This website was created to serve as a companion to LeConte Stewart: Depression Era Art, an exhibition focused on works created during the Great Depression by one of Utah's most important Regionalist artists. In LeConte Stewart Papers, you can view Stewart's student notes and the teaching materials he used as a professor. Discover the sites where Stewart painted and how they have changed over time in Then and Now; listen to audio commentary in Exhibition Highlights; and watch rare footage of Stewart discussing his artistic vision and philosophy in Stewart Paints. The exhibition LeConte Stewart: Depression Era Art, is on view at the UMFA from July 21, 2011-January 15, 2012.
LeConte Stewart (1891-1990) was one of the most accomplished and beloved artists working in Utah during the twentieth century. After studying art at the University of Utah, Stewart traveled east in 1913 to train with a number of important artists. Under the instruction of John Carlson, whose technique and philosophy Stewart incorporated into his own work, he learned not only the mechanics of painting, but also how to convey emotion in paint. Stewart returned to Utah in 1914 to paint the small towns, farms, and deserts that had captured his imagination as a young boy growing up in Glenwood, Utah. He accepted commissions for murals, jobs at commercial lettering companies, and continued painting landscapes through the 1920s.
Confronted in 1929 with the demoralizing effects of the Great Depression and high unemployment in Utah, Stewart left the peace and solitude he found in nature to document the human toll of the crisis. In his depictions of the West's vernacular architecture -storefronts, gas stations, hotels, old homes, and canneries- Stewart used minimal forms and the expressive properties of line, mass, and hue to convey the devastating impact of the Depression. Stripped to the essentials, Stewart's paintings from this period evoke not only his own personal history of loss (five siblings and his mother), but also that of the nation.
During this bleak time, Stewart taught high school and painted billboards to support himself and his family. By the time Stewart joined the faculty of the University of Utah's Art Department, where he served as chair from 1938 to 1956, he had come into his mature style. His paintings, at once sweeping and intimate, reveal his cogent vision and dedication to his craft. In the classroom, Stewart taught composition, the use of hue and value, and the importance of eliminating distracting, extraneous details to convey the mood of a scene.
Preferring the outdoors to the studio, Stewart could often be found painting with his students in nearby fields or on the foothills of the Wasatch. Only outdoors could he teach them to find purple in a shadow, silver in sage, and how to work with the ever-changing light. An important part of his work with students was teaching the process of composing a painting. A composition began with the selection of a scene and sketches in pencil and then oil, which served as the foundation for the final painting in the studio. The exhibition LeConte Stewart: Depression Era Art features a number of field studies paired with finished paintings to illustrate Stewart's methodology.
The UMFA would like to thank the following contributors for making this website possible:
Mary Anna Stewart
Karen and Mike Edson
The Utah State Historical Society
The Special Collections Department of the J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah
LeConte Stewart (1981-1990), American, Smith's House, 1937, oil on canvas, gift by bequest of Kay H. Blood, collection of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah, Museum#2001.16.2
LeConte Stewart (1981-1990), American, Private Car, 1937, oil on canvas, courtesy of the Church History Museum
LeConte Stewart (1981-1990), American, The Victorian, North Salt Lake City, 1927, oil on board, gift of Marilyn H. Hite in memory of Mattie Wallace and William H. Harris, collection of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah, Museum#1976.062
LeConte Stewart (1981-1990), American, House by the Railroad Tracks, 1935, oil on panel, private collection
LeConte Stewart (1981-1990), American, The Green Front, 1935 oil on canvas, from the University of Utah Collection, Museum#X.037