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Philip Henry Barkdull
(Fillmore, Utah, 1888 - 1968, Logan, Utah )
All too often, talented and interesting artists are undeservedly forgotten by history. One such artist is Phillip Henry Barkdull. Barkdull was born on March 22, 1888, in the small community of Hatton, just outside Fillmore, Utah. He was the second of three sons born to John Henry and Emma Isabell Barkdull. While Henry was a child, his family struggled to make a success of their small farm. During his youth, Henry fell, hitting his head on a railroad track. He suffered a severe hearing loss. Later, a mastoidectomy left him also suffering from bad sinuses and migraines, which continued for the remainder of his life.
There were no schools in the rural area where Henry grew up, and his family needed his help on their farm, so he did not attend school. Finally, at the age of 23, he left the farm to to study art at the Brigham Young High School in Provo. He was embarrassed because he was so much older than the other students, so he lied about his age. Even though he was always sickly, he managed to participate on the high-school track team.
After graduation from high school, he entered Brigham Young University to continue studying art. However, in 1917, before he could receive his degree, Barkdull was invited by an old roommate to accept a position as "Instructor of Art" at Dixie Normal College in St. George. But then, his career as an art instructor was delayed by his induction into the Armed Forces. He served for only a few short months before his ill health resulted in a discharge, and he once again began teaching art in Southern Utah, this time at Hurricane High School. Again his tenure was a short one, and he spent the next six years teaching art in various Utah schools.
Next, Barkdull moved to Provo where he taught arts, crafts, and design part-time at Provo High School. He spent the summers attending Brigham Young University and graduated in 1928. He continued teaching at Provo High School for two years after his graduation from BYU. It was during this time that he attended summer classes at Utah State Agricultural College and met Birger Sandzen, a Kansas artist who had a greater influence on Barkdull than did any other artist. Sandzen's neo-impressionist technique, with its thick impasto, raw color, and regionalist subject matter presented in almost a Cubist style, sparked Barkdull's imagination and resulted in "Paintings [that] shine out like a beacon amidst the 'foggy grey' of many of his contemporaries," according to Dr. Vern Swanson, Director of the Springville Museum of Art.
The two summers Barkdull studied under Sandzen resulted in Barkdull's most productive period. Barkdull's Designed Landscape: Symphony in Color clearly demonstrates Sandzen's influence. Although formally structured, the painting is saturated with the pure hues and rich pigment of the fauvists. At the time it was painted,1930, it was a significant departure from the current Utah painting style.
This new style of painting was not appreciated by other Utah artists, who thought it was too radical. On the few occasions when Barkdull's works were sent to New York for criticism, they were given favorable reviews. However, a new artistic style appeared and soon swept the country. This style was termed "Dirty Thirties" because it reflected the negative effects and influences of the Depression Era. Many Utah artists moved directly from Impressionism to this new style, never discovering the Neo-Impressionist style. In contrast, Phillip Barkdull had managed to stay with the leading edge of art while hidden away in the art world of Utah, making him an extraordinary artist.
It was, however, as a teacher of design that Barkdull made his greatest contribution to the Utah art scene. During the fall of 1930, a teaching position at Brigham Young University was vacated by B. F. Larsen, when he left for a year's sabbatical in France. Barkdull was chosen to fill the position. He was listed as an "Instructor in Art," teaching the following courses: Graphic Representation, Theory and Practice of Design, Domestic Art Design, and Outdoor Sketching with Oil Color. After his brief tenure at BYU, Barkdull was hired by the Logan School District as "Supervisor of Arts and Crafts of the Logan Schools," and he also taught art at the high school part of the day. His busy schedule as both instructor and district supervisor combined with his constant poor health all but ended any serious focus on painting. Persistent health problems resulted in his early retirement in the spring of 1954.
After his retirement, financial problems forced Barkdull to continue working as a private instructor. During this time, he turned to painting watercolors, mostly florals. Due mostly to his battles and concerns with poor health, Barkdull never fully developed his artistic gift. His innovative style and obvious talent were never expressed as they might have been, given the opportunity. Phillip Barkdull died on November 6, 1968, in Logan, without having established his talent and significance in Utah art history.