Historical Artists | Visual Arts

Notes for Bob & Bill Cupid & the Richards Girls Stories of Love and Art in Utah’s History

If for no other reason than that health insurance isn’t cheap, good sense would suggest that for love artists should look outside their own immediate circle — say, to lawyers and doctors and such. But stodgy, clean-cut Good Sense is no match for the shock and awe campaigns of the naked, winged infant we call Love. Cupid’s arrows tend to hit whatever is close at hand. And studio spaces are fairly tight quarters, so it’s no wonder that Utah has a long history of artistic couples.

Utah’s first artistic couple was James T. Harwood and Harriet (Hattie) Richards. They met when Hattie, then seventeen, enrolled in Harwood’s newly formed Salt Lake Art Academy. A year later the Academy closed because Harwood was off to study in Paris. He took a chance in leaving the beautiful young Hattie behind, but they wrote frequently, Harwood advising her on her art and, with his own personal interests possibly in mind, her career. He dissuaded her from traveling to New York to further her art studies by saying “it was difficult for a woman to study and remain morally good.” In 1890, the Richards family went to live in Europe, and Hattie studied art, first in Geneva and then Paris. Whatever seed had been planted in Salt Lake blossomed in Paris and in the spring of 1891 Harwood returned to Utah just long enough to auction off over one hundred of his works. He returned quickly to France and he and Hattie were engaged and then married there on June 25, 1892.

Artistically, the results of the marriage were mixed. Hattie continued to paint for a time, exhibiting in Utah as well as at the Chicago World Fair, but the needs of a growing family soon supplanted her artistic endeavors and by the end of the decade she had stopped painting (Mary Teasdale, who went to Paris at this time to study may have learned something from Hattie’s example, and remained single her entire life). Harwood did much better by the match. Not only was he able to marry a beautiful woman and accomplished artist who could appreciate his work, but, the son of a farmer from Lehi, he had married the daughter of a well-off and well-connected doctor, Heber Richards. Harwood’s first studio (and art school) when he got back from Paris was at the back of the Richard’s home and when the Harwoods returned to Paris a decade later, this time with children, they stayed with Hattie’s family in a new modern apartment in Montparnasse. This is not to say that Harwood didn’t become successful because of his natural talents (he was already acclaimed as an artist before the marriage) nor that he didn’t have to work hard. But he was certainly lucky in love.

His students, however, were not always as lucky. In the mid-1890s Harwood taught a whole group of young and promising talents, including Mahonri Young. Scattered through the notes that Young compiled late in life for a planned autobiography, one finds frequent mention of Louise Richards [Farnsworth], Hattie’s cousin. She and Young were students at Harwoods at the same time. “One day I left the class at the same time as Louise Richards and she let me walk with her to town,” he remembered in his later years. “How pleased I was, and, how distantly I remember it.” By then Harwood had found studio space at the University of Deseret/Utah, then in the west part of town, so the young artists walked the more than ten blocks to Louise’s house and then spent another hour together in the front room. “Nobody could be more charming and lovely,” he wrote. When shortly after that they both studied in New York, Mahonri would look for her at the salon-like gatherings of his Aunt Net (Janette Eastrum). He was captivated by her beauty and impressed by the literary company she kept.

Whatever romantic interest or even friendship existed between the two was ruined, however, when they both went to Paris. Between the years 1901 and 1906, most of Utah’s bright young artistic stars went to Paris for study. Mahonri Young and Lee Greene Richards were the first to go, in 1901. They were joined the next year by others: Lewis Ramsey, James and Hattie Harwood, A.B Wright, and Louise Richards. Shortly after Louise arrived, Mahonri offended her and she ceased speaking to him. The offense was so grave that it even affected Mahonri’s relationship with Lee, Louise’s cousin. He was staying in the same apartment building as Louise and her younger sister, Lilly, acting as a sort of guardian. Because Mahonri couldn’t risk running into Louise he couldn’t call on his friend and didn’t see much of him until after the Richards girls left in the spring of 1904 (sounds like Montparnasse 90210). In his old age Mahonri does not explain what specifically had caused the rift, saying only that it was something that he “had or hadn’t done.” I have it on good (female) authority, though, that a woman is unlikely to become as peeved as Louise apparently was unless romantic feelings are involved.

On one occasion Mahonri did run into Louise by accident, and it was then that he almost met the woman he would marry. It was the spring of 1903 and Mahonri had gone to the apartment of Heber Richards (where the Harwoods were staying) to deliver a message. “The windows were all open,” Mahonri recalled. “I was standing by one of them, looking out before leaving when Louise Richards and another very beautiful lady came up and spoke to Aunt Mary [Richards].” The woman, Mahonri realized later, was Cecilia Sharp, a talented pianist from Salt Lake who had come to visit Louise after traveling the continent. Because Louise wasn’t speaking to him, though, Young was not introduced, and Cecilia left Paris shortly after when she received a telegram that her father was ill.

Young’s portrait bust of Cecilia Sharp.

Later that summer Mahonri’s uncle, John W. Young, leaving Paris after a failed business venture, offered to help pay Mahonri’s fare to return to the states for the summer. Young accepted. In his ostracized state he may have felt lonely. In the summer, artists usually went to the coast or Italy to paint; but Lee would be going with his cousin to Brittany and Young wasn’t welcome. Or, Young may have realized that in Salt Lake he would have the chance to meet Cecilia. He had a productive artistic summer in Utah (his romantic successes are unknown) and he returned to Paris in the fall of 1903.

Louise returned to Utah in the spring of 1904, after having exhibited at the Salons. She surprised everyone when a couple of months later she married P.T. Farnsworth, a wealthy and promising lawyer, with whom she had had no previous attachment. Though she lived the rest of her life in Utah, she disappeared from the Utah art world after her return and Ted Wassmer (a relative by marriage) once described her as a bitter recluse.

Lee Greene Richards’ portrait of Louise Richards Farnsworth

Young remained in Paris for two years, working hard and making a name for himself at the Salons. In the fall of 1904, Lee Richards, who had already returned home, sent Young a painting to be entered into the 1905 Salon. It was a full-length portrait of his recently-married cousin, Louise. Young may have understood the painting as a pointed jab, an attempt to remind him of what he had lost. In his later years he wrote about the painting, dismissing it by saying it was too flatly painted and not one of Lee’s best works. When Young returned to Utah from Paris he had immediate success. He won the Utah Art Institute prizes for both painting and sculpture in 1906. His sculpture entry, a bust, titled “A Portrait of Miss S” was of Cecilia Sharp. The two were engaged to be married. The date was set for the next spring, but when on February 19, 1907, Mahonri received an important commission for a sculpture of Joseph Smith at Temple Square, the couple celebrated with early wedding vows.

Another of Harwood’s students also fell for a Richards girl. When the widower John B. Fairbanks left for a Brigham Young Academy sponsored expedition to South America in 1900, his son, J. Leo Fairbanks (photo) was left to take care of the children. He found employment as the county supervisor of drawing and spent his free time at frequent gatherings with other young people in the Sugarhouse neighborhood. One of these was Alice Louise Richards, a cousin to Hattie, Louise and Lee. In 1903, after his father had returned and he had saved enough money, Leo left Alice behind to join the group in Paris. When he came home in 1905, he had a promising career ahead of him — he had been appointed to the governing board of the Utah Art Institute and was employed as the drawing supervisor for the public schools — and he and Alice were engaged to be married in June, 1906. Tragically, their romance ended when Alice died during an operation at the new LDS hospital on June 19. The photos Leo took of Alice the day before she went to the hospital show her thinner than normal and now have a tragic, melancholy air, but they show the beauty that captivated the young artist. He wouldn’t marry for another decade.

Coda: Harwood and Young both lost their wives. Harwood, who was then living in California, lost Hattie in 1922, and soon after returned to Salt Lake. Cecilia Sharp Young died in 1917 at the age of 45. Both artists remarried. Louise’s marriage lasted for almost fifty years, until Farnsworth’s death in 1952. In the 1930s she began showing her work again, but only outside of Utah. Her first exhibitions were in New York City (where, incidentally, Mahonri Young was living).


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