Every year in June, artists from across the country travel to Salt Lake City for the Utah Arts Festival. They set up booths, display and sell their wares, and share their passion for art with the crowds. After four days of visual art exhibits and demonstrations, musical performances, performing arts workshops, and culinary tastings, the festival concludes. With the ensuing calm comes reflection, and with every passing year, I am continually reminded of how varied, vibrant, and talented many Utah artists prove. Three of my favorite Utah artists showcased in the festival were wildlife watercolorist Paul Twitchell, jewelry designer Kali Mellus, and oil painter Santiago H. Michalek. Their work offers viewers beautiful creations that display their individual style and that highlight Utah’s unique heritage.
Paul Twitchell’s wildlife art offers viewers an opportunity to share his love of the natural world. Within his work, viewers find carefully depicted images of trout, pheasants, grouse, and pintails. Owls, elk, moose, deer, and foxes also appear throughout his oeuvre. The luminescent colors, the delicate renderings, and the careful compositions create an immediate appeal.
When I asked Paul about his work, he explained that he always loved art and nature. He began creating art as a child, and he would practice his drawing skills by recreating cartoon figures from the evening paper. He spent hours playing in Utah’s outdoors, and with an artist’s eye for detail, he absorbed the world around him. After high school, Paul explained, art took a “back burner.” Drafted in the Vietnam War, college, career, marriage, and family occupied his time, but art still held a special appeal. He would create beautiful scenes of nature in his free moments. He told me that when he first made prints of his watercolors, colleagues at work were amazed and quickly offered to buy them. His “hobby” of painting Utah’s wildlife soon became lucrative. After retiring from Hill Airforce Base, Paul decided to devote more time to his art. He displays his works in about seven art shows a year and sells original paintings and limited edition prints. Insisting that his work remains a hobby, his prices remain surprising low. He wants people to like his art and to be able to afford something beautiful, he explains.
Kali Mellus’ jewelry and art display her affection for detail and a love of nature. Her beautiful framed panels of aspen leaves captured in resin seem to capture the glow of Utah’s canyons. Her recycled hardware jewelry and belt buckles offer an urban edge, alluding to Salt Lake’s urban and mountain culture.
Santiago H. Michalek’s work, specializing in oil paintings of vintage transportation, instantly attracts the viewer. His large-scale work of engineers and trains in a round house immediately recalls Utah’s railroad history and rail yards. The work seems to offer the viewer a glimpse into the middle of a past story. Santiago explains that his paintings often evoke nostalgia and memories. He creates connections to the past through his subject matter, vintage transportation, and through his realistic depiction of textures. Santiago explains that he finds painting texture particularly challenging and rewarding. The dented metal, the rust, the shine of steel, all bring immediacy to his works. A long-time Volkswagon buff, Santiago, often paints the iconic vehicles. Everyone who owns or once owned a Volkswagon often stops to talk to him about his art, he continues. They find a connection to his works through their own fond memories and his detailed creations. They recognize the sheen of the paint, the dent in the door, the scuff of rust on the side. Beautiful in their own right, the works take on added significance when combined with the viewer’s memories.
My memories of the Utah Arts Festival are fond, as always. I find the opportunity to attend a delightful reminder of how varied, vibrant, and talented Utah artists prove.
Article written by our guest writer, Amourette Bradley, a former Salt Lake Community College and Hillcrest High School Instructor. Thank you for your contribution!