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November 2012
Utah's Art Magazine: Published by Artists of Utah
Page 5    
Interior of Jane's Home in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by Simon Blundell.
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Art & Architecture
Jane's Home
A building with a unique mission and unique art collection

It’s a South Temple mansion filled with ideas – as well as a major Utah art collection. A singular place founded on a single principle: that of the Golden Rule.

Jane’s Home belonged to gallery owner Bonnie Phillips’ mother, Jane Dooly Gile Porter, until her death four years ago, and now the family is trying an arrangement where, in a large sense, it belongs to the community. It is available to nonprofit organizations as a meeting place for serious discussion, respectful dialogue based on the Golden Rule, for no more than 25 people (to limit impact on the home and the neighborhood) or to house visiting professors, filmmakers, musicians, writers and poets. It survives on donations and is not a B&B. When we were at Jane’s Home, a woman from the Audubon Society was staying in an upstairs suite and a guitarist was spending several nights in the guest house – or carriage house -- where he could practice freely without disturbing anyone prior to a performance with the Classical Music Society. NPR’s Alex Chadwick is a frequent guest; Congressman Barney Frank was once there along with two filmmakers who were making a documentary about him; Vernon Jordan and other early civil rights leaders stayed during a photographic exhibition at The Leonardo; two Irish poets visiting Westminster College lived in the guest house for a semester; the local Holy Cross nuns use the house often. They rely on sponsors to make sure guests are appropriate, give each one a key, tell them it’s their home and to be sure to lock the doors. The nonprofit organization has never advertised but seems to have an event of some sort going on every day.

It is run by Phillips Gallery artist Michael Hall, who took care of the home and of Jane Porter for some 20 years. He lives just next door and is available to guests at all hours, as he was to Jane. He squeezes in time at his Sugar House studio from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. When he returns he checks on the house, then on the cat that adopted the house. He says his job is to take care of the place and “see that it’s well used.” He books guests, discusses “the appropriateness of their being at Jane’s Home and if their group can afford to be there” (the first guest, a lecturer for the School of Architecture at the U of U, paid $120 for a night at the home and that has become the somewhat negotiable benchmark; donations for meetings are arranged on a case-by-case basis), keeps a plumber and electrician on call, oversees the gardeners and obeys the housekeeper who he says really runs the place. Superb care is clearly taken of the home, outside and in.

The Terry Mansion was long empty and in total disrepair when it was purchased in 1987. Windows were broken out, old growth birch paneling had been painted over, wallpaper was in multiple layers and shag carpeting covered the wood floors. In short, Hall said, “a hundred years of decisions by families” was in evidence. So architect Max Smith made the decision to take the Georgian Revival style home down to its original state. The new owner was 70 years old in 1989 when she finally moved in.

It is a comfortable home, left much as it was when Jane Porter lived there. A quiet place filled with filtered light|1| and the intriguing sound of a Stephen Goldsmith fountain coming from a garden courtyard centered on a massive London plane tree visible from many of the remarkably charming rooms. Utah art dots all the walls and sits on every surface.|2| An enormous Tony Smith abstract painting dominates the living room in contrast with the formal furnishings and carpets|3| while a lifelike wooden Sylvia Davis dog lolls by the staircase.|4| It all works seamlessly and elegantly together.

However Bonnie Phillips doesn’t want people to place their focus on the elegance. “Everything that is lovely about that home is there to serve the way people in our community can build understanding of one another,” she says. It is a place to promote an honest exchange of ideas, the kind of give and take she heard around the dining table as a young girl. Phillips recalls that her parents invited people, regular folks like the milkman and, more often, community leaders, to have real discussions about who should be governor, or how best to serve the health needs of the community or to help people in many other ways. “There were disagreements but they always found ways to resolve them,” she says. That’s what she envisions continuing today. An honest exchange of ideas “can be done in my basement, for heaven’s sake,” Phillips says, “but mother did do this kind of home and our hope is that in its exquisite setting we can come to a greater understanding of one another -- and not just admire the house.”

But you can’t help but admire it, especially if art and architecture are high on the list of things you value. Bonnie and Denis Phillips have been putting this important collection together since the late 1960s and it represents an enormous chunk of Utah and especially Salt Lake City art history. The basement holds an intimate library with a scarce Bonnie Phillips’ landscape and a scene from Francis Zimbeaux’s Mexican series. In fact, there are 19 book niches in the dimly lit room, each holding a small, carefully chosen painting. Just outside the door is a large David Dornan and around the corner a Bonnie Phillips’ geometric satin piece. (This was a rare opportunity to see some of her best work, just a few pieces -- all in the basement.) Enormous temple rubbings from Angkor Wat hang in some of the hallways, as well as more superb art by Utah painters.

There are four unique bedrooms in the main house, their walls covered with appropriate art from the Phillipses' massive collection – paintings even hang inside the closets, along with another surprise: textile art – period clothing like heavy, heavily beaded jackets, flowing gowns and even a pair of ladies’ swimming shoes that Jane Porter had stored in the attic (relatives’ things – some went to Pioneer Theatre Company) -- is scattered through the upstairs. And, of course, a fluffy robe is available for each guest. There is matching Italian tile in every bathroom and a bathroom in every room – the completely redone master bath is radiant heated, surrounded by windows and complete with bidet. The master suite is enormous, with an attached sitting room and huge walk-in closet. The next-largest room is the brightest, with windows that have clever screens on rollers (invented by Jane Porter) that come up only when the windows are open but don’t otherwise obscure the view as well as shutters that crank open and shut. It is all about refinement and light. The smallest room, once probably the maid’s quarters, is perhaps the most charming. It’s a colorful and whimsical nook with one of Patricia Forsberg’s Pierrot triptychs above the bed and Sam Wilson, Don Olsen, Denis Philips and others on the walls and, of course, hiding in the closet.

Bonnie Phillips reminds us that the Golden Rule project started years before Jane’s Home became a part of it, and insists the house is not about the art but about bringing that adage “into our lives in a very common sense, everyday way.” The central principle for any gathering at 129 E. South Temple is: “First seek to understand, carefully listening to others; then seek to be understood.” Framed broadsides illuminated by local artists containing numerous versions of the Golden Rule from a variety of traditions and cultures can be found around the house – and in local schools, too, which is the work of the Golden Rule Project begun in November 2003. Three of the broadsides (two in English, one in Spanish) now hang in the halls of the Utah State Capitol following passage by the Legislature of a Golden Rule Resolution.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
Living Paintings
Maureen O'Hara Ure at Finch Lane Gallery

Painted, the artist says, during a period of immense trial and emotional pain, “A Lucky Life” is a surprisingly bright painting.|0| In the bottom left, the bulbous and cuddly figure of a bear plays a game with a lovable cub, the frolicking figures enshrouded in patters of brilliant Mediterranean blue and enveloped in ripples of teal green. The nucleus of the form is a joyful and tender one, the two animals united in a world of their own. Above, an expanse of yellow tones play across the breadth of the masonite surface, separating the bears from a magnificent high summer sun. The scowl on the sun’s face does little to diminish the warmth of its energy, which pulsates throughout the painting. Representing a spiritual journey of healing for artist Maureen O’Hara Ure, this is a painting not to be conceptualized, nor to be analyzed or compared, but to be felt. It is one of a number of impressive works now on exhibit at Salt Lake’s Finch Lane Gallery.

Each of the works in Ure’s current exhibit, Here Be Monsters, have their own journey -- a history, a heritage, a provenance that is densely organic, abounding in a play of mystery and fantasy, the product of an admirable imagination and a skillful sensibility that manages to evoke harmonies of emotion throughout large spaces. Like organisms, these paintings have the quality of being alive. Not only do the spun patterns, randomized line and oblique tonality convey a sense of narrative to support the subject, but the canvases themselves have a narrative element in their being that is more veritably literal than the imagery conveyed.

Consider the exquisite work “Seeing the World.”|2| The substrate is a masonite board that has passed through different phases of O’Hara Ure’s authorship episodically for the past decade. Like many of the pieces in the exhibit, “Seeing the World” exudes an otherworldly quality, created as layer upon layer of paint is put down, sanded in parts over the years, and reworked. With a laissez-faire manner, O’Hara Ure works the intricacy of her line -- and the line in between the line -- her tonalities, shading, textures, pure and mixed colors, leaving much to serendipity, adding here and subtracting there, while a slow morphing occurs. The works remain always open to further working, finished only when a work is sold and out of the artist’s hands.

These living paintings engage a variety of related subject matter, and Ure’s current exhibit is a menagerie of amorphized wild beasts and fowl and other quizzical creatures of the utmost curiosity. Many of these creations reflect medieval imagery from historical woodcuts, the exhibit’s title referencing the open, unknown areas of early maps – Here Be Monsters. Ure is drawn to these beasts because they allow her to experiment with their shape and sensibilities. Her living canvases, in turn, allow Ure to build and develop these unique creatures over the years, evident in the astonishing details that take time to develop. The subjects manifest an abstract but fluid and organic nature, while flora and fauna weave through the paintings in strange and fascinating patterns.

Perhaps the most distinctive painting in the show is a diptych hung in one of the gallery’s corners. “Under a Full Moon Part I and II,” is touched by a meandering line of curling patterns, festooned by blooms of the utmost delicacy.|3-5| In this garden imagery, one may clearly see the evolved and evolving nature of the living painting, manifested sometimes in sinewy and winding foliage, and at other times, massive and obscure floral decoration. This garden is rich and lush, refined in the manner of the English, created over time with randomization. And indeed this painted garden has also been created over time, a living painting that O’Hara Ure has worked here and there, left for a time, and then focused on concertedly for a duration. With each working, the image becomes more and more refined, distinctive, eloquent, harmonious, sensual and emotive. It is the living painting that manifests the quality of the aged garden, something tactile and tangible.

Here Be Monsters was curated in conjunction with long-time professional collaborator Katherine Coles, an exceptionally gifted poet. One might be tempted to discern parallels between the poetry and the painting, and though they function collaboratively, the poems exist as objects for their own sake, adding a further layer of organic narrative.

In the many, many features I have had the honor and pleasure of contributing to 15bytes for the past seven years, perhaps the works I review build upon my psyche and play with my emotions in a manner similar to Ure’s reworking of her masonite surfaces. Relative to a limited few local artists whose work is as exceptionally strong, I find in Ure’s current exhibit the most fascinating, emotional, captivating, entrancing, mesmerizing and generally distinctive work in recent memory. I marvel at her imagination, stand in awe of her skill and patience, and respect her integrity for this body of work with such character and dynamics. Ure is to be commended as one of the very finest of our local art community who, while teaching at the University, seems to work tirelessly on an oeuvre that emerges with a sense of the personal, as extensions of herself. It is no wonder that after vast amounts of time spent with these canvases, O’Hara Ure might develop closeness, a special charm from within for marvelous monsters and painting that is as alive as she is.

A Lucky Life by Maureen O'Hara Ure.
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