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UVU: Professor’s family art dynasty celebrated in Springville exhibit

By Barb Smith - Special to the Daily Herald | Nov 25, 2023
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In this undated photo, Utah Valley University biology professor and university research officer Daniel J. Fairbanks and a student work on a sculpture. Artwork by Fairbanks and several of his relatives is featured in a new exhibit at the Springville Museum of Art, titled "The Fairbanks Family: An American Art Dynasty."
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Daniel J. Fairbanks, a Utah Valley University biology professor and university research officer, discusses "The Fairbanks Family: An American Art Dynasty," an art exhibit celebrating the artistic talents of multiple generations of the Fairbanks family. The exhibit is on display at the Springville Museum of Art.
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In this undated photo, Daniel J. Fairbanks, dean of the College of Science & Health and professor of biology at Utah Valley University, prepares his exhibit "In Mendel's Footsteps: An Exhibition of the People, Places, and Scientific Research in the Life of Gregor Mendel" at the Mendelianum of the Moravian Museum in Brno, Czech Republic.

An art exhibit celebrating the artistic talents of multiple generations of the Fairbanks family is now on display at the Springville Museum of Art. Titled “The Fairbanks Family: An American Art Dynasty,” this exhibit celebrates the family’s contributions to art in Utah, the country and the world.

“This exhibit profiles five generations of the Fairbanks family, with works by 22 artists,” said Daniel J. Fairbanks, a Utah Valley University biology professor and university research officer. “The first artist in the family was John B. Fairbanks, my great-grandfather, who has the distinction of being the first native-born artist in Utah who studied Barbizon and impressionist landscape painting in France in the 1890s and who was one of several Paris-trained American artists who established American impressionism.”

The title “An American Art Dynasty” is appropriate. Hundreds of monuments, murals and museum pieces by Fairbanks artists are on permanent exhibit in almost every state in the USA as well as in Canada, Europe, Latin America and Japan.

The Springville Museum of Art exhibition consists of more than 100 works of art and is the largest and most diverse assemblage of Fairbanks art ever exhibited. “A few examples are early Fairbanks artworks made in France, Italy and New York. Some exhibited in the prestigious Paris Salon,” Fairbanks said.

Visitors will also see how Fairbanks artists have contributed to the development of American Impressionism through plein-air painting and monumental historical works commemorating Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, suffragist leader Esther Morris, geneticist Gregor Mendel, the Pony Express, the tragedy of Winter Quarters, Salt Lake City’s Eagle Gate monument, artistic human anatomy and the intersection of sculpture and medical science.

Speaking of the intersection between science and art, Fairbanks explains that he is not the first in his family of artists to combine the two. “I was fortunate to be very close to three Fairbanks artists/scientists from childhood through adulthood: my father Justin, my grandfather Avard, and my uncle Jonathan,” Fairbanks said.

“I worked in their studios, receiving instruction in sculpture and painting, and I accompanied my grandfather for three summers in Italy where I studied marble carving with Italian sculptors. My grandfather was a credentialed scientist with a Ph.D. in human anatomy, and we often discussed science in the studio. From the time I was a child, I loved science and nature and spent many hours drawing animals and plants that I observed.”

As an undergraduate student, Fairbanks faced a dilemma. Should he major in science or art?

“At the time, art programs at universities were heavily focused on abstraction, whereas realism and impressionism were my family’s tradition,” he said. “After meeting with an art professor who arrogantly belittled my family’s artistic heritage, and at the encouragement of my parents and grandparents, I chose science. I have never regretted that decision,” Fairbanks said.

He continued to pursue art outside the formal university curriculum through apprenticeships.

“Every university where I have been a student or been employed has commissioned me to make bronze portrait busts of prominent scientists, which are on permanent exhibit at those universities,” Fairbanks said. “Some of my most prestigious commissions are my paintings, drawings and sculptures in European museums commemorating scientists.”

While at UVU, his two passions melded.

“Gregor Mendel, the founder of genetics, spent most of his life in Brno, which was in the Austrian Empire and closely connected in every way to Vienna when he resided there. He also lived in Vienna when he studied at the University of Vienna,” Fairbanks said. “Since 1993, I have worked with historians in Brno and Vienna on Mendel’s history, publishing as sole author or co-author of several articles and two books on Mendel. Museum directors, scientists and historians in Brno and Vienna facilitated my historical research on Mendel. They also invited me to create paintings and sculptures for these museums, which are currently on exhibit. The intersection of art, science and history focused on Mendel has been a truly extraordinary opportunity.”

When asked what piece of his art he is most proud of, he echoes the sentiment of his grandfather, who said, “My works of art are like my children; I love them all the same.”

“I am proud of my bronze monuments, portraits in sculpture, painting and drawing that I made to honor outstanding individuals, family members and loved ones, landscape paintings and drawings, and book illustrations,” Fairbanks said. “Each piece has its unique story, and I cherish the memories of making every one of them.”

“The Fairbanks Family: An American Art Dynasty” can be seen at the Springville Museum of Art through Dec. 2. Admission is free. The museum is located at 126 E. 400 South in Springville. Museum hours are Tuesdays and Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays, Sundays and holidays.


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