Around the Block with "Uncle Roscoe"
by Tom Alder
For many of us baby boomers who witnessed the emerging days of local TV kiddie shows, we were family because we all shared the same uncle. Roscoe Grover, the portly, kind and multi-talented gent known to us as "Uncle Roscoe," was asked by KSL TV in 1950 to establish a children's program on the fledgling local TV station. Those were the days when we kids would anxiously turn on the Motorola at 6:30 AM and watch the test pattern for 30 minutes until programming began.
Uncle Roscoe's program, "Playtime Party," as I vaguely recall, was broadcast, logically, every day after school. Grover was the pioneer in producing shows specifically for children some years before the likes of other kiddie show hosts, Engineer Ron (Ross), Captain K.C. (Bernie Calderwood), Fireman Frank (Ron Ross again), Kimbo the Clown (Jack somebody), Captain Scotty, and a number of others who were willing to don a goofy hat or red nose and captivate a new generation. All the while, of course, our mothers were telling us not to sit too close to the TV or we'd go blind.
Patrons at the Hotel Utah Coffee Shop (oh, where are those rolls when you really need them?) were entertained by Uncle Roscoe on occasion when he would migrate from table to table, drawing caricatures of the kids, and signing their souvenir menus. He would make guest appearances at various events along the Wasatch front and would, according to his former Virginia Street neighbor, Jean Sorensen, hold court in his backyard with all the kids in Federal Heights and elsewhere, making crafts, drawing, sculpting, and anything that they could imagine. Sorensen said that Grover introduced children to art on Mondays and Fridays from 10 to 12 in his backyard "studio." Sorensen also remembered that Grover would draw caricatures of the kids in 20 seconds flat.
Born in Nephi in 1901, Roscoe Grover |1|
was educated at the University of Utah, studying art under J.T. Harwood and a few others including Mabel Frazer, Florence Ware, LeConte Stewart, and Arnold Friberg. Grover also attended New York University, and Columbia, where he later attended grad school and taught. As an LDS missionary in New York, Grover assisted with producing the first Hill Cumorah Pageant, and with the dedication of the Angel Moroni monument at that location. My mom told me once that the model for that Moroni statue was her uncle, James H. Moyle.
In the early 30s, Grover taught classes in radio and speech in New York, and appeared in some of the early television shows produced there. There, Grover and his wife, Arlene Harris, daughter of former BYU president, Franklin Harris, remained until 1945 when KSL offered him a position managing KSUB in Cedar City, where he remained until he was transferred to Salt Lake in 1950 to become "Uncle Roscoe." Later, Grover would become KSL program director and announcer for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
But what about the visual arts? Grover's hobby was creating portraits, especially from photographs, for private commissions and also producing likenesses of LDS Church leaders, as well as famous Americans and Utahns. His portraits of Mark Twain, |2|
Truman Angell (architect of the Salt Lake Temple), |3|
John Wesley Powell,|4|
and Maude May Babcock |5|
are quite accurate depictions from photos, although most don't acquire Grover's own style or interpretation (many thanks to Lila Abersold and Laura Durham for putting up with my questions and agreeing to email some of the images of the paintings that belong to the Utah State Fine Art Collection accompanying this column. I'm sure they were glad to see me leave).
Grover befriended fellow "Block" artists, Mahonri Young and John Held, Jr., the latter a flamboyant illustrator of note (watch for a future column about Held) who spent most of his professional life in New York. Grover once asked Held what his favorite color was. "Plaid," came the answer.
Of more interest to me are three landscapes by Grover, one of which keeps me company in the local Ward offices |0|
. The other two are owned by Jim Jensen. Who's Jim Jensen? Grover's nephewone of the few who can truly call him "Uncle Roscoe." My research turned up precious little for a man prolific in the fountainhead of early Utah broadcasting and who produced hundreds of portraits and landscapes. One of the few specimens to turn up at the Historical Society was an old invitation to a one-man show of Roscoe Grover's paintings at Dan and Marianne Olsen's Tivoli Gallery in 1970. A beautiful watercolor of a French street scene graces the invitation. When I talked to Jensen on the phone, he told me a story about a glorious urban French painting that he had purchased from his uncle. |6|
Turns out the featured Tivoli painting and Jensen's painting are one and the same. I noticed the inscription on the back of the original, written in Grover's hand: "I remember this day, August 23, 1930. I was in Paris, painting in Montparnasse. At the end of the day a strong yellow light bathed the streets and buildings which was a dramatic effect I had not anticipated when I started painting the roofs of Paris and the chimney pots." |7|
So impressed was Jensen with the painting and the story, that he paid his uncle $500 for itat a time, Jensen offered, "when I was single and studying linguistics and English at the U."
An additional tidbit that Jensen supplied was a note in Grover's handwriting addressed to a relative: "I'd like to trade a painting for a beef or a lamb or a pig ready for the deep freezeor two or several paintings for a garden spot in the east part of town…” Grover wasn't alone in bartering art. Henri Moser, among other earlier Utah artists, frequently used paintings for everything from dental work (from Jeanette Woolley's father) to goiter removal (Alice Merrill Horne's son, Dr. Lyman Horne). Maybe you artists still do the same thing. Anyone interested in trading a side of beef for a little art history?
When Roscoe Grover passed away in 1984 at the age of 83, an article appearing in the Tribune suggested that "Uncle Roscoe was one of those rare people whose wide-ranging talents were constantly used to brighten the lives of others; service to his fellow beings came as naturally as breathing. In a world with all too much hostility and conflict, he will be sorely missed."||
Next month's column will feature The Templeton Building and its artists. If you anecdotes or images contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
George Inness: Writings and Reflections on Art and Philosophy
by Brandon Cook
In September of last year I put in an order at Amazon for the soon-to-be-published book George Inness: Writings and Reflections on Art & Philosophy
from George Braziller
publishers. I was in a painting slump and urgently needed the ingredients the book was sure to provide in order to make the master medium for my glazes and the proper incantational sequence for summoning an art god through the floor of my studio (I needed a little help with my atmospheric perspective).
Upon opening the book five months later, when it finally arrived -- it was immediately apparent that no such esoteric scrawling was evident. In fact this book did not even have one color plate! Just a few small black and white thumbnails. They were not kidding in calling it the WRITINGS and reflections of said artist. Oh, well, no pretty pictures; I was just going to have to READ an art book I guess.
I read with some trepidation the initial, overblown quote on the title page. And the introductory forward, by Adrienne Baxter Bell, didn’t give me anything I hadn’t read in other books (including the author’s publication in conjunction with the Inness show at the National Academy of Design in 2003). But when I turned over to the first chapter and at the top of the page read the following quote from Inness -- "George [speaking to his son George, Jr.] my love for art is killing me, and yet it is what keeps me alive" I thought, "Now we're talking."
George Inness: Writings and Reflections on Art and Philosophy
contains interviews the artist gave to newspapers and art journals, essays on his art, philosophy and religion, aesthetic debates with critics and editors of the time, the artist’s political speeches, business notes and even his written poetry (which, unfortunately, is unequal to his visual poetry). For the passing admirer of Inness's work, this book will be far too dense and full of minutiae and almost no images. There are many other fine books on the artist that a neophyte might explore, but with close to three-hundred pages of writing on or about the artist, this might be the type of book that only an intense admirer would enjoy.
The books initial section of interviews are probably the most informative writings concerning Inness's philosophy. Inness's matter-of-fact, anti-didactic approach to painting, expressed in the interview, rings true to my own experience. You learn by doing. "Pupils can't be taught much by an artist," Inness said in the interview. "I have found that explanations usually hinder them, or else make their work stereotyped. If I had a pupil in my studio, I should say to him as Troyon once said in similar circumstances, 'Sit down and paint'."
It came as a surprise to me when I read in the last interview Inness gave, published nine days after his death, that he very much disliked the Impressionists: "Now, there has sprung up a new school, a mere passing fad, called Impressionism, the followers of which pretend to study from nature and paint it as it is. All these sorts of things I am down on. I will have nothing to do with them. They are shams." I wonder how Inness would feel about the current exhibition at the BYU Museum of Art, Paths to Impressionism, from the Worcester Museum of Art's collection? Inness would have admired the work of the Barbizon school on display, since the movement was an influence on his on development. But how would he feel about his work and others of the late 19th-century American tonalist school, hanging next to the "passing fad" and "sham" artists like Monet, Pissarro and Sisley? Of his own work in this exhibition, there are a handful of earlier works, most of them small, but only one of what could be called his later visionary style. |1|
As great as this piece is, paintings by Crane, Tryon and Murphy on display may be better examples of what makes great landscape painting high art.
Inness's interviews are followed by a section of his letters, which reveal little about his philosophy, but give you an idea of the kind of man he was away from his work. One of the letters I am fond of was to his wife, written while he was away from her on one of his frequent painting trips. He shares with her the beautiful scenes he was witness to and the progress of the paintings he is executing to capture them. But in the midst of describing the beautiful scenery and the generosity of the hosts he is staying with, he is wise not to let his wife think he is having too good a time. "I should not object to the ladies having a little more beauty, for a homelier set of women than have taken possession of Sconset I think I never saw together in one place. I am afraid, my dear, that you have spoiled me."
The third section, "Reflections on Inness’s Life and Work," provides amusing stories and anecdotes about the artist, the kind Tom Alder would include in his 15 Bytes column if Inness had ever passed through the state and could be counted among Utah artists. Inness would frequently take paintings done years before off of collectors' walls, saying that just because they had bought the paintings, did not mean they were theirs, they would always be his to do as he wished. So he would come back weeks later with paintings they had lived with for years, dramatically changed, usually to their liking and sometimes not. He would also paint and change paintings minutes after a collector had purchased the work. In one case, on a Friday a collector purchased a painting, destined to be shown at a major exhibition on the following Monday, so that he could have bragging rights at the exhibition. After the collector left the studio, Inness decided to tickle up the foreground and by the hour it was time to go home, he had ruined the painting. He came home in a bad mood, and when he told his wife what had happened she sent him back to work on the painting through the weekend, assuring him he could fix it. He did just that and delivered the painting Monday. The night of the exhibition, the buyer, ready to impress his entourage, was confused when he could not find his painting. He told Inness that he admired the painting on display but was confused on two counts. First, why did he not display the purchased painting as was agreed, and, second, why had Inness not shown this better painting to him in the first place? Inness just pointed at the completed masterpiece and said, "That sir, is your painting".
This section also includes people's accounts of Inness' painting process, but these left me wanting. Also, the recollections make Inness seem larger than life, so that one wonders if they were not idealized just because of their fondness for the artist. An exception, are the recollections of the artist's son, George, Jr., which were my favorite.
The last part of the book is business letters which for the most part are just that, business: quite repetitive and full of "thank you for your purchase" or "your painting will be delivered on such and such date." These mundane aspects of being an artist have little to do with the visionary art that Inness created. As was remarked at his memorial service at the National Academy of Design: "He was a genuine man. He was a true genius, had little sympathy for those who did not share his beliefs. He was as genuine in his own life as in anything else."
Having had such admiration for George Inness over my short career as a landscape painter, I can say after having read this compilation that all of what I thought about George Inness has now been confirmed. The greatest affirmation for me was when he was asked what is the true use of art (which to me is not far from the question, what is the meaning of life?) His answer: To cultivate the individual soul of the artist by seeking and expressing truth.||
George Inness: Writings and Reflections on Art & Philosophy
Edited by Adrienne Baxter Bell
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: George Braziller