As she ripped up a book for her show at the downtown library, Kandace Steadman took a moment to enjoy the irony of that reckless yet considered act (adding to the rethinking of how books can be used in different contexts) then settled in for the well-thought-out process involved in creating 24 images from a single copy of the 1991 edition of Utah Art by the highbrow and highly respected team of Vern Swanson, Bob Olpin and Bill Seifrit.
The 12” x 12” images would mirror the size of the classic coffee-table book, she decided, while the backgrounds would consist of transfers from the pages of the text – anything from the introduction, to portions of a chapter, to the table of contents or index – with images combined and collaged to the surface. Finally, Steadman would add paint, “sometimes extending what the artists have painted, and sometimes creating a painted context background,” and then she placed the works in wide, flat, black frames. The resulting show, Utah Art Reimagined, hangs until November 30, at the Gallery on Library Square.
It represents a major life shift for Steadman, who is best known for her work as an arts administrator and curator, most recently at the Salt Lake City Arts Council where, following assistant director Kim Duffin’s death in 2012, she took on a large chunk of the responsibilities he had borne for 25 years (others were assumed by Kelsey Moon, who got Duffin’s title). “I could never be the new Kim,” Steadman said at the time, though she is known for working as diligently for artists as Duffin had, scheduling for the Finch Lane Gallery and the Park Gallery, a Guest Writers series and a variety of other programming. She says she took the job because she wanted to help artists become more recognized in Salt Lake City — to “make Finch Lane a place where artists want to exhibit and people want to visit.”
However, in June she retired from the position of visual arts program manager, in the midst of some unmistakable directional shifts at the Arts Council that she preferred not to address during our interview, saying only that she was taking the opportunity to pursue her art full time, something she could only do “because for the past 25 years I have saved every penny and I think I am in a position to do it.” She also will take time to do some hiking and marathon running, vegetable gardening and canning. And she will enjoy spending more time with Robert Walton, her husband of 17 years, but she decidedly will not be arising with him at 5 a.m. as he heads for the ice to figure skate — something he has done seriously for 15 years, in addition to his plumbing and HVAC business.
Born and bred in Salt Lake City, “Well, Taylorsville would be more precise,” she says, Steadman attended Cottonwood High and later BYU, which she chose because she wanted to go away to college and that gave her “the chance to go away without being too far away.” The youngest of six (four brothers and a sister), her mother was a secondary English and drama teacher. Steadman believes that at 92 she is the oldest living Teacher of the Year. “She directed plays and Roadshows back in the days of Roadshows and my father was in theater as well. That’s how they met — in a play.” Her mother can’t recall the play now but is pretty sure it was at the old Salt Lake Theatre. Her father was also a singer and was in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for 35 years. “So I grew up in a household that was involved with the arts; I just chose a different art form,” says Steadman.
She got a bachelor’s degree in art history from BYU and, in fact, discovered her passion for the subject in a general survey class her freshman year, causing her to switch her major from interior design. She followed that with an M. Ed. in educational administration, also from the Y, and then left to spend 12 years in Washington, D.C., where she would eventually take charge of programming in the education department at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. On her return to Utah in 2000, Steadman worked as director of development in the College of Education at the University of Utah and earned a master’s in art history in 2005, while Bob Olpin was teaching.
Steadman wove those degrees into a career that worked perfectly for her. In 2005, she was appointed executive director at the Museum of Utah Art and History. After five years at the MUAH, Steadman moved on to Salt Lake Community College, where she ran the community outreach programs for the Grand Theatre. Later, she would teach a survey of art history class at Westminster College: “I don’t know if the students will ever fall in love with the subject the way I did, but I can only hope they find the fascination I find in art that I see every day. Looking back, I probably didn’t trust myself as an 18- or 19-year-old to push myself to see what would happen. And now I’m giving myself a chance to explore. I’m not comparing myself to anyone else. It’s more like, ‘Here’s something, what can I do with this? ‘”
“I understand art history,” she says, “what works aesthetically, and how art continues to push boundaries from what was previously created. However, only recently have I gone from the classroom to the studio to create art for the sake of creating art.” For the past six or seven years, it has occurred to her, as she’s curated shows, “Wait a minute, I could do that!” Not, she says, in the sense that “any 5-year-old could do that,” but more like, “With what I know about art, what could I do?” And she set out to discover what, for example, she could do to make realistic-looking pictures from collage.
Her training, Steadman explains, has been in workshops taught through Lifelong Learning at the U and Art Access, and attendance at Summer Snow at Snow College. “Each class has taught me new skills and opened my eyes to the possibilities of creation. I enjoy learning, and with my own creativity, putting all of this into works of art. Making art has deepened my appreciation for art, the execution process, and the problem-solving necessary to create an interesting work of art,” Steadman observes, adding that she finds great joy in the process. She has exhibited in group shows at the Utah Arts Festival Gallery, Art Access, the Eccles Art Center in Bountiful, Salt Lake Community College President’s Art Show, and Salt Lake Acting Company as well as in smaller shows at, for example, the (just-closed) Fringe Gallery in August.
In the 15 Bytes review of Rocking Paper & Scissors, curated by David LeCheminant for Fringe, Maddie Blonquist talks about a piece by Steadman titled “Limb Woman” (“one of [her] more striking works”) that “is entirely decorated with the borrowed limbs of who knows how many magazines. While aesthetically interesting and creative, more importantly, Steadman is perhaps speaking to the danger of fixating on parts rather than the whole and how our perception of reality is often just a composite of pieces. . . . Steadman’s work suggests that the excessive combination of ideal elements will only ever result in something completely unnatural, even disturbing.”
One night Steadman began wondering what would happen if she used a single source, instead of 50 magazines; a single book that had a lot of imagery and was related to our artistic community. Also important, a book that was old enough for a reconsideration. “This book came out in 1991, so it was fabulous at the time, but a whole new generation of artists is coming up and Utah Art has been out long enough that people need to look at it again in a new way. I mean, Donna Poulton is writing a new dictionary of Utah artists now, which doesn’t make this dated, but it needs to be seen differently,” says Steadman.
She says her own approach for her current library exhibition “is to look at familiar images in a new way, creating fresh appreciation (or to some, perhaps horror at what I have done) to the iconic artworks in our local canon. It has been a nice way to take familiar images and recombine them.” She took a class from artist Namon Bills and he taught her to take the image, affix it to the surface with matte medium, let it dry and then take a sander and sand it down repeatedly. “That’s why it’s all reversed.” Or upside-down in some cases. Her intention, she says, “is to create whimsy and the pieces shouldn’t be taken seriously.”
This writer, who reviewed Utah Art back in ’91 and followed the book through numerous iterations that began with Olpin’s 1980 Dictionary of Utah Art and likely ended in 2009 with Painters of Utah’s Canyons and Deserts, believes the show should be taken seriously indeed. It’s a lot of fun, yes, especially if you are familiar with these mostly-famous-both-then-and-now painters and photographers, but also has plenty to say for itself and the artists represented.
The collages are titled using the surnames of those whose work is incorporated. “That was my nod,” Steadman says: “Olsen Squared and Bishop” (the beautifully colored, dynamic one I can’t get out of my head); “Deffebach and Midgley;” “Fletcher and Richardson” (a particularly fine one and, of course, sold); “Andrus, Eaton and Phillips;” “Fausett, Wassmer, Dornan, and Harding” (one wonders if the artist can sort out the artists with this many collaged together?), “Frazer and Held” (Steadman has several collages utilizing work by Tribune sports illustrator John Held Jr., who went on to national fame as a cartoonist with The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Life, among others.) She mixes black-and-white with color, nudes with clothed figures – they are all rich and fascinating to spend an hour or an afternoon with.
“For now, this is it,” says the soft-spoken Steadman, whose copy of Utah Art is now simply a front and back panel and a few loose sheets. She has something to submit for the upcoming Springville show, but other than that is “waiting for the next series idea to drop.” Hopefully, it will drop very soon.
Utah Art Reimagined: Collage by Kandace Steadman, Gallery at Library Square, Salt Lake City, until Nov. 30.