Painting Pictures with People

by Babzanne P. Barker

Editorial Associate

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    Sometimes a natural inclination to come inside during a cloudburst pales next to the sudden need to feel raindrops on our faces. It is this aesthetic part of human nature that the American Fork, Utah, community hoped to touch when they organized the Utah Pageant of the Arts seven years ago. Since then, the pageant has grown from a four-day event to a six-week event—an honored part of each American Fork summer.

    The pageant is a one-and-a-half-hour production that recreates famous paintings and sculptures, using live models and elegantly designed sets and costumes made of painted muslin. Some call it “living art,” and it is in itself a work of art that takes nearly an entire year to prepare for and perfect.

    When the show first premiered, ten-year-old Karin Anderson (an art lover from way back) attended with her family and was enchanted by the beauty of the selections. Two years later she was cast as a little boy in orange suspenders, gray pants, and a beanie in a Winslow Homer painting called Snap the Whip.

    Since that time Karin has continued to participate in the yearly event, and has been serving as an assistant director for the past two years.

    “I loved being in the pageant,” said Karin, now a Laurel in the Alpine First Ward, Alpine Utah Stake. Her smiles came spontaneously as she recalled opening night when she had posed as one of several small boys in front of a schoolhouse. “When the lights went out and the music came on and the curtain lifted, it was one of the biggest thrills of my life! The next year I tried out for the program again and didn’t make it, but I really wanted to be involved anyway. I started going down to help in the preparations and have been doing it ever since.”

    Helping involves many things, but perhaps the most essential element is commitment. After directors Bill Kirkpatrick and David Brockbank choose the artwork that will be featured in each year’s show, Karin is involved nearly every Saturday. As the year progresses, more and more evenings of work are necessary to have everything ready in time. And from the day school is out in the spring until the curtain rises on opening night, Karin puts in ten to twelve hours each day, six days a week.

    Her actual responsibilities include everything from making costumes and props to organizing, cleaning up, and sweeping. “I help make all kinds of little things like swords, books, baskets, hats, etc.,” she explained one Saturday at the old American Fork Junior High School that serves as workshop for the pageant.

    “They are usually small items that not too many people actually notice, but that everyone would notice were missing if they weren’t there.”

    Brother Kirkpatrick paints all backgrounds and costumes needed in each of the approximately 25 pieces. Karin and other volunteers help with the detail work and additional props. Sometimes Karin also assists Brother Broadbent with such technical aspects as lighting, staging, and musical arrangements.

    “Because of the pageant, I’ve learned to recognize all kinds of paintings, sculptures, other kinds of artwork, and styles of particular artists. A different musical composition is used with each piece, and this has helped me gain a greater understanding of music,” Karin added.

    Each year’s show includes many paintings and sculptures, and several other pieces chosen from illustrations, murals, tapestries, and bas-reliefs. Artwork originally done in gold artifact, Steuben glass, porcelain, and ivory have also been recreated. Some of the works Karin has particularly enjoyed seeing and helping with have included:

    The Land ofEnchantment—A children’s illustration found in the Children’s Room of the New Rochelle Public Library, painted by illustrator Norman Rockwell.

    Wedgwood Buckles—White bas-relief figures on a blue background with gold edges, originally done by Josiah Wedgwood.

    The Gleaners—A Jean Francois Millet painting that depicts country life in a different age.

    The Dancers—A sculpture of a man and woman dancing, done by Harriet Frishmuth.

    When the curtain rises for the first time each year, only the sounds of melodies chosen to accompany the piece break the stillness of the quiet, darkened theater. The narrator begins. Those sitting close to the stage may be able to recognize that the cast members are real people—those a few rows back cannot.

    “Everyone cast in a picture must be completely still—no blinking, smiling, or turning allowed,” explained Karin. “It’s really not hard to do because each picture is only onstage briefly.”

    The pageant allows persons of all ages and abilities to participate. “Last year’s show included cast members from ages four to 77,” said Brother Broadbent. “They don’t have to have acting talent, just the ability to stand or sit without moving. We have used crippled people and mentally handicapped persons as well. We triple cast each piece, which gives that many more people the opportunity to take part.”

    Pageant participants are chosen according to their likeness to a particular picture or sculpture being used that year. Karin’s two younger brothers Tom and Tony, and their older sister Marti, have all been in the cast. (Two-year-old sister Teri hasn’t yet tried out.) And each year, even if a family member is not performing, Brother and Sister Anderson see that the entire family attends the pageant.

    Because Karin has committed so much time and energy to the production, she has had to sacrifice some of the high school activities her friends participate in. Still, she has been a class officer, worked on the yearbook staff, and been involved in drama. At Church she has served as junior Primary chorister, sung in the choir, been in her Young Women class presidencies, and is active in seminary. In addition, she is kept busy making posters for ward and class activities, as well as school dances, concerts, and sports events.

    Karin is an outdoors person, too. She looks forward to each summer when she can ride the family’s quarter horses in the mountains around her home, leaving at the “shop” the pressures of being involved almost full-time in pageant preparations.

    But when she comes down from the mountains, her love of art and her commitment to it keep her returning to the old junior high school.

    “It’s a fulfilling experience,” she explained. “I love art and working with my hands. I love the final product, and seeing the audience happy and uplifted.”

    Brother Broadbent related an experience of a man who attended the pageant the first year it was presented. “He had never had any association with the arts before. But at the conclusion of the show, he was weeping. It was a spiritual, emotional experience for him. That’s rewarding; that’s why we dedicate so much time to the pageant each year.”

    Karin echoed his feelings. “Working in the pageant has been a wonderful experience—I’ve made some of my best friends through it, and I’ve also had the opportunity of meeting President Kimball and several other General Authorities who have attended the pageant. I’ve learned what it’s like to work under pressure to create something of real quality.”

    After pausing for a moment, Karin continued, “It’s a spiritual experience to see that you have helped to create something beautiful.”

    Photos by Brian K. Kelly

    Spring, one of two paintings in “Age of Elegance,” was done in 1740 by Francois Boucher

    Right: The original of the sculpture Diana is found in the Royal Castle, Hohenschwangue, Bavaria. Below right: Karin helps live model step out of Spring during rehearsal. Bottom left: Norman Rockwell first painted Land of Enchantment as a Saturday Evening Post cover in 1934. Middle left: Amusements of Winter, also an “Age of Elegance” selection, is now part of the Frick Collection in New York. Below: Karin pauses during her work on a setting for the American Fork “Pageant of the Arts”