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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Julie Hall, eucation assistant at the Springville Mueum of Art, looks at art by James Christensen to be hung on December 6 for an upcoming exhibit, Curiouser and Curiouser: The Artwork of James Christensen, Cassandra Barney, Emily McPhie and Family. The painting at left is James Christensen's "The Royal Processional."
Utah museum displays works of artist James C. Christensen and two daughters
Visual art » Springville museum displays works by James C. Christensen and two daughters.
First Published Jan 03 2014 02:01 pm • Last Updated Jan 05 2014 08:44 pm

Springville • Cassandra Barney once was playing at a friend’s house and found something missing.

"Where’s your studio?" young Cass asked her puzzled playmate, only to learn there wasn’t one there. "Who doesn’t have a studio in their house?"

At a glance

See the exhibit, more photos

Curiouser & Curiouser: The Artwork of James Christensen, Cassandra Barney, Emily McPhie & Family” is on exhibit at the Springville Museum of Art, 126 E. 400 South, through April 6. View photos of the artwork at sltrib.com.

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That’s when Barney realized her family was a tad unusual.

Barney’s father is renowned Utah artist James C. Christensen, and he worked at their Utah County home. Their abode was awash in his and other paintings, art paraphernalia, brushes, pencils, colored yarn, string, miles of paper. Visual stimulation was everywhere for the family of seven — Jim and Carole, three girls and two boys.

Christensen gave each child 180 colored markers and left them alone. He didn’t push art as a profession on any of them.

"I realized," the artist said in a recent interview, "that you can’t say, ‘Daughter, you are going to be the legacy.’ "

But two of his three daughters have taken up the brush, and now art of the threesome is on display at the Springville Museum of Art in an exhibit titled "Curiouser & Curiouser: The Artwork of James Christensen, Cassandra Barney, Emily McPhie & Family."

The show also includes a "Cabinet of Curiosities," which the artists playfully call "A Sensory Dispensary." It contains items they drew from their homes and turned into art.

Whimsy, symbolism and irony are among the hallmark’s of Christensen’s art.

Hunchbacked everymen and dandies weighed down by layer upon layer of complicated clothing. Bizarre figures adrift together in odd-size boats or dancing on a checkerboard playing field. Owls lead the way and winged angels attend them.


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Such characters are painted with affection, not with mockery.

"I would not do any work that is demeaning," Christensen says.

And that comes from his faith.

"I am not a religious painter, but a painter who happens to be LDS," he says. "Sometimes the fantastical has spiritual meaning."

He is clearly a proud papa, seeing the art of his eldest child, Cassandra Barney, and his youngest, Emily McPhie, hanging side by side in the upstairs gallery.

You can see the family connection in the attention to details, in the eyes, in the angle of the heads, in the use of symbolism and the imaginative twists on ordinary objects.

But there are clear differences.

"One of the things I am happiest about is that there is no confusion over whose art it is," Christensen says. "There are obvious influences from me, but each woman has pursued her own vision."

Interestingly, all three paint mostly women.

One of Barney’s strongest images is called "Atonement."

On the large canvas, a woman in a mostly dark dress looks heavenward as white petals fall on her.

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