The Continuing Allure: Painters of Utah's Red Rock

January 14 - June 27, 2010



Object labels for the exhibition


Charles Muench (b.1966)

Bryce Canyon Color


Oil on canvas

Collection of Paul and Susan Bingham


Charles Muench belongs to a long tradition of a highly regarded California artists who pack their paints and canvases and spend weeks or months at a time in the Bryce and Zion area of Utah. Muench studied under Maynard D. Stewart, the son of Utah painter LeConte Stewart, at San Jose State University.

In Bryce Canyon Color, the shadows cast at twilight helped Muench to understand the rhythm of the canyon's varied hues and forms and to shape the arrangement of thousands of hoodoos and spires that fill the colorful amphitheater-shaped National Park.


Conrad Buff (1886-1975)

Canyon Walls, Zion National Park Utah

c. 1935

Oil on masonite

Collection of Diane and Sam Stewart


Buff's treatment of the western landscape is marked by his unique and instantly recognizable style. Typically, his signature blue skies are unbroken by texture or line, while his approach to the land is bold in both color and form. As his style evolved, he also employed cross-hatching (a technique by which lines are placed at angels to one another) to create the illusion of rock strata, as seen in Canyon Walls, Zion National Park Utah. At the same time, Buff's use of primary colors (red, blue and yellow) became more pronounced.

Born and raised in Switzerland, Buff moved to Los Angeles in his mid-twenties, where he studied art under Edgar Payne, whose work is also on view in this gallery. After his first trip to Zion National Park in 1923, Buff returned to Utah frequently for extended periods of time. Monument Valley, Canyonlands, and Zion were among his favorite regions to paint and he produced hundreds of works depicting southern Utah throughout his long career.


David Meikle (b.1969)

View of Zion


Oil on canvas

Collection of Tom and Susan Horne


A Salt Lake City native, David Meikle received

his BFA from the University of Utah in 1994. While working for the University of Utah as a graphic designer, Meikle translated his training into fine art, winning numerous awards and commissions for his paintings. His compositions, such as View of Zion, are often depicted from vertiginous heights, emphasizing the geometric look of the topography-as evidenced in the repetition of angles on the valley floor. His training in the graphic arts can be seen in the unity of the tight lines and hard edges of his composition and his use of contrasting colors to create the illusion of depth. Warm colors are used to draw the scene forward while cooler colors, such as blue, recede into the distance.


Ed Mell (b. 1942)

Wingate Cliffs


Oil on linen

Private Collection


After developing a successful graphic design company in New York City, Ed Mell returned to his home in Phoenix to devote himself to a full-time career as an artist. By 1978 he was creating paintings that moved between hard-edged, representations and more Cubist characterizations of the landscape. Primarily a landscape painter, Mell paints in Arizona and Utah, where regions of desert and canyon landscape appear structurally modern, with cubed and flattened planes. His palette reflects a Cubist emphasis on a monochromatic range of colors like grey, blue, and ochre. Mell can often be found painting in the Capitol Reef National Monument.


Edgar Alwin Payne (1883-1947)

Red Mesa, Monument Valley, Utah

c. 1935

Oil on canvas

Purchased with funds from the Phyllis C. Wattis Endowment for Modern and Contemporary Art, and Sam and Diane Stewart


Celebrated for his mountain scenes set in California's High Sierras, Edgar Payne was also attracted to the desert buttes and mesas of Utah's Monument Valley, a region that he painted many times during his life. His nuanced painting, Red Mesa, Monument Valley, Utah, reveals his careful attention to the values of colors (orange and blue) set against a thunderously gray sky. An unseen cloud shades the foreground of the painting, forming a compositional element that contrasts with the warmly lit mesa and emphasizes the broad expanse of the desert.


Gary Ernest Smith (b.1942)

Snow Canyon


Oil on linen

Private collection


Smith's paintings find form and expression in agrarian scenes in the West. At once contemporary and nostalgic, his compositions locate memories as well as new ideas in the furrowed soil and fence-lined fields of the American farmland. He is equally interested in the desert regions of southern Utah, painting in the Capitol Reef and Zion regions. His depiction of Snow Canyon, near St. George, displays a high-keyed palette and careful attention to masses and forms. Smith was raised on a rural farm in Oregon and received his BFA and MFA at Brigham Young University.


Harold "Buck" Weaver (1889-1961)

Landscape-Cloud Patterns


Oil on canvas

Collection of Diane and Sam Stewart


Little is known about the life of Harold "Buck" Weaver. He was reported to have worked as a teamster, a deputy sheriff, and eventually a champion steer and broncobuster before a pelvis fracture forced him into a more sedentary life. Taught by such important artists as Edgar Payne and Maynard Dixon, Weaver painted in locales favored by his mentors: the High Sierras and the Utah and Arizona deserts. Many of his paintings suggest his training under Dixon, but Landscape-Cloud Patterns takes a more modern approach than was typical of the older artist. Here, strong, vertical, wedge-shaped clouds are positioned perpendicular to the horizontal landscape. The land has been reduced in to its bare essentials, rendered in a cool palette of monochromatic blues and violets.


Mark Knudsen (b.1946)

Book Cliffs with Contrail


Acrylic on panel

Courtesy of the Development Office, University of Utah


Mark Knudsen's precise paintings reflect his extensive graphic design background. Knudsen updates his traditional renderings, inserting the footprint of twenty-first century technology into many of his paintings. In Book Cliffs with Contrail, the intrusion of contrails into the sky above the landscape forces us as viewers to contextualize the terrain-locating this otherwise timeless scene in the present.


Maurice Freedman (1904-1985)

Navajo Kingdom


Oil on canvas

Collection of Dr. Bernard Simbari and Bill Barnett


On a trip through southern Utah, New York artist Maurice Freedman painted Bryce National Park, titling his work Navajo Kingdom. He described the rocks there as "Indian Castles-sentinels overseeing, guarding and protecting their land and people." Indeed, the spire tops depicted in this painting suggest the battlements and parapets of medieval castles. The landscape's palette of reds, browns, and blues appear washed out from the midday sun.


Maynard Dixon (1874-1946)

West Wall of Zion


Oil on canvas

Private Collection


After a chance meeting with artist Conrad Buff, during which Maynard Dixon saw Buff's depictions of the towering peaks of Zion, Dixon resolved to see the National Park for himself. He and his wife, photographer Dorothea Lange, and their sons traveled to Zion in June 1933.

Dixon painted more than forty-three canvases that summer and fall. Among those canvases were the nocturnal scene, Moonlight Over Zion and West Wall of Zion. Both paintings are rendered in techniques that seem representative of the depression era. The massive canyon walls are painted with pigment that is cut with turpentine, instead of oil. This effect mutes colors, heightening the sun-bleached look of the rock and the subtle shadow of moonlight that rakes across its face.

During the remainder of his life, Dixon painted an additional one-hundred and fifty canvases in Utah, most of them near a home that he established in Mt. Carmel, Utah, near Zion.


Rawlston Crawford (1906-1978)



Oil on canvas

Purchased with funds from the Phyllis C. Wattis Endowment

for Modern and Contemporary Art


Rawlston Crawford was born in Canada, but moved to Buffalo, New York in 1910. He studied at a number of prestigious institutes including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Columbia University. Along with other key artists of the time, Crawford practiced a style of art in the 1920s and 30s called Precisionism. The Precisionists regarded industrial subjects such as water towers, tanks, silos, and docks as symbols of order and exactness, and painted the modern industrial landscape with hard edges, flat color, and little texture. These subjects were considered America's civil heritage and represented a rejection of European modernism. In the painting Utah, Crawford applied this hard-edged style and uniformity of color to the Utah desert.


William R. Leigh (1866-1955)

Rainbow Bridge by Moonlight

c. 1922

Oil on canvas

Private Collection


New York artist William R. Leigh traveled to Arizona for the first time in the summer of 1906 to paint scenes of the Grand Canyon for the Santa Fe Railroad. He spent nearly every summer thereafter painting in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. In 1922, Leigh undertook a treacherous weeklong trip to Rainbow Bridge. Considered to be the most massive natural bridge in the world, the only access to Rainbow Bridge was by horseback over steep, slick rock. Leigh painted numerous field sketches on site, waking late at night to paint by moonlight and the light of his lantern. When he returned to his studio in New York, he painted the large nocturnal scene Rainbow Bridge by Moonlight.


Sven Birger Sandzén (1871-1954)

Moonrise in the Canyon, Moab, Utah


Oil on canvas

Collection of the Springville Museum of Art

L2009. 45.1

From 1894 to 1946, Sven Birger Sandzen was a professor of art at Bethany College in Kansas. Each summer during the 1920s, however, he left his post to offer guest lectures at various colleges in the West, including Utah State and Brigham Young Universities. While in Utah, Sandzén traveled frequently to the Red Rock areas of the state-Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands-to paint the imposing rock faces and strange land formations. Sandzén believed that color in nature is stronger than any color from the paint tube: "There can be no danger of exaggerating nature's color," he told his students. Consequently, Sandzén painted in warm high-keyed hues of red and blue. Layering short, defined brush strokes to create a thick impasto, he painted bold expressions of the Red Rock landscape.


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