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Front Page » April 17, 2003 » Advocate Artist's Showcase » Crossed paths bring lifetime of art to couple
Published 4,555 days ago

Crossed paths bring lifetime of art to couple

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Janet Bergera works on a painting she is creating in the studio in the basement of her and Cliff's home. The inside of the home is covered with not only their work, but also many other artists they have known through the years.

How people meet each other and develop life long relationships in the world is the foundation for many a love story, both in literature and on the big and small screen.

From Fred Astaire speaking about a "chance meeting in the night" in the 1940 movie "Holiday Inn," to Billy Crystal meeting Debra Winger in "Forget Paris" when the airline Winger works for loses the body of Crystal's dead father whom they are transporting to France, stories abound in fiction. They also show up in real life.

In the late 1960's, Cliff Bergera was an undergraduate art student at Utah State University when he travelled with a group of students to Mexico for a quarter to study art there.

At the same time, his future wife, Janet, was going to the University of Utah, a quarter on and quarter off to work and make money so she could go back again. An art major, Janet was contacted by one of her professors who asked if she would like to go on the same trip "with a bunch from USU" even though she was not attending Utah that quarter. She agreed to go, and had she not, the story of their life and their art together could not be written.

Married a couple of years later, they have created a household unbelievably full of art: his, hers and others as well.

Cliff grew up in Helper, the son of a second generation Italian father and an Icelandic mother. His father operated Helper Mercantile, a very successful local beer distributing company. But Cliff knew from a young age that he liked to draw and while he wasn't aware at the time, it would become love that would not go away.

"I had a cousin who lived in Castle Gate who also like to draw and so we would draw these war scenes as little boys do," he says. "At the time my parents and a group of people used to meet one night a week at the college and I went with them a few times. One of the classes being offered was an art class taught by Carl Olsen and I took that a few times and became interested."

By the time he was attending high school at Wasatch Academy in Mount Pleasant he was beginning to imagine himself making a living doing art.

"I took many art classes and one of my teachers was Shirley Olmstead, who was a great water colorist," he says. "That is when I became really interested. I began to water color and the biology teacher at the school bought one of my paintings for $1.50. It was my first sale."

At Utah State he majored in commercial art and also got a master of fine arts degree. For his masters thesis he illustrated a book that he created from an old Italian folk tale his dad related to him from his childhood.

Janet loved art after she got recognition for drawing the best Easter chick in her Salt Lake City third grade class. After that she said she was hooked.

"Problem was that I went to Highland High and there were a lot of great art students," she states. "Some of those went on and became well known. So compared to them I was not very good."

But nonetheless she went onto major at Utah in art until she met Cliff.

Clff Bergera shows off one of his latest paintings, he says his work has become more introspective as of late.

"After we met I decided that I wasn't very happy at the U anyway so I transferred to Utah State," she noted.

She finished USU with a bachelors degree in art.

After school Cliff got a job as an illustrator working for the Hansen Planetarium in Salt Lake City.

"That was a great job," he says with a light in his eyes. "I got to create the brochures for the star shows, I got to do moon scapes and space ships. There was a lot of fantasy involved."

Cliff also put together some post cards for the planetarium that it sold up until the day it closed at the old site a couple of months ago.

After a few years there he returned to Carbon County, because after his younger brother was lost to the war in Vietnam, his father needed help running the beer distributorship.

"Besides, I loved the job with the planetarium, but the pay was not what I needed," he states.

Selling and marketing beverages was a far cry from producing art, but Cliff eventually took over the business and ran it until the late 1980's when he sold the franchise to a Richfield concern.

"I sometimes miss that business," he says. "It could be a lot of fun at times."

A few days after he had sold the business, Brent Haddock of CEU called him up and asked him if he would be interested in teaching some adjunct classes on art appreciation. It eventually evolved into a full time professorship.

"Getting that masters of fine arts was one of the best things I ever did," he states. "Without that I could never have been a full time instructor at the college and that is a wonderful job."

He says it is a give and take kind of situation. The students learn from him, but just as importantly he learns from the students.

Meanwhile Janet continued to dabble in painting until their daughter came around.

"I really gave up on it for a long time," she said. "I was too busy helping Cliff run the office for the company and raising a baby."

However in the last few years her artistry as well as her imparting of information about art has resumed. She taught art at Helper Junior High for awhile and then at the Pinnacle Canyon Academy. In the last couple of years she has moved to Sally Mauro Elementary School and said she has a great time teaching kids about art there.

"When the kids see me in the hall they say 'Are we getting you for art today?'" she notes. "They love it. But I have three rules; nothing gross, no weapons and no violence."

Cliff Bergera holds up one of many paintings he did years ago that are stored in his basement. Over the years he has sold many of his creations, but he still holds onto a lot too. His works hang in a number of places in the county.

She is interested in instilling the building blocks of art into the kids minds.

"Sequencing is important," she explains. "They don't have to do things perfectly and I see that they want to do that as they get older. I want them to learn the basics and then the good thing about art is that they can go off on their own and use their own ideas."

As for her own painting she continues to work on what she likes best: nature and water colors.

"I just think that nature is so inspiring," she says. "The Balance Rock Art Group has helped me to get back into it. It's a wonderful group of people."

Cliff has gone through various stages with his art since moving back to Carbon County. Even while running the beverage company he continued to paint on weekends and at the time generated volumes of work.

"My emphasis during a lot of that time was southwestern, but that kind of went away," he states. "After that I began to paint abstract landscapes, in some cases a whole series."

In the past few years Cliff has been also remembering his mother who had great rose gardens.

"I go out and take photos of wonderful rose gardens and paint what I see," he states. He even has people who know him and call him when they have particularly beautiful roses in their gardens.

"My work has become much more introspective than before," he points out. "The images aren't as commercial or easy for people to read. I put a lot of my heritage into the my work now."

Bergera had a display recently in the Kathleen Royster studio in Helper and also has paintings hanging in various places around town.

He also had a studio in Sun Valley, Idaho sell a number of his paintings a few years ago so he has no idea where they have gone.

"Who knows where they are hanging today," he says. "They're a lot like kids. You want to hang onto them but you have to let them go as well."

But he has kept much of his work. The end of the basement opposite his studio is full of paintings, some in frames others loose, in various kinds of bins and on shelves. A light table and a press are situated in the same room with vestiges of his commercial business hanging over them; lights that have the name "Coors" spelled out in stained glass.

"Yeah it's a reminder of the old business," he says as he looks around at his work which fills the space.

Both their work is a testimony to consistency and as well as dedication to a craft that they obviously love together.

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