Historical Highlight: Springville Museum of Art grows from student-led effort to state-wide attraction

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The Springville Museum of Art has long been a defining factor of Springville, with its roots stretching back to over a century ago.

The museum sits at 126 E. 400 South just off Main Street in Springville. The building itself has made its way into numerous depictions around the city, and its mere presence is what gave Springville the nickname “Art City.”

The museum, however, didn’t start in its current facility. Initially, it started in 1903 when artist Cyrus E. Dallin and John Hafen donated two pieces of art to Springville High School. At the time, Springville High sat where Cherry Creek Elementary School sits today, which is at 484 S. 200 East.

Dallin, who is an American sculptor, garnered fame for many of his depictions of Native Americans, and is also well-known for a statue of Paul Revere that sits in Boston, as well as the Angel Moroni on top of the Salt Lake Latter-day Saint Temple. Hafen specialized in impressionistic landscapes and portraits.

The artist’s donations spurred more contributions by numerous local artists who also gave their work to the school. These artists included James T. Harwood, John B. Fairbanks, and Mahonri M. Young. 

As donations came in, many students at the time also began an interest in collecting art, and started seeking out paintings and sculptures through an Art Queen program. 

The Art Queen was a position that girls in the school would run for and each student would pay a penny per vote. The girl who got the most votes became queen and the students used the money to purchase more artwork.

Even with many challenges over the years, the community interest in the museum grew. 

In 1916, smaller school districts, including Springville’s local district, needed to consolidate into larger districts, forcing Springville to join the newly-formed Nebo School District.

The new formation sent fears throughout the school community as many worried the new district would disperse the collected art throughout the district. These fears continued even despite a written note stating the collection was property of Springville High School.

Even so, there have been many stories circulating over the years, alleging that former Springville School Board members took the artwork to their homes for safekeeping as a way to prevent them from going to other schools, including rival Spanish Fork High School.

Whether these rumors are true or not, the work moved on. Ray L. Done became principal at Springville High in 1920 and galvanized the students to continue their efforts in art collecting. He further created a faculty/student art committee, furthering the interest.

In 1921, students put on a Paris salon-style exhibit, a tradition that continues today as the Annual Spring Salon. Four years later, the High School Art Gallery officially became incorporated and numerous donations followed, further bolstering the permanent collection.

The art collection never stopped growing and by 1935, it needed a new home. The community — both students and residents alike — rallied together $100,000 to construct the current facility. The community rallied as many prominent residents hosted rallies to raise funds.

This fundraising came amid the Great Depression, with many outside sources including the City of Springville, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Works Progress Administration stepping in to fund the museum. 

The goal reached competition in 1937 as the new facility was ready to open its doors. David O. McKay, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the time, dedicated the structure.

In his dedication, he called the new museum a “Sanctuary of beauty and a temple of contemplation.”

The museum has never stopped growing, and has undergone additions and modernizations starting with the addition of the Clyde Wing in 1965. Almost 40 years later, the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Wing opened. The most recent addition was the Same and Diane Stewart Sculpture Garden in 2009.

During the early years, the Museum of Art enjoyed a strong connection with Springville High School given their close proximity. In 1967, the new high school opened at its current location at 1205 E. 900 South. 

For its entire history, the museum featured high school faculty as key members of its staff including the principal and art teacher, and it continued to operate under Nebo School District until 1975 when Springville City and the Springville Museum of Art Association jointly agreed to continue the art program.

Today, the Springville Museum of Art carries over 150 years worth of Utah art and many other styles from around the world and throughout time.

Josh Martinez
Josh Martinez
Josh Martinez is a graduate of Southern Utah University and Arizona State University where he studied communication and journalism. He has written for numerous publications in both Arizona and Utah on a bevy of topics including sports, city government and education. Martinez is a 2009 graduate of Springville High School and lives in Springville with his high school sweetheart and two kids

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