Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
Keeping It Real
The life and art of Amy Tolk Richards
“I control what I can control and then I try to manage what I can’t control,” says Utah County artist Amy Tolk Richards. Richards is speaking on both an artistic level and on a personal level: as a mother, spouse, and human being. Richards’ canvases are simple and reductive — slices of rural life filled with barns, cows and bales of hay — so it is surprising to be able to recognize in them a distinctive, signature style. Her compositions are filled with lush tonalities, atmospheric layers of mood, and an abundance of textural qualities. For someone who describes herself as a control freak, they can appear very loose. “Other people are relying on me,” she says about her life. “Art is freeing. It helps me let loose more.”
In high school, in the very Baptist area of Nashville, Tennessee, the young LDS Richards says she “often felt out of place socially, not only because of religion, but because of values; I was scared to make the wrong decision, so I came close to erring on the side of recluse rather than going overboard. I felt my way out was through studying and I was voted most studious senior girl. That was my reputation; it kept me safe.” In retrospect, her reticence and studiousness were utilitarian control mechanisms, helping her feel safe in an atmosphere she did not completely trust.
A different kind of control entirely would occur when Richards came west to attend BYU. “I think I was rebelling,” says Richards. “I was working so hard in high school. I applied to Ivy League schools and they rejected me and I took an, ‘I’m rejecting you’ attitude. ‘Why did I work so hard?’ I was sort of angry at the system. ‘Why am I sacrificing when it doesn’t get me what I want’.” However, as it turns out, attending BYU would be the very best thing for Richards personally and as an artist in a very singular way.
“It was refreshing,” she says. “No one knew what I was like in high school, so I could reinvent myself, I could be my own person. Before, I had been mindful of always pleasing my parents. Now I could explore, it was OK if I wasn’t becoming the person I thought they wanted me to be. Who is that person? Someone who is more excited about having fun, experimenting, daring. I became a lot more interested in other people and became fascinated by being able to relate with people instead of just being this quiet person when there is so much to learn from others.”
Culture Conversations: Music
Dispelling the Crazy, Embracing a Life of Artistry
Charlotte Bell’s striking silver hair hangs to the middle of her back, her voice is quiet, and she walks with anticipation: pointing to the towering trees, florets of allium, and the neighborhood’s 100-year-old roses.
Walking with her feels oddly like stepping out of Salt Lake—the noise and rush—into reflective space.
Bell, author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, and Yoga for Meditators: Poses to Support Your Sitting Practice, teaches yoga and plays the oboe and English horn for Red Rock Rondo and the Salt Lake Symphony.
Drenched as she is in meditative practice and art, it’s no wonder she comes off as rooted.
When we step from the porch into her house, the cats converge: friendly Pushkin, hissing Lily, and sweet Jazzy, a thin, gray animal she rescued 19 years ago from a feral litter born in her backyard. When Jazzy’s littermates were poisoned in the alley, Bell started feeding his cautious mother from her porch.
They kept this arrangement for twenty years, the cat running to greet Bell on the sidewalk after yoga, while keeping a safe distance, and waiting to venture onto the porch until Bell left.
Then a surprise. In 2011, the animal walked right into the house. “She couldn’t hear. She was really old and fragile. It was so amazing, like day and night, overnight. She suddenly was an indoor cat. She’d sit on my lap.”
The feral mother used the litter box, acted like “a perfect house guest,” and stayed the two months it took her to die.
I asked her how she felt about putting old animals to sleep.
“I don’t want them to suffer, but I sometimes wonder if people don’t want to be with their suffering either. It’s hard to be with it.”
What kind of woman becomes a musician, writer, yogi, and haven to homeless creatures?