the Art of Mahonri Young
by Norma S.
created much more than the seagull monument.
Fair: Man With Scythe
(Used by Permission of BYU's Museum
Those who previously
have known Mahonri Young solely as a sculptor and associated his
name principally with Utah and the This Is the Place and
Seagull monuments have only seen the merest tip of the
iceberg. For a better view, this is the time to enjoy an inspiring
exhibition of the works of Mahonri Mackintosh Youngsculptor,
etcher, painter and draftsman.
On October 14,
1999, the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah
opened a year-long celebration of Young's art in a large retrospective
exhibition titled "Mahonri: A Song of Joys" (see
Museum of Art website for exhibition details). Delightful surprises
have greeted all those who have attended.
Art at its best,
teaches us to seeto observe the world and rejoice in its many
facets. What Mahonri saw was the people and their occupations in
farms, deserts, mountains, cities, and ports. As he put it: "Nature
has been always my continual delight for I am and have always been,
as Gautier says of himself, 'one for whom the visible world exists.'
In everyday language, I am eye-minded."(1)
Woman and Herd
(Used by Permission of BYU's Museum
And what a wonderful,
humorous, solemn, joyful, laborious, colorful, meditative, exciting
world existed within the scope of Young's vision! Men scythe fields
in the shadow of the Danbury Hills of Connecticut, and women tend
sheep on the mesas of Arizona. The Hokey-Pokey man vends treats
to children on the streets of New York, and an Italian woman bends
over a river scrubbing her laundry. Cats sleep in rattan chairs,
lions languidly stretch out on the ground, insects hover over leaves,
and a hippopotamus turns its back on the artist to sit down with
unmistakable solidity. Children lean over the edge of a boat fascinated
by the water life below them. Aged Parisian garlic sellers wearily
look out at the viewer. A ballerina contemplates her routine, a
boxer struggles to accept his defeat, a fisherman casts his line
into a mountain stream, Hopi dancers scoop rattlesnakes into their
arms, lobster men carry heavy baskets filled with their catch, farmers
harvest corn, and a Breton shepherdess knits while her sheep snuggle
against her body for warmth. It would appear no one escaped the
artist's attention or admiration. Through Young's art, visitors
to either exhibition are invited into a world peopled by men, women,
and children who give us new perspectives on the trials and pleasures
of human existence.
Study of Hosanna Shout--
This is the Place Monument
Permission of BYU's Museum
At the same
time, one comes face to face with art of an exceptionally high quality.
In addition to his success as a sculptor, Young was a prize-winning
etcher, received national acclaim as a master draftsman, was given
one-man shows for his watercolors at major museums, and saw his
oil paintings hung in places of honor at countless exhibitions.
The diversity of Young's artistic achievements are represented not
only from the collections at Weir Farm and the Museum of Art, but
also from major museums and private collections throughout the United
States. We are never allowed to forget that, above all, Young is
I have gone
to nature for my inspiration and subject matter. But observation
is not enough no matter how keen or how profound. It must afterwards
be made into a work of art and that is where design comes in.
. . . I assure you that I have never attempted anything without
reverently consulting the masters. (2)
training, design, and a deep interest in the subject depicted--all
are necessary for true artistry.
carries its own technical demands. Young meets the three-dimensional
challenges of a bronze sculpture of Alcmene struggling to control
her son, Hercules, as he wiggles out of her reach. Then he controls
the complex format of a county fair, where crowds shout, bands play,
horses race, acrobats balance on a high-wire, and judges view livestock
all at the same time. Young explained the difference in his approach
between the two mediums: "Sculpture must be considered only within
itself, self-contained, but when I paint, I am interested in the
crowds, in the color of the crowds, and in their environment."(3)
balance of light and shadow found in his skillful etching of the
Main Street boxing gym in Los Angeles can also be found in the play
of light over the convex and concave forms of a sculpted boxer landing
a blow precisely "on the button" of his opponent. The strength and
power of his sculptures of Industry and Agriculture,
hardly prepare the viewer for the tenderness of Cecelia and
Bill, depicting the artist's wife holding their son in her
arms. Then there are the quick sketches, the "notes" taken by the
artist for future reference, which capture in a few strokes the
essence of a Paris street corner, a Navajo hogan, or a mountain
cabin in the Uintas. When these are compared to the sense of the
monumental found not only in the heroic-sized figures of the This
Is the Place monument but also in a much smaller statuette
of a prospector standing on a trail with his donkey, one is reminded
that Young once said: "The value of sketches and studies lies in
their sharpness and momentary vividness. In a finished work the
great value lies in its sense of permanence." (4) In
whichever medium Young uses to present his ideas, the skill of a
master artist is evident.
C Street, Salt Lake City, Mahonri's Home
Permission of BYU's Museum
Young was born August 9, 1877 in Salt Lake City to Mahonri Moriancumer
and Agnes Mackintosh Young. He was the last of Brigham Young's grandchildren
to be born before the death of that great leader. His artistic training
began in Utah under James T. Harwood, and continued with Kenyon
Cox for one year at the Art Students League in New York City and
four years in Paris principally at the Julian Academy under Jean
Paul Lauren. His first entry of sculptures and drawings at the Old
Salon in Paris won him immediate international recognition. He continued
to exhibit widely in Paris, Rome, South America, and throughout
the United States, gathering honors and prizes through the years.
One month short of his 70th birthday, he saw the dedication of his
This Is the Place monument on the eastern slopes of Salt
Lake City and then, with hardly a breath of rest, went on to create
the Brigham Young sculpture for Statuary Hall in the nation's
capitol. He died in Connecticut at the age of 80 and was buried
beside his wife and parents in Salt Lake City. His was an active,
rich and rewarding careerfull of the challenges and rewards
not unlike the ones he observed in the lives of others. As he once
To be an artist
you have to have two contradictory characteristics. You must be
sensitive above the average and at the same time have the skin
of a hickory tree. Those with only the first characteristic soon
drop out, the hard-boiled ones continue but aren't good artists.
If anybody can do anything else they should, for it's a very hard
quipped to his son: "Artists have to be good businessmen. They
sell a product nobody needs and few people want." (6)
Many feel the
need for art of the content and quality found in the exhibitions
of Mahonri Young's work showing at BYU's Museum of Art, and will
want to come again and again to experience this artist''s particular
vision. To this end, the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University
has published a definitive, 336 page biography of the artist, with
over 200 color and black and white illustrations. A Song of
Joys: the Biography of Mahonri Mackintosh YoungSculptor,
Painter, Etcher by Norma S. Davis includes many works seen
in the Museum of Art's exhibition as well as additional pieces and
provides an in-depth study of the artist and his work.
"Random Comments by Mahonri Young" from the files of the Addison
Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, MA.
Note found in the papers of the artist's son, Mahonri Sharp
Young, in the private collection of Mahonri M. Young II.
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