On a paved path that brings you from 21st-century, highway-adjacent developments toward the classic 20th-century town center, three cut-out metal sculptures greet you: a miner, a dinosaur and a pictograph.
Welcome to Price, Utah.
First there were the dinosaurs — the nearby Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, on the northern edge of the San Rafael Swell, is the densest concentration of Jurassic dinosaur fossils in the world. Sprinkled throughout the same area, as well as further afield in places like Nine Mile and Range Creek canyons, are petroglyphs and pictographs, evidence of the Basketmakers, the Fremont and other cultures who inhabited the area. And then there are the miners, arriving in the late 19th century from across the U.S., as well as from Europe and Asia.
The story of the latter is told in city hall — a WPA building constructed in 1938 — through a series of murals painted by Lynn Fausett, a local boy who studied at New York’s Art Students League before returning to paint the people he knew growing up. Working from memory and photographs, he painted more than 80 figures across the central foyer, marking the history of white and Mormon settlers in the area: the first store, the first post office, the first meeting houses; weddings and parades, the coke ovens and miners, mayors and reverends and bishops. The best bit of local lore about the murals is that in the section depicting the organization of the first Mormon congregation, a nursing mother was depicted with a bare breast until the mayor’s wife convinced the artist to cover the offending anatomy with a bit of lace.
Named for a Mormon bishop who explored the area in the 1860s, Price didn’t really take off as a city until the discovery of coal and the subsequent construction of a Denver and Rio Grand Western Railroad station made the town the commercial and cultural center of the area, beginning in the 1880s. A monument to the coal miners is found outside city hall, on the southwest corner of the block. The variety of surnames inscribed on the plaque attests to the multi-cultural nature of the town in its heyday.
The days of coal’s dominance are past, and the largest industries in Price today are governmental, educational and food and accommodation services: it’s the seat of Carbon County, there’s a branch of Utah State University, and in any direction it’s the largest town for 60 miles. The town’s biggest tourist attraction is the Prehistoric Museum, which shares walls with city hall. It’s a monument to paleontology, archaeology and geology and inside you’ll find fossils from more dinosaur species than anywhere else in the country. You’ll also find another Fausett mural, a 20-foot canvas depicting a section of Barrier Canyon (now Horseshoe Canyon) called “Holy Ghost.” It’s a companion to the 60-foot mural that hangs at the Natural History Museum in Salt Lake City and which was originally exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. Outside, you’ll be greeted by several dinosaur sculptures, and, on the northwest corner of the block, a full-bodied depiction of the flute-playing Kokopelli — created by Gary Prazen, another Carbon County native.
This municipal block anchors the eastern half of Price’s classic midcentury American downtown: old brick buildings, side by side, festooned with storefronts from a variety of eras and housing bars and thrift shops, cafes and furniture stores. At one time, before Route 6 was diverted around the town to go straight to Wellington, traffic from across the country flowed through here. Now you have to aim for it. The old-town business district is about two blocks along Main Street, extending a block north and south before things become residential. Main Street continues for a mile past “downtown” but quickly becomes modern hotels and box stores. The back side of the strip is as visually interesting as the front, offering great material for painters. Between 100 West and Carbon Avenue you’ll find a block-long mural celebrating the area’s history, created by Kate Kilpatrick.
Kilpatrick’s Bookcliff mural is one of several that have popped up around town in recent years, following a trend for municipalities both large and small. You’ll find one by Salt Lake City artist Traci O’Very Covey (best known for her long mural at Salt Lake City’s new airport terminal) on the X building, as well as another one by Kilpatrick. Price has invested in other artistic touches to enliven the town: blue benches and flower pots line main street and the municipal block features additional public art, including a series of flower pots with painted metal flowers.
Wander further afield and you’ll find additional treasures. Price is home to the former College of Eastern Utah, now Utah State University Eastern Campus. There you’ll find Dann Nardi’s “Passage” (2015) and James L. Young’s “Ascent Totem,” sculptures which add a distinctively modern flair to the town’s public art offerings. Inside the college you’ll find additional art, including a replica of Michelangelo’s “Pieta,” as well as the campus’ art gallery, Gallery East. On the road from Emery County (Route 10) a new mural has replaced the traditional “Welcome to …” sign. Keep wandering and you’ll likely find something else. You might even enjoy the remnants of commercial murals painted generations ago.
The founder of Artists of Utah and editor of its online magazine, 15 Bytes, Shawn Rossiter has undergraduate degrees in English, French and Italian Literature and studied Comparative Literature in graduate school before pursuing a career in art.