Historical Artists | Visual Arts

Touches of Fine Art: George Dibble, Harrison Groutage, Farrell Collett

by William Rowe Smith

I was asked to do an article on us “old school” artists for 15 BYTES. I certainly qualify, having recently rushed right through age eighty-three. Can’t really say I’m qualified though to be in the same class as these artists of whom I write.

Portrait of William Rowe Smith

I am a retired Architect, an artist, and do freelance writing. During the years of architectural practice it was my great pleasure to enjoy the friendship and tutoring of several artist friends. There is not space to mention all of them so please allow me to concentrate on only three of the very great: George Dibble, Harrison Groutage, and Farrell Collett. I was, and am, close friends with them and will recount stories of experiences I enjoyed as I worked and learned from each of them. There are so many resumes, books, and articles on these three that I shan’t go into detail.

Architecture was my profession. Art became my escape from the pressures of budgets, school boards, and standing nose to nose with contractors. Watercolor fascinated me. Problem here was my need to learn all the innate skills of mixing colors, loading and drawing with a brush as one chases paint across Arches, buckling and crawling away from the water.

“Cedar Breaks No.2” used by permission of the Dibble family

A favorite I used to enjoy every Sunday was George Dibble’s art section in the Salt Lake Tribune. Anyone who read and enjoyed his Tribune articles soon became fascinated with watercolor. In the preface of his book, Watercolor – Materials and Techniques, he wrote, “To serve the needs and interests of my many students and fellow artists whose search for the methods and techniques that will strengthen their creative abilities.” In that one sentence is an introduction to a fine gentleman and a great artist.

In one of Dibble’s workshops, I was struggling with my pallet of mud. He stood watching and commented, “Young man you need help.” I sure did. That was the beginning of a long and delightful friendship with George Dibble. I became a devoted fan and started experimenting with the water medium — probably mixed a half tub of mud before I started getting a measure of control over mixing colors. The next and even more difficult task was learning to draw with a brush. “Load your brush and touch the paper with the point,” Dibble would say.

“Park City” by George Dibble

My determination was to master this crazy paint. This paint that goes every which way as it is absorbed into the paper or glazes the surface and uses the white of the paper to establish value. It both fascinated and frustrated me. I went to Park City several times with Dibble or Harrison Groutage to sketch and rough out watercolors of the fantastic old homes and commercial buildings from Park City’s mining days. One of the watercolors I am especially proud of is my Back Alley Park City, which I did on site with comments and critiques by Dibble.

Finally, with a lot of help from him, I got watercolor somewhat under control so I wanted to try oil. Most of my first efforts with oil left me with more paint on my arms or shirt than on the canvas. I soon learned that the water medium sure is easier to clean up after painting.

“Prairie Pampers” by William Rowe Smith

My first somewhat successful oil painting was of the little Indian boy I saw on a Jeep trip to Southern Utah. The child had the seat of his pants cut out exposing his bottom. It came out rather well so I named it “Prairie Pampers.” My next oil was with a group tutored by Dibble at the old Bamburger Farm. I had the painting nearly complete when a gust of wind picked it up off my easel and dumped it into a pile of leaves and plant debris. I was starting to clean it off when Dibble came over, and suggested that I leave it alone. The shards of leaves and other plant debris had made an interesting pattern in the wet oil. When it finally dried it was rather exciting, I named it “Spud Cellar.”

I met Harrison Groutage in 1955 when I designed the Fine Art Center for Dixie College, St. George. Gerald Olsen from the Dixie College art department told me that Groutage, an art instructor at Logan’s USU, was one of the most talented artists in the state. He recommended him to do the mural, which I planned to use in my design. I drove to Logan, met Groutage, and was so impressed that I engaged him to do the mural, and purchased one of his paintings. This Groutage painting began our art collection, which focused primarily on fine watercolors and ink renderings.

“Mission” by Bill Smith

Dixie College President, Arthur Bruhn was intrigued with the idea of a mural, although there was not enough in the budget to include it. Bruhn felt confident that if the building was designed to accommodate a mural, he could get private donations to have it done when the building was completed. He was very successful, even touched our office for $8,000 from our commission. I understood that a large share of our contribution was to go to Groutage, which pleased me. I must report that this story has an unhappy ending. My handsome building is in the process of demolition to provide space for a huge new fine art center to accommodate the expanded college.

For the next several years Grout conducted paintouts and workshops, which I attended. Two of the workshops were in Monterey California, one with Grout, one with Grout and Ed Maryon. We spent most of the time sketching the stunningly beautiful Mission at Carmel. As I recall Grout did one watercolor on site. Most of the time we did numerous watercolor sketches and even more photographs. The final watercolors were usually done back in our studios. I am proud of two paintings I finished from this trip, one of the Mission (right) and the other of the Monterey Coast.

“Walking Buffalo” by Farrell R. Collett

When I designed the Industrial Arts Building at Weber State College, Farrell Collett was dean of the art program. At that time I did not have the pleasure of meeting him although I was an admirer of his work and felt that I walked in his shadow. When my Orem High School was dedicated, a beautiful Farrell Collett painting hung in the main hallway. I stood many times to enjoy his painting “White Horses,” so stunningly real you could almost feel their soft white hair. From a Dibble article in the Tribune, Farrell commented, ”Dibble liked my horses because he felt as if he could slap one on the rump and feel horse flesh.”

In December 1993 the St. George Art Museum honored Farrell Collett with a retrospective exhibit of his work. A video of the exhibit was filmed. I had the pleasure of producing it. Fox Television provided the camera work. Glen Blakley from the Dixie College Art Department moderated the film.

The Collett Retrospective represented only a small sample of the volumes of his work. Collett is an artist who paints not only with his technical training and his gift of draftsmanship, but also with his heart. He understands and loves all the creatures on earth that appear in his paintings.

Shortly after his paintings were hung, I walked around the exhibit with him. Whenever we stopped at a group, Farrell would tell me, “I painted this one in eighty-five. This one is our backyard in Ogden — we had an early snowstorm that winter.” I asked about the Cougars. “No the cougars were not in our backyard. I sketched them at the zoo.” He would pause, then. “This one I painted in the Stewart Flats, back of Timpanogos.” He has a gift of dramatically rendering the scenery provided by nature for each of his paintings. There is a keen sense of design in all his work with evidence of exhaustive study sketches to arrive at the most pleasing way to paint a story.

We stopped at his painting “Walking Buffalo.” He told me to squint my eyes and see the exciting patterns and shapes that make it so fascinating. The old fellow in the painting seems to come to life as you study it. “This painting,” he said, “was done with an intent to record a tale of the passing of the great Indians and the Buffalo.”

“Vegetable Vendor”

The next painting we paused to study was “Vegetable Vendor.” The figure in the painting is placed so it immediately captured your attention. As you study details, your attention returns right back to the center of interest. There is timidity captured in her face for having been asked to pose, you see is a beautiful soul sitting there. The texture and lines in her face tell volumes about the life she leads. One can see and feel the texture of the brick wall, the paving, and the soft and delicate, to the course and hard patterns captured in the painting. One notes how simply and effective the painting seems to be rendered with so little effort. These few lines and touches of color are the very essence of simplicity, which is the keystone of good design. Hours can be spent just studying Farrell Collett’s illustrations and paintings. Note his brush strokes and how forcefully he handles his range of values.

Collett Vender In the late thirties Collett turned down a job with the Disney Studios maintaining that teaching was more rewarding in many ways than money. He returned to teaching at Provo High School and taught art for forty-three years, thirty-seven of which were at Weber State College, where the art building now bears his name. He is listed in Who’s Who in American Art. The Accolades for Farrell Collett can go on for pages. His paintings were and still are represented in several galleries, schools, colleges and private collections throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. He has illustrated several books, numerous illustrations and calendars for companies such as Pepsi Cola, Texaco, and Browning Arms. He is recognized as one of the top illustrators and animal artists in the United States. Some of Collett’s finest work was done in his late eighties and early nineties. One day I caught up with Farrell walking down the street with a large canvas under his arm. He stopped and showed it to me. It was one of eight paintings he was doing, which are now etched into porcelain interpretive panels and placed along the Oregon Trail’s walking loops.
Farrell Collett died March 14, 2000.

The three Utah artists whom I have highlighted here are in no way an effort to make a judgment on the present work of the many fine artists exhibiting today. I must admit that some of the work does cause me pause. So be it, I had one heck of a struggle with our kids’ music while they passed, like forever, through teen age.

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