by Shawn Rossiter
Part I: Alice Merril Horne's Flower Power
Alice Merrill Horne loved flowers, and she knew how to use them: as decor, as subjects for her paintings, and as tools for political persuasion.
Though Horne is best known for her work as an advocate for Utah art, she was also a talented artist, recognized at the turn of the last century as one of the leading floral painters in the state. After completing a degree in pedagogy at the University of Utah, Horne took an interest in art and studied with J.T. Harwood and others. Her association with Harwood and her brief career as a teacher are what led Horne into her short-lived, but very fruitful political career.
In 1897, Harwood and his boyhood pal, Edwin Evans, were causing a stir with the state board of education. They objected to the method of drawing then taught in the public schools, named for its architect and chief proponent, D.R. Augsburg . The issue was important enough to them to keep the fuss going for over a year, resulting in a lively discussion in print and three-hour long debates in public. In the end their crusade was successful and in September of 1898, Augsburg was replaced as supervisor of drawing in the public schools, and Harwood was rewarded for his efforts with the position of art instructor of the high school.
This was only the beginning of the Utah artists' political activism. While Harwood was taking on his new position as art instructor, Horne, likely emboldened by her colleague's successes, had sought and won the Democratic party's nomination for a seat in Utah's third legislature. The largest plank in the thirty year old's education-minded platform was the creation of a state-funded organization to foster the fine arts. In November the Democrats swept Salt Lake County, and Horne immediately sat down with a legislative committee consisting of Harwood, Evans, H.L.A. Culmer and Mrs. Franc R. Elliott (who had replaced Augsburg), with an eye towards the 1899 session.
Once she took her seat on January 9, 1899, Horne, almost immediately submitted her bill for consideration. By the last official day of the part-time legislature, however, the Utah Art Institute bill had still not been voted on. So as Senators and House members made their way into the halls of the Salt Lake City and County building on March 9, Horne pulled posies from a large box on her desk and pinned bouquets on the lapels of her fellow legislators. "This, of course, made favorable action upon the measure obligatory," the Salt Lake Tribune commented somewhat sarcastically the next day, "for what man can resist a woman's wiles." Horne's bill had been redrafted in the Senate, and after some squabbling over the exact name of the state art collection mandated by the bill, the Senate voted 10-5 to make into law the Utah Art Institute (now the Utah Arts Council), the first state-run arts organization in the nation.