Ogden’s Universe City, which started out as a family affair, is growing into a community art center. It all began when the Jennings family invited the community into their living room.
The Jennings are a family of artists. Leroy, the father, is a painter. Son Benjamin and daughter Christine are musicians, and Caril, the mother hen, has a background in the performing arts. The Jennings first rented the two-story building at 2556 Washington Blvd. that is now home to the Universe City as a studio space for Leroy, who paints large format paintings. “We live in a 900-square-foot house,” Caril explains. “So if he [Leroy] were ever to paint one of his large pieces in the house we would never get it out the front door.” Leroy’s studio occupies the back part of the bottom floor at 2556 Washington and Benjamin uses the second story as a music rehearsal venue.
That leaves the storefront part of the bottom floor, which the Jennings decided to turn into a gallery space. So, after major work on what Caril describes as a “disaster area,” in December of 2004 the Jennings hung their figurative shingle and it read “Universe City.”
The name of the gallery comes from the family’s personal experience. Caril and Leroy are both from the Ogden area, but when they first married they moved to LA to be artists. Then Caril became pregnant, and, not wanting to raise their children in LA, the couple moved back to Ogden. They stayed only for a short time before leaving for British Columbia, an exodus in protest of the Nixon presidency.
In isolated British Columbia, the Jennings found themselves missing the culture a nearby University provides and so developed their own cultural activities within the family. “They grew up being artists,” Caril says of the children. “Even in the high chair they had paper and crayons . . . and they’ve always seen their father painting.” So, to the family their Canadian retreat and the attempt to bring university culture with them became known as “Universe City.”
It is appropriate that the Jennings have kept their family story in their new gallery venture because, as Caril says, “we kind of think of this place as an extension of our living room.” The gallery name can be misleading to some, though, since Caril works at Weber State University as the marketing director of the performing arts department and many of their events are connected to things at Weber State. But don’t go looking for Universe City up on Harrison Boulevard. It is in downtown Ogden and that’s where the Jennings plan to keep it.
The Jennings want Universe City to be part of the Ogden community. “I like being that person that makes connections, connecting the dots. . .” Caril says. “I’m interested in enough things and I’m old enough that I have connections.” In other words, they have the building (aka living room) and they want the community to come over for family night.
Community family night at Universe City can take a variety of forms. They have had reader’s theater and poetry readings and they hold regular music performances, like their Irish music sessions on the last Friday of the month. There is an informal figure drawing group on Wednesdays. Their exhibitions, which rotate on a monthly basis, almost always have an educational aspect to them. They also have reached out to youth groups like “Youth Impact,” an after-school program. They hosted the “Children’s Art Sale” to benefit the children’s school at Weber State. They helped to raise $3,000 for the programs while giving the children the unique experience of hanging their art in a gallery setting.
This month in the gallery you will find the oil painting of Carol E. Merrill.|4| The exhibit will include a number of portraits, atmospheric landscapes and seascapes and floral arrangements painted either in a classical academic style or her own “classical impressionistic” style.
The educational aspect of the exhibit will be a series of photos showing the stages of developing an academic portrait from the beginning with a time-honored treatment of the canvas with a gesso of marble dust, proceeding to the fully developed sketch, then underpainting in the “verdaccio” style, which uses green-grey colors to establish values for later layers of paint. The final step is a series of glazes that give the flesh tones a luminous surface.
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.