Utah artist Edie Roberson, who used whimsy to great effect, dies at 85
By Sean P. Means
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Aug 18 2014 10:18PM
Utah artist Edie Roberson, who over nearly seven decades painted mind-bending "trompe l’oeil" works and joy-filled paintings of antique toys, died Thursday, her gallery representative said. She was 85.
Roberson’s works have often been labeled "whimsical," though the artist was careful to say, as she told The Salt Lake Tribune in 1998, "I don’t want it to be cutesy."
Her subjects ranged from antique toys — which she collected — to anthropomorphic animals. References to Van Gogh, Japanese printmaking and Mickey Mouse would make occasional appearances. One of her more iconic images showed a rusty tricycle floating in the sky.
"Why not? I don’t believe there are any rules," Roberson told the Tribune in 2010. "It may get crazier. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I just go with it."
Another specialty of Roberson was "trompe l’oeil" (literally "fool the eye") paintings that resembled other things. She painted tablecloths that seemed to billow past the picture’s (fake) frame, or window boxes displaying her toys.
In his seminal 1997 book, "Utah Painting and Sculpture," University of Utah art professor Robert Olpin praised Roberson’s work. "From trompe l’oeil to direct landscape painting to fundamentalism, her work always catches poignant melancholia," Olpin wrote.
"She had the ability to observe people and situations, and make social commentary on them," said David Ericson, owner of David Ericson Fine Art, which represented the artist. "She generally did it through whimsy, and the ability to capture interesting details of things."
Ericson cited one example, "Lighten Up" (2003), which depicts a wedding party leaving a cartoonish version of Salt Lake City’s LDS Temple.
Roberson was fascinated with how the temple "cranked out" weddings, so she depicted a toy crank on the side of the temple and just-married couples flying in planes above. Oh, and Mickey and Minnie Mouse are driving by on a tin-toy motorcycle.
"It just captures what’s going on fabulously," Ericson said. Roberson, he said, was worried that Mormons would be offended by the painting, but "I’m a Mormon and I think it was one of the most delightful paintings ever done."
Roberson was born in 1929 in Wilmington, Del., and grew up a few miles from the studio of painter N.C. Wyeth. She later trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. She moved to Salt Lake City in 1960, got active in the local arts community and taught for a time at the University of Utah. She worked out of a home studio in the Avenues.
In 2010, Roberson was the featured artist at the Utah Arts Festival, and mounted a retrospective in the City Library’s main gallery. In 2011, she received the Governor’s Mansion Artist Award from the state of Utah.
She also was involved in major community art projects. She created three images — of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, the activist Peace Pilgrim and a tin dog named Flippo — for the "SLC Pepper" mural on 400 West near Pioneer Park. She also was one of the artists contributing to the 337 Project, a temporary installation in 2007 in which dozens of artists painted the inside walls of a building set for demolition.
When the 337 Project’s director, Adam Price, invited artists to remove their works before demolition, most — including Roberson — refused. "It never crossed my mind to take [my artwork] out," Roberson said in 2008. "It [the building] has to come down. I mean, that’s the whole point."
Roberson is survived by two sons and a daughter, Ericson said. At Roberson’s request, no funeral service was to be held.