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Edwin Evans

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Edwin Evans

(Lehi, UT, 1860 - 1944, Los Angeles, CA)

Born in 1860, Edwin Evans, like J.T. Harwood, grew up in the small town of Lehi, Utah. (The town had originally been called Evansville and was founded by Evan's father, David Evans.) Unlike many Utah artists, Evans did not consider being an artist until he was nearly 30. While working as a railroad telegrapher, Evans whiled away his time sketching. One day, Mr. Alonzo E. Hyde from Eureka saw Evans sketching and declared him an artist. Evans agreed. With Hyde's support, Evans was soon off to Salt Lake City where he studied for a short time with George Ottinger and Dan Weggeland, two early Utah artists. In the fall of 1888, Evans, backed by Hyde and his partner John Beck, joined other Utah artists in Paris. Later, Evans received support from the LDS Church as a member of the French Art Mission, along with John Hafen, J. D. Fairbanks, and Lorus Pratt (J. T. Harwood had gone to Paris earlier, although at this time he was on his way home to marry Harriet Richards). The Art Missionaries were also welcomed by Cyrus Dallin and John Clawson, who had arrived soon after Harwood in 1888. The group studied at the Acadamie Julian and went on painting trips into the French countryside where they explored the technique of painting from nature and developed more natural, spontaneous styles. Evans was later credited by Harwood with making more progress in their two years in Paris than any of the other artists from Utah. This claim is supported by Evans being awarded Honorable Mention in the 1893 Chicago World's Fair for his painting Wheat Fields. Evans' later mature works also verify Hyde's early belief in him as an artist and demonstrate Evans' belief that "arrangement, balance, and specific examples are most important." He said all the parts of an artwork must "fit into the purpose of the arrangement. When you have the unit you have the most important essential." After his return from Paris in 1892, Evans not only painted murals in the Salt Lake LDS temple but also painted nine walls in the Cardston, Alberta, Canadian temple, (the purpose of the Art Mission was for the artists to acquire skills to be used in painting the temple murals) as well as eight murals for the VA hospital in Salt Lake City. Evans' best paintings, according to art historian Robert Olpin, show "a rare depth of inquiry and seriousness of intent; he rarely forgot the larger 'unit' of which he spoke." Evans passed this perspective on to students like A. B. Wright, LeConte Stewart, Donald Beauregard, and Mabel Frazer, all of whom worked with him at the University of Utah. James Haseltine goes so far as to say Evans' later body of work in watercolor was the most significant product in the entire state's painting development. According to his student LeConte Stewart, Evans was a painter and a mover, who made the University of Utah's art department possible. The University's art program, after the death of Herman H. Haag in 1895, had been left as an adjunct to the engineering dept until Evans was hired in 1898. In addition to his teaching, Evans found time to push for the institution of art activities and the refinement of the local art world. Busy with the annual Society of Utah Artists exhibits, which attracted unprecedented numbers of the local citizens, he also supported the "Alice Art Collection" and fought and won a three-year battle with those trying to impose a "mechanical" drawing program in the public schools. A stimulating and exacting teacher who was sometimes unmerciful, Evans believed in the lifelong growth of form and expression. Mabel Frazer, one of his successful protégés, says he demanded "the utmost of effort, honesty, and originality." As a teacher he was quick to condemn work with too much detail and demanded "one paramount idea with all else subordinated" and declaimed that "subject never made art." He drew a definite line between what he considered art and what he did not, which made him powerful friends as well as powerful enemies. During his life Evans held many positions, including President of the Society of Utah Artists and of the Utah Art Institute. He taught at the LDS Church School, Hammond Hall, the YMCA, Brigham Young University, the Art Barn, and in his private studio, as well as spending 20 years as a teacher and department head at the University of Utah. He won many awards over the years, and his oils have been described as showing "well-thought out and 'virile' colors, forms, and restrained linearity. " In 1941, a retrospective of his work containing 141 paintings and drawings was exhibited in Salt Lake City. During his years as a teacher, Evans twice returned to study in Paris and New York, and during his last period in France, he exhibited works in several of the prestigious French Salons. Returning to the United States, he continued to paint, sketch, and produce watercolors, mostly landscapes. He explored differing lighting effects, exhibited strong problem-solving abilities, and used a demanding intellectual approach that emphasized arrangement, balance, and specific detail with all the parts ordered to unify the design within the purpose of the work. He produced a significant body of work without ever basically changing his style or his philosophy. He died in California on March 4, 1946, having insisted on completing a watercolor before going to bed, where he died in his sleep at age 86.

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