“If you are going to write about Utah oil painters you must write about Glen Edwards,” said Adam Warner, of Park City’s Mountain Trails Gallery. He adds, “He is considered one of the most important professors Utah has had in the past 50 years.”
What is it like to wake up every morning knowing that the only means of providing the roof over your head and food on your table is your creativity and what you do with brush and paints? This sounds like a potentially stressful proposition.
Glen and Barbara Edwards are about as relaxed and content as two people could be with their decision to be painters. “It helps that I taught [at Utah State University] for 32 years.” Still, Glen says that there are times when what he does feels like it’s “work.” He has been commissioned to paint a family portrait, which is from a blurry photo with bad lighting. “This isn’t easy,” he says.
Their Smithfield studio occupies the entire top floor of their home. There are south-facing windows and several large fluorescent lights. Barbara points the couple’s different palettes. Each palette is loaded with oil paint. Barbara’s is nicely organized. Glen’s palette looks like a miniature mountain range, with stratified paint layers and a hill of color in the center. “I don’t clean much, but I can get the colors I want,” he says. Barbara adds “It looks sloppy, but he is able to achieve really rich tone.”
Their side-by-side work areas have no computers, no projectors and not even a working radio. “Our radio broke, so now we need to listen to the neighbor’s dog barking all day,” Barbara laughs. “We never use projectors, and Glen can paint much more quickly without one. You can call us purists.” With technology at their disposal, one could expect a successful oil painter to take shortcuts, but the duo’s skills are based on artistic fundamentals which entail an expert sense of form, shape, light, composition and most importantly, drawing.
Glen and Barbara’s work is featured on Main Street in Park City at the Mountain Trails Gallery and the Montgomery-Lee Fine Art Gallery. They are also featured at some of the top galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Glen is one of Utah’s most accomplished artists, and his long list of outstanding students, very successful artists in their own right, are a tribute to his ability not only to paint, but also to communicate his skill to others. He doesn’t do “workshops” or instruct anymore, “I did that; now I just want to paint,” he affirms. However, he still holds demos for Smithfield schoolkids. “They are the most sincere art critics you find,” Glen shares. “One kid said to me, ‘Wow, that’s really good! But it doesn’t look like him.’ I love kids because they are honest.’” With a little cajoling from his wife, Glen agrees to give a demo for me, and my video camera.
He picks a photo of one of his favorite models, a mountain man named Pilgrim. Starting with burnt umber he defines shapes, forms and shadows with bold strokes and supreme confidence. He progresses to lighter colors and narrower brushes as his strokes slow and become a bit more precise but still loose and flowing. As he works, the form of the face begins to emerge and pop from the canvas. In 25 minutes he has a nearly completed painting. It was an honor to witness a great master at work, and I highly suggest readers visit our website to watch the video.
Glen and Barbara are traditional western oil painters. Glen’s paintings include cowboys forging rivers, mountain men trading with Native Americans and the rugged faces of frontier people. “How do you come up with your subjects and pose them how you want them?”
Barbara Edwards pulls out a large pile of photographs. The photos appear taken from a John Wayne western. Every year the couple attends a mountain man gathering where participants are clad in traditional fur and leather garb worn during the American western frontier era. They know the models by name, and they are there to do whatever the Edwards (and other artists) ask of them. Jake, who Glen painted, is one of their favorites. He is a retired stockbroker.
When I asked Glen and Barbara about the current art department at Utah State University. They said after Glen retired they shuttered the illustration department and switched to teaching computer illustration.
A big mistake in both of their opinions, because computers can’t draw or imagine. Nothing can replace a pencil and a paintbrush for rendering scenes and the human form.
Visit UtahStories.com or our YouTube channel to see Glen paint the mountain man, Pilgrim.