Friday, August 12, 2011

The Art of LeConte Stewart

Springtime, Morgan Valley - by LeConte Stewart

So, it is happening again!  I have been to a couple of art exhibits this summer, and that urge to pick up a pencil and sketchpad or paintbrush is starting to build.  That crazy voice in my head is saying "I want to do that," as I look at a wonderful piece of art on display.  Visiting art galleries makes me believe that I could do that too!  The inspiration this time comes from the "LeConte Stewart:  Depression Era Art" exhibit at the Utah Museum of Fine Art.  This is actually only part of a joint LeConte Stewart (1891 - 1990) show, with the other half, "LeConte Stewart:  The Soul of Rural Utah" at the Church History Museum.

There are many wonderful things about this exhibit.  First, this collection of Depression-era paintings demonstrates an artist's contribution as an historian.  As you view paintings like "Lincoln Hotel, Furnished Rooms" (1935) or "Home Loan" (1936) depicting a home vacant due to a foreclosure, you get an idea of the hardships of everyday life during the 1930s.  "Private Car" shows men riding on the Union Pacific trains in search of work, and is another historical scene captured on canvas.

"Private Car" - LeConte Stewart

A second great feature of this exhibit is the opportunity to see Stewart's paintings of the same subject matter.  For example, you can see "Ogden, Becker Brewing" (1933) and next to it "Becker's, Sunday Afternoon" (1933) showing the same building from a different point of view and at a different time of day.  There are several paintings grouped like this in the exhibit, like "Red Fire Plug" (1935) and "Watson's House" (1935).  If you get the chance to see this exhibit at UMFA, take a moment to compare these paintings.

"Smith's House" - LeConte Stewart

I loved being able to view a first and second study of "Smith's House," and then see the final piece.  The first study is a rough blocking in and beginning of color and value.  The second study is more defined, and it is interesting to notice the changes between it and the final piece.  In the final painting, the orange light in the window is played up, and the billboard on the right hand side of the painting is toned down in both value and color.  This focuses your eye on the central building in this painting, and is a wonderful example of making a good composition better.

LeConte Stewart was clearly a master of lighting.  The paintings in this exhibit show warm afternoon light, flat outdoor light, the subtle light of evening and night, and all of the light that plays on snow.  There are several "snow" paintings in the show, and I noticed a quote by Stewart that says he saw "an infinite number of color variations" in winter.  I loved the warm light of "Double Gables" (1935), and the colors of the snow in "Snow Banks" (1940).

"Pea Vinery, Layton" - shows warm daylight

"Winter Evening, Eden", though not in the show at UMFA, demonstrates the subtle light on evening snow.

I also enjoyed the fact that LeConte Stewart managed to take ordinary subject matter, like houses, or a dirt road, or mailboxes, and render them in such a way that they are "art."  This exhibit showcases a variety of mediums in Stewart's work, including pencil, conte crayon, watercolor, and oil.

"Approved by the Postmaster General" makes the ordinary a work of art.

This exhibit runs until January 15, 2012, so you have plenty of opportunity to stop in and see it.  UMFA has free admission on the first Wednesday and third Saturday of each month.  The Church Museum of Art is free.


1)  Look behind you!  Often a painting that looked pretty good up close, is stunning from across the room.
2)  Fall in love. You'll know the painting you like.  It is the one you study up close, and then look at again and again from across the room.  It will be the one that resonates with you, that calls you back for another look.  It is the painting you have to see one more time before you leave.  It's the picture that beckons you to step inside, that invites you to journey into its world, the one you wouldn't get tired of hanging in your living room.

One of my favorite paintings in this exhibit was, unfortunately, untitled.  So, if you go, look at "Untitled" (1927), and see if you like it, too.  It shows a house, and sagebrush, and a dirt road set against a background of mountains, and looks like a place you could stay awhile.  If you see it, let me know what you think!  I suspect I'll go visit it again before this exhibit ends.

Church Art Museum

Utah Museum of Fine Art


  1. When I moved to Utah over 25 years ago, I would see this little old man driving around in a white car, disregarding stop signs and the like. You could barely see the top of his head. It wasn't long before I discovered this was LeConte who actually lived one block over. And of course, it wasn't long until I also discovered his incredible art. I worked at the Kaysville City Library where many of his works hung in the gallery and I would often sit there gazing at his remarkable work during my breaks. Thank you for highlighting him. I plan to get to the exhibits next weekend.

  2. Kim,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences with seeing LeConte out and about--now I can visualize him driving around looking for a spot to paint. His paintings must have been a wonderful escape on a work break. I hope you enjoy the exhibits...I am still planning to get to the Church Museum one very soon.

  3. I can't wait to see the other half of the show at the Church Museum...and to revisit the UMFA show as well. What a wonderful treat to see!