott Library clippings and ephemera files, artist biographies, and a bibliography of published references to the artist—books, journal articles, newspaper articles, gallery ephemera and websites.

The website is a work-in-progress with more artists coming online each day. A core list of approximately 300 artists has been compiled from lists generated by the Springville Museum of Art, the Bountiful Davis Art Center, Robert Olpin’s telecourse, Art Life of Utah, and the Salt Lake County Fine Arts Program.

A glance at the 70 artists currently found at the Utah Artists Project reveals a wide range of artists, living and deceased: Valoy Eaton, noted Utah landscape oil painter; Pilar Pobil, Spanish painter and ceramic sculptor; Theodore Wassmer, who at 95 years-old is Utah’s oldest living artist; Layne Meacham, abstract expressionist mixed media painter; Alvin Gittins, portraitist of well-known Utahans and other westerners.

Upcoming artists include Cyrus Dallin, sculptor of the Salt Lake Temple’s Angel Moroni and Massasoit (the Native American Chief sculpture that stands in the rose garden at the Utah State Capitol), Lee Green Richards, painter of the murals in the State Capitol’s rotunda, and Mahonri M. Young, who completed the sculpture at This is the Place State Park.

For more information, call the Dumke Fine Arts and Architecture Library at the Marriott Library at (801) 581-8104 or go to UtahArtists.

Artists of Utah is proud to be assisting the University of Utah's Marriott Library in this project. The Utah Artists Project will become an excellent resourse for all scholars and enthusiasts interested in Utah art and will be a critical tool in exposing to the world the vibrant visual arts community in Utah.

Artists of Utah has created a couple of its own tools to aid in this effort. In addition to our Artist Listings, which are available to all living Utah artists, we have created the Collector Corner. This section of our website is dedicated to collectors of Utah art. We are creating a directory of Deceased Artists of Utah with links to web pages concerning the artists. In addition, in 2006 we will be launching a directory for Expat Artists of Utah, for artists no longer living in the state. And on the forum aspect of Collector Corner, art enthusiasts can post messages about the art they have collected or are looking for.

If you would like to make a financial contribution to the creation and expansion of Collector Corner, send your tax-deductible contribution to:

Collector Corner

Artists of Utah

P.O. Box 526292

SLC, UT 84152-6297