Drawings and paintings by Logan artist Everett “Ev” Thorpe have a way of getting in the news and staying in the public eye, almost as if the late artist were winking at the local populace from the “other side.”
Some of the best-known examples of Thorpe’s work are hanging in Logan eateries. These include a Cache Valley timeline mural created in the 1950s that circumnavigates a room at the Bluebird Restaurant and a series of pencil-drawn caricatures on the walls of Herm’s Inn that depict Thorpe’s old coffee klatch buddies from the long-gone Royal Bakery in downtown Logan. Another prominent Thorpe artwork covers a wall at the Logan Country Club. This 18-foot wide golf-themed mural was destined for the landfill during a 2006 clubhouse renovation until Thorpe’s widow, Dorie, managed to raise $20,000 to have it painstakingly preserved and remounted.
Now a third Thorpe mural — co-created in 1964 with fellow USU art professor Harrison Groutage and a third, unknown artist — has gained prominent local display with a similarly interesting 11th-hour-reprieve story behind it and a little mystery as well.
Much like the Bluebird painting, the mural features a hodgepodge of vignettes from in and around Cache Valley, but this artwork hadn’t been seen publicly in decades until the recent renovation of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art at USU necessitated finding a new home for several works in storage. For the colorful, three-paneled Cache Valley mural, that home turned out to be the Logan Public Library, where it now fits perfectly on the back wall of the Ronald Jenkins Reading Room.
Museum Director and Chief Curator Katie Lee-Koven said the mural was never actually part of the museum’s collection but had apparently been stored there years ago after being displayed on campus for a time. The museum has an inventory of about 5,000 artworks, and the mural was one of many stray pieces discovered during the renovation.
“It was never accessioned into our collection, so while it was part of USU property, my guess is that it was initially intended to be stored here temporarily and then it was left here indefinitely,” she said. “We strategically reached out to various people in the community to try and find an appropriate home where it could be on display because we knew it would be enjoyed and appreciated by the community.”
Jason Cornelius, the Logan Public Library’s adult fiction and special collections director, said he was delighted to add the mural to the library’s wall art and testifies it has indeed gained appreciation from patrons, who often ask or comment about it.
“The museum was worried that if nobody would take the painting, they didn’t have enough room to store it any longer and they would have had to dispose of it,” Cornelius said. “And I was like, you know what, I can’t really bear that, and we have some great places to hang it, so luckily they were happy to donate it.”
Since making the acquisition, Cornelius has done some investigation to find out more about the artwork but still hasn’t been able to pinpoint where it was originally displayed at USU or who the third artist was. He hopes someone reading this article in The Herald Journal might have some memory of the piece and contact the library.
The signature line in the bottom right-hand corner lists the names Thorpe, Groutage and Hoehne, without any first names. Thinking Hoehne might have been a USU student, adjunct professor or visiting professor, Cornelius searched old USU yearbooks for the name. No luck.
“It is almost like it was a student piece. It’s not done to the full standards of those professors, but it’s still beautiful,” he said. “I think maybe it was hung in the Taggart Student Center, but nobody has any firm memory exactly where it was.”
People perusing the artwork will notice some places and landmarks that no longer exist in Cache Valley, and in that regard it provides a snapshot of the valley “frozen in time,” as Cornelius puts it. For example, the mural’s portrayal of USU features a giant “A” sign near the southwest corner of campus. There is also a cannery portrayed — likely the former Del Monte facility in Smithfield, which actually is still standing but no longer in operation.
Both Thorpe (1904-1983) and Groutage (1925-2013) were professors at USU and highly respected regional artists in their respective eras. Their teaching careers at the university overlapped for several years, and Groutage counted Thorpe among his major influences. The works of both artists have been featured in numerous exhibits and are held in hundreds of private collections.
The three panels of the library mural appear to represent each artist’s work separately, although each panel is done in generally the same style. The section most resembling Thorpe’s work includes images from USU, the Logan Country Club and Beaver Mountain, while the section most resembling Groutage’s work features mountain men and early-day settlers.
Both artists’ portfolios include many landscapes and nature paintings, but these exhibit the traits of impressionism and modern expressionism more than realism. Referring to his portrayals of the natural world, Groutage was once quoted as saying, “I don’t sit down and copy nature, I dramatize it. I celebrate it.”