Springville Museum of Art sign "Art City" - Springville Museum of Art sign "Art City"

'The Little Museum That Could': Springville Museum of Art Celebrates 100th Salon

By Cassidy Wixom, KSL.com
April 21, 2024

SPRINGVILLE — The Springville Museum of Art is celebrating its 100th annual Spring Salon with a new exhibit highlighting the city's history of art.

And, it's a museum that was started by high school students.

"It's so exciting to share this story because you don't have a lot museums that start this way," said Emily Larsen, museum director. "A lot of museums, there is someone really wealthy that dies or has a collection and they don't know what to do with it, but our museum from the beginning was so community-driven, so student-driven."

"It really is just this magical story, kind of like the little museum that could," she said.

Springville, in the 1920s, was a rural, middle-of-nowhere town that inexplicably became a center for art through the vision of high school students. At the beginning of the 20th century, a group of community members called the Springville Art Movement wanted students to have experiences with original works of art. So, they started getting artists to donate artwork to the high school and, in 1922, teachers and students decided to host a national art exhibition — the first Spring Salon — in the halls of the high school.

Larsen said it was a huge hit, so they kept doing it annually. Those first few years the exhibition continued to grow and there were "huge names" of American art sending their works to the show, including Walt Disney, Norman Rockwell, Edward Hopper, Maynard Dixon and Georgia O'Keefe.

In 1935, the high school broke ground on a new art gallery — the Spanish colonial-style building where the museum has resided since 1937. For nearly three decades, the art gallery was operated through the high school and "the whole community really rallied around art," Larsen said, adding that the museum hosted art balls and there was a tradition of "art queens" being crowned, much like prom queens.

The Springville Museum of Art in Springville. (Photo: Springville Museum of Art)

"It was just this incredible program where artists from all over the country were entering the Spring Salon," Larsen said.

In the 1960s, a new high school was built in Springville and the museum was turned over to the city. Over the years, the Spring Salon transitioned to be a Utah-artist-only show, but the exhibition continued every single year — except for two years during World War II — making this year the centennial.

The museum chooses more than 200 artworks to be a part of the salon, which Larsen said artists describe as "the premier exhibition of Utah art."

The Spring Salon shows the best of Utah art and "incredible works" in a variety of styles, Larsen said.

"It really is this snapshot of what artists are doing in the state today and it's one of the most competitive juried shows in Utah and it is the biggest by the amount of work we can show in it," she said.

A lot of artists view getting accepted into the Spring Salon as something to brag about and a big moment for their careers, she added.

The 100th Spring Salon will be held on the museum's main floor from April 27 to July 6.

On the top floor of the museum, a new exhibition titled the Salon 100 will commemorate the history of the museum's salons. This show will be on display through June 2025, to celebrate the history and anniversary for a full year.

The Spring Salon has always been a way for the museum to build its collection and the museum has gathered more than 300 artworks from over the last century. Those artworks are being narrowed down to 100 that will be highlighted in the new exhibit meant to honor the community that first embraced the art.

Larsen said there will be artwork spanning from the 1920s to the 2020s, along with a history timeline and historical artifacts, including some 1950s and 1960s dresses of the "art queens" and high school yearbooks.

A 1950 Springville High School yearbook has pictures of the year's art queens and art committee for the Springville Museum of Art. (Photo: Springville Museum of Art)

The museum is hosting an opening reception for both shows on April 27. Winners will be announced for the salon and the celebration will include live music and refreshments.

"Just a real big celebration of all the living artists that are part of this year's salon and all of those who have contributed to salons in the past," Larsen said.

A documentary about the history of the museum will be shown after the reception, which includes interviews of students and artists who have been involved over the years.

"It is like magic to me to hear how much this museum has meant to so many people and how much this program the Spring Salon has meant to the students, to the artists and to our community," Larsen said. "I feel so lucky to be here at the museum right now."

A community party will be held on May 1 where "anyone who feels like they have contributed to the salon or has a connection to the high school, we want to invite them to come and really celebrate what they did, what the students did to build this museum and to share memories," Larsen said. The museum will also host its annual Art Ball on May 18 with a vintage prom theme.

Larsen said museum staff has been collecting oral histories of more than 40 high school alumni who have connections to the museum. One of them was 100-year-old Dorothy Switzer, who had a recent miraculous coincidence when a man found a note of her late-brother's in their childhood home in Springville.

"You talk to some of these students who went here and their connection to that art, the nostalgia, it was really cemented in their upbringing," Larsen said.

Students attend the unveiling ceremony for artwork in the 1925 Spring Salon for the Springville Museum of Art. (Photo: Springville Museum of Art)

Because of the museum's roots with the high school, Larsen said it has stayed close to the students and art teachers there. They work together to host shows, run programs for the students and provide "accessible community experiences with original works of art."

A group of students are also committed to "reinvigorating" the connection between the school and the museum, Larsen said. Art has become part of the identity of Springville as a city and it all stemmed from those passionate high school students.

She said the Springville Museum of Art is a testament to the power of art and the power of students who band together. Because of those passionate students, art has become an integral part of the city's identity.

"Look what you can do. Dream big because these students in the 1920s and '30s, they had a dream of being an art center. Because of their dream, we in Springville have one of the biggest museums in the state," Larsen said, adding that she thinks it's the best museum, too.

"It's just really incredible what a couple passionate students and teachers dreamt in the 1920s and what it's resulted in."

Learn more about the Spring Salon at Springville Museum of Art.