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Wellsville women artists: Why they paint at the old P.O.

October 23rd, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Nick Rust

WELLSVILLE–The town’s former post office has turned into a haven for local art enthusiasts. Artist Vonda Lauritzen purchased the building at 55 E. Main St. four or five years ago, and turned it into the Vonda Lauritzen Studio and Gallery.

Lauritzen said about four or five ladies meet and paint for three-hour sessions once or twice a week. If the weather permits the group prefers to paint outside, but if the weather is bad they meet in the studio. Lauritzen is also involved in the Cache Valley Watercolor Society.

Lauritzen, 74, had two other studios in Cache Valley besides the one in Wellsville. She owned the Garden Gate Gallery in Logan, which started out in the back of her husband A. W. Lauritzen’s law office. She said he purchased the extra office space during a murder case. Local artists would stop by, she said, and when the building sold the Cache Valley Mall invited her to have a studio in the mall. In addition to her studios, Lauritzen’s work has been accepted and showed at the Springville Arts Centers, Kimball Arts Center in Ogden and Main Street Gallery in Salt Lake City.

Lauritzen grew up in Parker, Idaho, about 15 miles north of Rexburg. She said there was nothing to do on the farm and took up painting at a young age.

“When I was 8 years old all I wanted for Christmas was a watercolor set,” Lauritzen said.

A graduate of Utah State with a master’s degree in speech pathology, Lauritzen worked as a speech pathologist at the USU Center for Persons with Disabilities. During her time at USU she wrote a grant that allowed her to work with children of Vietnam veterans who had been affected by Agent Orange. USU was awarded $142,000 by the Agent Orange Class Assistance Program and for three years she worked with children on Navajo Indian Reservations in Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada. The grant allowed her, a nurse, a physical therapist, a psychologist and an educator to go to schools and work with kids.

During her time on the reservation she was inspired to paint her depiction of a veteran’s cemetery that was in bad condition. She said there were overgrown weeds, tumbleweeds, broken tombstones and U.S. flags in tatters. Emotions are sometimes good motivation for painting she said.

“I was angry about it,” Lauritzen said. “It was not kept well.”

One of Lauritzen’s closest friends is fellow artist Beverly Byington, 81, of Wellsville. Byington and Lauritzen have been friends for 17 years. “She’s been very good to me,” Lauritzen said.

“We’ve done a lot of things,” Byington said.

Byington has been painting since her 30s when she moved to Overton, Nev. She saw a ranger painting in the park. She told the ranger she wished she could paint like that and he said she could.

“I bought three tubes (of oil paint), one brush and a paper canvas,” Byington said.

She has been painting ever since. Byington has worked in Reno teaching crafts and has had her work in publications in Oakland, Calif., including the Oakland Tribune. Byington has written a book called History from Birth to Twenty: Beverly Atkinson Byington. In the back of the book Byington included a section on the first Deseret Industries store where her mother worked. She presented a copy to the DI and they were excited. Her work has been in shows in Germany, Alaska, Florida, Nevada, California, Utah and “many states in between.”

One of Byington’s prized accomplishments is an artistic interpretation of James Weldon Johnson’s poem The Creation-A Negro Sermon. Byington first became interested in the poem by her brother Frank Atkinson, a sixth-grade teacher in North Las Vegas, Nev. Atkinson taught art at a sixth grade center of ethnic diversity and the class would recite the poem every year at the Christmas program. She said the power of the poem was “new and exciting.” When her son had died, Byington said she found herself struggling with his passing. She said working on the 12 embroidered pieces helped her deal with her emotions. The full collection took five years to complete and she has shown them in Nevada and had two “one-man shows.”

Lauritzen is currently working on a painting of the red rocks area in Southern Utah for a couple who recently had a trip there. She said commissioned work is the hardest work to do because sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what the customer is looking for. “Commissions are the worst thing to do,” said Byington.

Lauritzen and Byington sell their work, but both say that is not their motivation. “It’s part of who you are (art),” Lauritzen said.

“It can be obsessive compulsive behavior,” Byington said, laughing. “It doesn’t make any difference (selling).”

Lauritzen and Byington’s work can currently be seen in The Art Shop on 100 North in Logan.

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