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  October 2009
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Meri DeCaria . . . from page 1

When DeCaria was a young teenager, she was also exposed to art, when her father married the author Mary Higgins Clark. DeCaria says Clark was the one who made her realize that someone could actually make a living as an artist.

DeCaria says she's always had an eye for color and creativity, and it appears to have its roots in both the "nurture" and "nature sides of her life. In addition to being raised around art, DeCaria discovered the "nature" connection about five years ago. She and her sister were both adopted at birth. Since her sister had experienced a successful search for her birthmother, DeCaria decided to give it a try as well. When she found her birthmother and family, she discovered that art was in her genes for at least three previous generations. "I've got aunts, great aunts, and great, great grandfathers who were artists," DeCaria says.

Because she always loved art classes in school, DeCaria went to college at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. She had become interested in the fashion industry through a course in high school. "My family lived in New Jersey at the time," she says, "so taking the train into Grand Central Station once a week was exciting. I experienced independence and got a taste of what it meant to be involved in the fashion business."

DeCaria continued to pursue her interest in fashion merchandising at the Philadelphia Art Institute. "I wanted to be a buyer," she says, "but discovered that you have to be really good at numbers, and most buyers end up going to New Jersey to buy men's socks. Only the really top buyers get to go to Paris, which is what I wanted to do." She acknowledges, however, that the Art Institute was where she acquired the skills to be a good sales person and shop manager.

Her disillusionment with fashion merchandising led DeCaria to The American College in London where she received her BFA. She studied color theory and design and took painting as an elective. "That's where I discovered I wanted to be a painter," DeCaria says. "I painted and painted late into the night."

London opened DeCaria's world not only to art but to travel. The city was "life changing," she says. "I was there for two years and never tired of exploring the maze of streets. I saw tons of incredible art shows at the various museums. I also got to make trips to Paris, Copenhagen, Switzerland, Ibiza, Greece, Madrid and Barcelona."

After London, DeCaria moved back to Minnesota to help her father run his campaign for a US Congressional seat. "It was my first job out of college," she says, "and I was the volunteer coordinator." She also dabbled in the art field by working in galleries, but the siren call of the West arrived in the form of a boyfriend who was a wrangler. "I went West, young woman, to Togwotee Mountain Lodge in Jackson Hole, where I ran the front desk." She laughs and says, "I really got into the Western lifestyle. I bought cowboy boots, a belt, ate good food and went Western dancing." She didn't get much painting done, though. "I lived in the dorms," she says, "and every time I thought I would paint or read the newspaper, someone across the hall would say, ‘Wanna have a beer?’ I had a whole stack of New York Times that never got read."

In between the front desk, pack trips with her boyfriend and partying, DeCaria says she moved closer to the art world again by working at the Grand Teton Music Festival. "My dad took us to symphonies when I was a kid," she says, "so it was great to work at the Festival. I got to go to all the concerts."

In 1990, DeCaria moved to Salt Lake City when her boyfriend decided to attend the University of Utah. She worked for the former Dooley Gallery in Park City and sold ski tickets on the side. "My claim to fame," she says, "is that I once sold a ski ticket to Candace Bergen. She had goggles on, so I didn't know it was her until she gave me her credit card."

A breakup with her boyfriend eventually ensued, and DeCaria found herself painting vigorously as a cathartic reaction to her broken romance. She bought a sorely neglected house in the Marmalade District of Salt Lake, and spent her time renovating it. During this time she was also working for Bonnie and Denis Phillips at the Dooley and at their Pierpont and Courtyard galleries. In 1993, when the Phillips consolidated their galleries to the current location on 200 South and the previous director, Rene Fitzpatrick, left the position, DeCaria became the gallery director.

In her early days at Phillips Gallery, DeCaria says she and the Phillips concentrated their efforts on opening the upstairs, expanding the exhibit space and adding the sculpture deck. "My focus was on placing art and building clientele. We had become known for creative shows and innovative ideas, but I was excited about bringing our numbers up and expanding our base."

Eight years ago DeCaria's life took another twist when she married Ogden-born-and-bred Mark DeCaria. "I made the ultimate sacrifice for love and moved out of my Marmalade house and up to Ogden," she says. "I don't get to see some of my Salt Lake friends as much, but life is good. Mark and I love to travel, golf, hike, bike and ski. The dust never settles lately as we are always keeping up with friends, family and the fun things we do in life."

Not unlike her life, DeCaria's art has also taken some twists and turns over the years. She says that Rene Fizpatrick saw her paintings when she first began working for Phillips and encouraged her to market them. "I had my first show at the Avenues library," DeCaria says. "I bought frames at the DI, spray painted them black and put them on my paintings. My average price was $60, and I sold several of them."

DeCaria has continued to show her work at Phillips and elsewhere, but two years ago reached a much wider audience when a painting of hers was selected by the Utah Arts Festival for advertising, banners, and festival guides. Festival visitors were greeted by vibrant blasts of color and a general sense of gaiety as they wandered the grounds. Lisa Sewell, Director of the Arts Festival, cites the use of DeCaria's art as a turning point in their marketing strategy. "We always hired a graphic designer to advertise the Festival," says Sewell, "but that got old after a while. We really wanted to reverse the process and start with a piece of art created by a Utah artist. When we used Meri's art in 2008, we felt like the Festival developed its own personality and we added depth to the whole experience. She really put a face on what we did that year." |1|

DeCaria's work is also moving into the mainstream courtesy of Uintah-based Beehive Cheese Co. The two friends who own the business saw DeCaria's painting "Hive" and purchased it to use as the design for packaging their rusks – twice baked snack breads that mimic the triangular shape and texture of the painting. The rusks have been a gastronomical hit and have expanded beyond local availability to other states and the Williams Sonoma catalog. Plans are in the works to expand internationally as well.

What's next for DeCaria's life and art? She is unsure, but says it will probably involve some travel with her husband and more art, of course. She's looking into the possibility of marketing selected paintings as designs for high-end rugs. "People say my art makes them feel uplifted and happy, and I like that," she says. "I've had kind of a complicated life, but I hope the joy I feel about it translates into my artwork."

DeCaria's art is currently on display at Phillips Gallery through October 9th along with abstract paintings by Nel Ivanich. DeCaria was interviewed in our On the Spot feature in our April 2008 edition.
PasteUps: Salt Lake City
Getting to Know U(tah artists)
Modern Art/Architecture, Francis Zimbeaux, Dave Doman, 35 x 35 film

Last month we introduced our new feature, PasteUps, a column spotlighting exciting activities in the local art scene. If you read the first installment you'll know about the forthcoming Red Call Box, the 337 Project's 18-hole golf course, and the newly launched Foster Art Program (see an update at the bottom of this column). This month you'll learn about a number of unique opportunities to get to know Utah art and artists, all happening in the Salt Lake area.

Kent Rigby introduced Salt Lake artist John Bell to our readers in a September 2005 article about an exhibition of the artist's work in New York. In the article Rigby recounted the influence of the artist's home on his artistic development. The process of restoring the Dev Jennings House, a Modernist masterpiece designed by John Sugden, inspired Bell to create his (re) DEFINING SPACE series of paintings (read more here). Now, in an event sponsored by the Utah Heritage Foundation, you will have a chance to see both Bell's work and the Sugden house. The newest committee of the Foundation, Salt Lake Modern, will celebrate art and architecture during an open house at Bell's home on October 10th.|0| Salt Lake Modern is dedicated to preserving and promoting the region's mid-century modern architecture and design. October 10th has been designated Modern Architecture Tour Day by the national mid-century preservation group, DOCOMOMO (DOcumentation and COnservation of buildings, sites and neighborhoods of the MOdern MOvement). The Dev Jennings House, built in 1959, will be open from 5 PM to 7 PM and Bell will be showcasing some of his architecturally informed paintings. 20% of all proceeds from the sale of Bell's work that evening will benefit Salt Lake Modern. If you are interested in joining Salt Lake Modern or participating in the tour of Bell's home, please call 801.533.0858, extension 107. RSVPs are required to attend the event due to limited capacity. You may also RSVP online at rsvp@slmodern.org. The open house is being sponsored by Poliform, GrassrootsModern.com, and the Salt Lake Art Center.

Another fundraising event will allow you to look at (and purchase) works from the vaults of Francis Zimbeaux, a Salt Lake City artist who passed away in 2006. The sales will benefit Art Access, a non-profit organization already famous for its annual spring fundraiser 300 Plates. Over seventy works by Zimbeaux, including pen and ink drawings, watercolors and oil paintings, ranging in price from $85 to $4000, will be available. The artist, who was born in France on Bastille Day and toddled around the studios of Matisse and Picasso, is known for his paintings and drawings of nymphs and fauns in pastoral settings, as well as colorful nudes.|1| The sale features many of these iconic works, as well as some surprises. Many have already been sold during an online pre-sale. The remainder, as well as works not available online, will be sold at the event on October 9 and October 10. This fundraiser has been made possible by Duncan Hilton and Carol Fulton, trustees of the Francis H. Zimbeaux Charitable Trust, with the support of Phillips Gallery. You can read more about Zimbeaux in our April 2006 edition. In March 2005 Bill Fulton, husband to Carol, created a photographic essay of the artist's Sugarhouse studio in the first of our continuing Studio Space series (see this month's photographic essay on Dennis Mecham's studio on page 2).

Drawing by Francis Zimbeaux
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Yet another fundraising event this month looks to aid local artist Dave Doman. As we reported in our Extra!Extra! blog last month, Doman |2| was in a serious skateboarding accident in California. After finishing some new designs for Celtek Boards he was heading to the beach to surf when his longboard hit a puddle of water and shot out from under him, throwing him to the pavement. Friends and family report that after spending time in a medically-induced coma and a lengthy stay in the ICU, he still has a long way to go to recover; which is why they are putting on The Dollars for Doman art show, Friday, October 16th at Higher Ground Learning (380 West Pierpont Ave, SLC). Local artists have donated work for the event, and all proceeds to go to the artist and his recovery. For more information contact Ashley Leines at ashley@celteksnow.com

Also on October 16, Artists of Utah will host the Awards Reception for its 35 x 35 show at Finch Lane Gallery. Over 600 people came to the opening reception |3| and in order to get them and more to come back, Artists of Utah has prepared special activities for the second reception. Work Zone, a sixty-minute film containing interviews with artists from the show, will be premiering at the opening. The film will be screening on a continuous loop throughout the reception (see our trailer below). In addition, Artists of Utah will be presenting awards for the show. These include three jurors awards, a Board of Directors award and The People's Choice. Over two-hundred ballots have been cast for the latter and votes will be accepted votes up until 8 pm on October 16. All the awards will be announced at 8:30 pm. While this event is not presented as a fundraiser Artists of Utah will not turn away anyone wishing to donate a check to further programs like 35 x35, 15 Bytes and Work Zone.

click here to view the trailer in an external window

A PasteUp-date: The Foster Art program is preparing for its second Foster Art Night, to be held November 21st at the UMFA. A dozen artists will be participating in the event. If you would like to become a foster patron contact John Sproul at john@johnsproul.com

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