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Front Page » April 6, 2006 » Focus on the arts » Once an artist, always an artist
Published 3,182 days ago

Once an artist, always an artist


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By TOM McCOURT
Sun Advocate reporter

Jim Young stands in front of only a small part of his art collection that is displayed throughout his home in Price.

Teachers are a special breed because they have to put so much of themselves into what they do. And sometimes they have to continually break new ground to do what is best for their students.

Take James Young for example. A professor of art at the College of Eastern Utah for well over 30 years; a man who at one time was the entire art department, finding himself teaching everything from water colors to his real art love, sculpting. He had to know about it all, holding every position in the department from the chair of the discipline clear down to chief cook and bottle washer in the early 1960's when he first taught there.

But for him, regardless of what he had to do, the teaching only added to a life long love.

"The best thing about art for me was that it was something I could do long after I retired," he says as he walked out of a garage turned studio near his Westwood home.

And so he does. Unlike the original career he had planned for himself many years ago when he was a student at Carbon College, art can still be a part of his everyday existence.

"I spent two years going to Carbon College planning to be an engineer," says the native of Carbon County. "After that I went to BYU to get my bachelors degree, and some of the classes I needed were full. So to fulfill hours for my scholarship I needed to take some classes, so I registered for a sculpture class. When I did that I realized what I really wanted to do with the rest of my life."

The need for art in Young began many years earlier, from the time he was a small boy. He said he was always drawing things. And when he started going to school, he says he was lucky because he found mentors at almost every turn. Amazingly, he can remember almost every teacher that helped him along the way.

"I had Mrs. Alger for first grade and she saw me draw," he said with a smile. "While the other kids were doing reading assignments in the class I was drawing these large murals on the wall for her. Years later after I started to teach at CEU I went to her house with a piece of pottery I had made that I wanted to give to her. While there she showed me she still had a picture I had drawn in her first grade class."

Young says the next year Mrs. Ware was not quite so accommodating.

"She told me that it was time I learned how to read so she put a stop to my art career for a year," he laughed. "But after that it seemed every teacher had just the right art program for Jim Young, year after year."

In his fifth grade class, Mrs. Madsen always used to read a book called The Green Eyed Phantom. He found himself illustrating the book for the class. In the sixth grade Mrs. Jorgensen was what Young termed a "classic person" who believed in culture. In that class he learned to play the flute and the class read a lot about old England and King Arthur. Young found himself drawing pictures about that era.

"From my perspective I did my undergraduate work in art in the first six years I was in public school," he laughed.

Young, standing in his home studio, explains the background behind one of his latest creations.

At Carbon Junior High things became a little less definite for him although he remembers reading The Old Man and the Sea in Robert Milano's class.

"It was another theme on which to draw," he said. "But what I remember best was that Mr. Milano had this wonderful voice for narration. He should have been on the radio."

In high school he got his first chance to mold and fire clay in Carl Olson's class. Olson was a great oil painter and spent a lot of time painting during class, but Young and another kid kept after him about being able to sculpt, so he let them.

After graduating from BYU with a BA and an MA, Youngs teaching career began in Corvalis, Ore. where he was offered a job after a principal at a high school there became interested in his masters thesis. That thesis was a piece of sculture that used material related to a theme. The theme was coal mining and the materials used were related to carbon. That thesis stands today in the middle of the front entrance to the Carbon County Courthouse.

"I only spent one year in Oregon, but it was a great year," he said. "There were a lot of artists there and the experience was wonderful."

After school was out for the summer Young got a call from Claude Bertenshaw, the president of Carbon College. He wanted Young to come a teach in Price. Young went home.

"When I started at Carbon I immediately became the head of the art department," he said. "But unfortunately it wasn't much of a department. We had one small classroom in the old Reeves Building and the only tools I had were a saw, a hammer and six old home made easels put together by the former art instructor."

Young says the fight over the years to improve the departments facilities, materials and tools, changed his art. He sees how it made a difference when he looks at what his son, who is the head of the art department at Northridge High School, does with his sculptures.

"My son has a touch I don't, I think it is because my attitude is much more belligerent. It had to be because I had to fight to get everything for my department."

In the late 1960's Young took a sabbatical and went to Utah State to get his MFA.

"It was a great move," he said. "There were 16 people working on their degrees and we all became close friends. I am still in touch with many of them today."

One in particular artist, a Carbon county native and a former student of Youngs at Carbon became very close to Young. His name was Gene Toby and over the years he became a well known international sculptor.

"Gene was a fine artist," said Young as he sat in his living room admiring a bull on a table that was created by Toby. "Unfortunately he got leukemia and died in January."

In 1976, a fire in the Reeves Building provided an opportunity for the art department to grow.

"The fire had gutted part of the building and the president told me if I could spend only half the insurance money to restore the space I could have it for our department," he stated. "We remodeled the area, came up with a classroom, offices, storage rooms and the gallery for only $35,000."

The art department eventually grew even more with three full time instructors, and a free standing building that was put up in 1985. At one time during Young's tenure the art department at CEU boasted 32 students who were majoring in the arts. Many of those students came from Wasatch Front high schools.

"I'm very proud to say that when Northwest Accreditation came to CEU they always commended the art department for its strength," he said.

Today Young lives comfortably with his wife Pat in a home that Young himself designed not only for living, but also for displaying his art collection. The art permeates their home with paintings, sculptures and even weavings, most of it being of Youngs own work. He continues to create in his studios, but his love of teaching still shows through.

"The thing about art is that you can't teach it if you are not an artist," he says."My son wanted to originally be an industrial designer, but found he couldn't stay away from art. He loves his teaching and he and I have collaborated on a few pieces together."

Young's body of work is very diverse. Every thing from cubist style paintings to traditional works of sculpture populate his home. And with pieces displayed all over the state, Young is well known in artist circles. His work is permanently displayed at Weber State, Southern Utah State, BYU, CEU, Dixie State and at the Utah State Capitol just to name a few. Right now he is working on a piece for a new Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints museum that is being planned in Salt Lake.

"I am planning a sculpture that will commemorate the day after the pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley," he said. "What they did that day was begin to plow the land for crops. I don't think anyone has created anything about that before."

There he goes again; breaking new ground.


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