Every Saturday morning, I take a walk from the east Avenues of Salt Lake to the Farmers’ Market at Pioneer Park. I have learned that everything is relative because whenever I mention this weekly walk to anyone, they are astonished. (The distance is only three miles; if I were in New York, it would seem a short distance). If you were to join me on my weekly jaunts, we’d trek past some of Utah’s most stately and historic homes in the Avenues and I’d bore you to death about their original designers and occupants.
Before we got very far, I’d point out the splendid Colonial Revival home at the southwest corner of First Avenue and U Street (1184 First Avenue), the former home of the energetic artist and University of Utah art instructor, Florence Ware. Ware’s father, Walter Ware, was an architect of renown in the Salt Lake area (First Presbyterian Church and Ladies Literary League, both located on South Temple) and designed the First Avenue house that Ware inherited upon her father’s death in 1951. Ware grew up in the home and went to the University of Utah a few blocks away, where she graduated with a B.F.A. before traveling to the Art Institute of Chicago for several years of post-grad studies. Ware began her teaching career at the U in 1918, and with a few times out for studies elsewhere, taught for over twenty-five years. As you may recall from my column about Mabel Frazer (15 Bytes February 2007 edition), the talented pair argued as rival instructors in the U’s art department.
Anyone who has ever attended a performance at Kingsbury Hall will readily recognize the two massive vertical murals adorning each side of the stage. These were painted by Ware as part of a 1937 WPA project. The paintings depict the history of the arts of the western world, a lofty theme well executed by Ware. The recently deceased and noted Utah artist Theodore (Ted) Wassmer, a student of Ware’s who accompanied her on many painting trips (with chaperones like her father), acted as a model for the Kingsbury compositions.
Not only was Ware a skilled visual artist, she also acted as an interior and costume designer. “Interiors, fabrics, gardens, and nature I should like to arrange, so far as I am able, the perfect setting for a work of art,” she once wrote. Her painterly works generally included landscapes, floral still lifes, and stylized female figures. A couple of years ago I purchased one such interesting Ware creation at a blow out sale of her newly-discovered treasures, found in the attic of her First Avenue home. Her tall slender model accompanies a graphic (as in graphic design, not explicit) 1920 U of U calendar. The figure is similar to other tall slender female models, many of which appear to be self-portraits. I remember telling Bob Olpin about our purchase and before I could describe it he said, “Oh, I bought something too. It’s a cute little U calendar with a tall slender lady with her hair up in a bun.” We both thought that we had purchased a one of a kind Ware creation.
Many of Wares landscapes are fine examples of her painterly style. Her “Approaching Storm” has been hanging in my living room ever since I picked it up at an Amicus autumn sale some years ago. This large, well-balanced oil on canvas is one of my favorites. Ware was prolific in her paintings of quaking aspens and while many are stunning, some are, as Dave Ericson would say, “burnable.” One Christmas Eve, my checkbook found itself at Williams Fine Art where Clayton reduced the price on a nice little gem that Ware painted in 1910. “Red Mountain” was framed in a goofy, fake linen mat which Clayt had never replaced. I put it under the tree and gave it to my wife. She knows me too well and recognized that it was really for me, but loved it anyway. Mounted in a new frame, the small painting is evidence that Ware was at home whether painting a small creation or towering masterpieces at Kingsbury Hall.
Ware’s “Breakfast in the Garden” represents the high gothic of her ability. This elegant portrait of a charming, shawled lady seated at a breakfast table in a setting reminiscent of a Renoir is at once evocative and reconciling. By viewing the light distilling through the surrounding trees, settling softly on the subject and surrounding elements, no observer can walk away with any harsh feelings about anything or anyone.
Ware never married but left a legacy of thousands of art students, admirers, and art collectors. Clayton Williams held an exclusive reception, lecture and sale of her works about two years ago that were released by her estate. Many of her artworks were quickly snapped up and today when good quality Ware paintings become available, they too are swiftly purchased. If you can’t locate a Ware original, stop in at Kingsbury Hall and have a breathtaking experience as you take a gander at her majestic murals.
Tom Alder, a Salt Lake City native, left a 30-year mortgage banking career in 2009 to open Alderwood Fine Art, specializing in early Utah art. He held an MA in Art History, taught at the University of Utah, and served on various boards in the cultural community. He died in 2018.