Art appraiser Allen Dodworth included some candid words in a 2014 memo to the Cache County School District superintendent regarding a 2-inch tear in a Minerva Teichert painting he valued at $300,000.
“To allow it to remain suggests indifference to the painting, much the same as allowing graffiti to remain on a public wall invites more disrespect,” Dodworth wrote of the painting that currently hangs in the Logan Historic Courthouse.
Superintendent Steve Norton is aware of both the tear and the admonishment.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ll get it fixed,” he said. “Our plans are to get it fixed.”
The school district owns a collection of 73 paintings with an appraised value of $1.1 million. They range from a $25 watercolor of a snow-covered shed to a $3,600 Florence Ellen Ware painting of Navajo women working a loom to the epic Teichert paintings that chronicle early Utah history. All but one of the artists in the collection are from Utah.
In June, school board members heard a presentation on the artwork to familiarize themselves with the collection and some of its needs. Some of the artwork is on loan, but most of the artwork is framed and hung around the district office. The rest of the paintings are stored in a basement closet at the district office under conditions that would upset art lovers like Dodworth.
He wrote that the “under the stairs space is inappropriate for keeping fragile items of value,” adding that the artwork stored there will continue to deteriorate. He suggested that the works be kept at least on vertical shelves, or better yet, be put on exhibit.
Before they were housed at the district office, most of the paintings were displayed at local schools. Norton said the school district’s original intent was to introduce artwork to children, but eventually that caused problems.
Former PTA Council President Brenda Anthony said two mothers of school children, Nancy Calderwood and Madia Ashment, approached her in the late ’70s with some concerns. Expensive works of art were being abused in school lunchrooms.
“Kids would flip food at them, like with their spoons — you know how kids flip mashed potatoes?” Anthony said. “They were just being ruined.”
Anthony approached then-Superintendent Clark Puffer, who shared their concerns. The school board voted to take the pieces of art out of schools and bring them into the district office.
Because a good chunk of the art tells the history of early Utah history, especially the Mormon pioneers, Anthony said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approached the school district. She said the church told the district which paintings they wanted and what they would pay. Some were sold and the money was used to restore and frame others.
“That’s why they’re in the condition they’re in now,” Anthony said. “We had to sell some in order to pay for that.”
But she said there is still a lot of work to do. The artwork stored under the stairs needs to be addressed. Ideally, she said the paintings would be restored, framed and hung in a temperature-controlled facility.
“I would love to see a facility dedicated to house that art,” Anthony said. “In my opinion it’s priceless because it tells the history of not just Cache Valley, but Utah.”
School Board President Kathy Christiansen said the board hasn’t discussed any action since hearing the report last month, but she said they would probably need to revisit the idea of selling some paintings.
“We would probably have to do something of that nature again to finish up getting the rest of them restored and framed,” she said.
Christiansen said she likes the idea of displaying one painting in the media center at every school in the district.
“I thought that would be great, for the students to have a really nice piece of art, but we have not discussed anything as a board,” she said.