A Tribute to Glen Blakley

The late Glen Blakley examines a portrait by the late painter Jim Jones.

I don’t remember the first time I met the late Glen Blakley. It seems like I’ve always known him. But I’m fairly certain I probably first met him as a source in my early reporting days for The Spectrum newspaper and St. George Magazine in St. George, Utah — most likely around the time I made the transition from covering the news to writing features, including stories on the arts, in 2006. As a longtime art professor at what was then Dixie State College of Utah and an extremely talented ceramicist, Glen was a major name in the Southern Utah art scene. I soon discovered that he helped found both the St. George Art Museum and the St. George Art Festival. I quickly began to understand that Glen Blakley was not just a big name in the Southern Utah art scene, he was a pioneer and a legend. And it was easy to see that he was universally beloved.

I’ve spent the last couple of days searching online and going through old hard drives and computers to try and find the stories I’ve written about Glen through the years. I wasn’t successful in locating my oldest stories about him. But I’m sure I quoted him from time to time on stories that ranged from the Sears Dixie Invitational Art Show and Sale at DSC (and later Dixie State University . . . now with another new name pending) or the annual Soup N’ Bowl fundraiser at the St. George Art Museum, where he was a perennial contributing artist. During one of those early stories about Soup N’ Bowl, I was given the insider information that if you wanted to nab a Blakley bowl, you better be one of the first in line because they were always the first to go. Glen wasn’t just a good ceramicist; he was a true talent.

The late Glen Blakley’s pieces were always among the first to go at the annual Soup N’ Bowl fundraiser.

Though I’m not exactly sure when Glen transitioned from being just another source for me as a reporter to become a friend, but I imagine it happened quite quickly. I don’t remember ever thinking of him simply as a source. I was immediately fond of him; and he seemed to share a fondness for me. But that was also just Glen Blakley: he seemed as if he was fond of just about everyone. To his students he wasn’t just an instructor or professor; he was a friend and mentor. He soon became the same for me. Glen was a renaissance man who appreciated art in all forms; so even though I hadn’t touched a potter’s wheel since high school, he became a mentor for me with my writing and photography — always telling me when I did a good job on an article and pushing me to do more with my talents. I can’t count the times he told me that he really appreciated how my stories were always accurate. I remember he used that exact word because of how he pronounced it, with an “urr” sound in the middle instead of a “yer” sound.

My searching did turn up a few stories beginning in 2012, the year he invited me along for DSC’s Los Angeles Art Trip. He had been talking to me about these trips he led to Los Angeles (usually three times per year), San Francisco (once a year), and Europe (once a year) for a while at that point. He thought they would make for a good story, especially since anyone in the community was welcome to sign up for them, not just students and faculty. Since the LA trip was the least expensive, he finally figured the publicity it would generate for the tours would be enough to sponsor me for a spot on the tour. The following is a slightly edited version of the story I wrote about that trip in the spring of 2012.

The late Glen Blakley walks through one of the museum on the Los Angeles Art Trip in the spring of 2012.

L.A. trip introduces Southern Utahns to a world of art (2012)

By Brian Passey

For some it’s a new experience. For others it has become a tradition.

When it comes to Glen Blakley, professor of art at Dixie State College, traveling to see art and to help others experience it is just what he does.

“For me, I think it’s an intricate part of education,” he says. “You learn so much more from travel than you do from a stale, dry classroom.”

That’s why Blakley leads multiple DSC art trips to California and Europe every year. He’s been leading the trips to Europe for 17 years and the journeys to San Francisco for a quarter of a century.

However, it’s the trip to Los Angeles that is most affordable and frequent. Usually he makes the trip three times each year. On occasion he’s done it as many as nine times within a year’s time.

Now in its 35th year, the Los Angeles Art Trip is a part of Blakley’s life. He has only missed it once — in early March when a conflict prevented him from going.

“For me, as a teacher and an artist, I find it really rewarding to see the artwork,” he says.

The trip is always rejuvenating and uplifting for him. What he truly enjoys is seeing students gain the concept of what museums are all about.

During the course of the four-day trip, the group visits six museums: the Huntington Library, the Norton Simon Museum, the Getty Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Getty Villa and Forest Lawn Glendale.

“There’s so much to learn and experience and see,” Blakley says. “It comes at you in a rush — just a flood of information.”

He says art students at DSC are at a disadvantage simply because of location. They don’t have the same opportunities to experience art in person as art students in New York City. If they are going to make it in the art world and they’ve never seen a Rembrandt or a Picasso, they are at a disadvantage, he says.

That’s why Blakley organizes the trips to be as affordable as possible. The current cost for the L.A. event is $285–$498. The trip is self-sustaining and does not receive funding from the college.

It isn’t just DSC students who make the trip, though. Nearly 90 people joined Blakley on two buses for the trip March 22–25, including Tuacahn High School students, other high school students from Moab, art teachers and regular members of the community.

In the past, members of the DSC administration, local dignitaries and even general authorities of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have made the trip.

Although it’s significantly more domestic than the trip to Europe, the L.A. Art Trip opens the students up to art from all over the world, from the Pavilion for Japanese Art at LACMA to the Greek and Roman antiquities of the Getty Villa.

“It just makes their world bigger,” Blakley says. “It makes education so much more exciting.”

College credit is also available as part of the trip, but it is not mandatory.

Students Riley Pearce and Brooke Morgan are among those taking the trip for credit. Morgan heard about it in Blakley’s introduction to art class. By the third day of the trip, Morgan says she enjoys remembering things she learned in Blakley’s class while seeing the actual paintings on the trip.

While sitting in the Inner Peristyle of the Getty Villa on the third day of the trip, both Pearce and Morgan say they enjoyed the Huntington Library best, but the villa was giving it some strong competition.

“I’m totally in love with this Villa,” Pearce says.

Blakley says some students have even admitted to making the trip simply because of the optional visit to Disneyland ($74 extra). Yet many of those students have been surprised when they ended up enjoying the art museums as well, telling Blakley: “I never dreamed you could have as much fun at a museum as you could at Disneyland.”

“They just live for it,” Blakley says. “It is the highlight of the semester for them.”

Disneyland isn’t just empty fun, either. Blakley says the park is an opportunity to experience “new art.”

Megan Cabell and Lexi Larsen, two DSC students on the trip seem to be among those who are surprised by what the City of Angels has to offer culturally. Cabell says she usually just thinks of going to the beach or Disneyland when visiting Los Angeles — not going to a museum.

“I’ve never seen L.A. this way,” Larsen agrees.

Others, like siblings Gage and Marquie Miller, are on the tour because they enjoy art. Gage is a graphic designer and ceramicist while his sister, Marquie, enjoys painting. Yet, it was the gardens of the Huntington Library complex that impressed them most on the first day of the trip.

Together, the six museums plus Disneyland prove to be a fairly intense four-day itinerary sandwiched between eight-hour bus rides between Southern Utah and Southern California. It’s organized so there is a minimal amount of lost time.

“We try to really streamline it,” Blakley says. “We don’t want it to be boring; we want it to be exciting. We would rather have them leave lusting for more — desiring for more.”

That’s why some people make the trip year after year. Ellen Bonadurer, who works at the DSC library, estimates she has been on the trip more than 25 times now.

“The first time I went I was so overwhelmed,” she says. “I couldn’t take it all in.”

So, she began coming back. The first few times she traveled with a friend. Then her husband, Martin, began coming along.

Now she and Martin assist Blakley in managing the trip as they navigate for the drivers, communicate between buses and organize hotel rooms.

They’ve even brought a few of their grandchildren along on the trips. This time it’s 8-year-old Jaymii’s turn.

“I think it’s a wonderful experience for them while they’re still young,” Bonadurer says. “It’s delightful to see the experience through their eyes.”

Bonadurer says her young granddaughter was never bored at the museums. At the Getty Center, Jaymii took a self-guided tour for children with a map that noted special things for children to observe.

Among Jaymii’s favorite parts of the trip were the massive, illustrated Audubon books at the Huntington Library.

Bonadurer has her own favorites that she likes to see each trip. A Rembrandt at the Norton Simon, the portrait of George Washington at the Huntington and the pomegranate trees at the Getty Villa are among them.

She also enjoys the social aspect of the trip. Other regulars, like former art teacher Max Bunnell and his family, have become friends.

“A lot of people on the bus I never would have known if not for the trip,” Bonadurer says. “They’re my art family.”

Bunnell’s daughter, Edith Ann Luce is among the Bunnell clan members along for this trip. She says the atmosphere brings her back time after time.

Among her favorite things to see on the trip are Degas’ ballerina sculptures at the Norton Simon.

“You could almost dance with them,” Luce says.

Another regular is Lena Judee, a former DSC employee who now lives in Tuba City, Ariz. She began making the trip initially out of curiosity.

“I liked it so I continued to go — mainly because of Glen,” she says of Blakley. “Glen is like a brother to me. He has the kind of heart that brings everyone together.”

Judee is now an integral part of the final day of the trip as the group visits the Forest Lawn cemetery at Glendale. There, in the cathedral-like Hall of The Crucifixion-Resurrection, Judee unleashed her classically trained voice, singing an a cappella version of one of Blakley’s favorite songs: “Go My Son.”

On this trip, there is time enough for a second song, so Judee treats the group to “The Lord’s Prayer” before they all view two massive paintings depicting the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“It’s a very spiritual experience for me,” she says of singing at the hall. “The way I approach it is that I’m a messenger. It touches me even more because it flows through me.”

As the DSC buses approach St. George on the return trip, Blakley takes the microphone and addresses those on the bus. He thanks them for coming along and becoming part of “our family.”

Blakley tells them he enjoys seeing their faces light up as they discover the art. He tells stories of those whose lives have changed because of this trip.

Yet even as this trip is ending, he is already looking to the next.

“By the time I get this close to home I’m ready to get out on another trip,” he says.

[end]

The late Glen Blakley photographs a reflection in the wheel of a bus on the Los Angeles Art Trip in 2012.

That trip also gave me the starting point for a profile on Glen that I wrote for St. George Magazine the same year. Here is that story:

Travel inspires art teacher (2012)

By Brian Passey

Today Glen Blakley is known for his ceramics but it wasn’t always so. As a boy in Harlan County, Ky., Blakley loved to draw and was naturally creative, always winning an annual kite design contest. However, the first time he tried to make a pot, the clay just fell apart.

By high school he had become an avid painter, but after graduation he joined the U.S. Air Force rather than continuing to study art. He did continue to paint, though, creating murals of airplanes at the base. While in the Air Force, he also joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and following his military service he went off to serve his church for two and a half years as a missionary in Japan.

“I fell in love with ceramics while I was there,” he says of Japan. “I went to a 400-year-old ceramics studio and was just blown away by it.”

Upon returning from Japan, that culture’s sensitivity to nature began to influence his own artistic work. He attended the University of Kentucky for one year before transferring to Brigham Young University, studying art throughout. Following graduation with a Master of Fine Arts from BYU, he taught art at Clackamas Community College in Oregon and then at BYU for a few years before moving to St. George in 1976 to teach at Dixie State College.

Like many artists, the scenery of Southern Utah immediately appealed to Blakley. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” he says. “It was so beautiful.”

The beauty of nature still inspires Blakley’s art and he has worn out a number of cameras capturing its colors and images. Not only does it inspire his photography, but also his ceramics, which often have a connection to nature. He also continues to sketch and paint.

At DSC, Blakley has taught drawing, commercial art and a variety of other art courses — sometimes as many as five different classes per semester. He was chairman of the Art Department for 26 years. Currently he teaches art appreciation and leads the ceramics department.

Blakley has also been an active part of the larger art community beyond the boundaries of campus. He became the first director of the St. George Art Festival in 1980 and continues to serve as a juror for the festival. Originally the festival was planned for Ancestor Square, but he pushed for what would become its longtime location on Main Street instead. Blakley also helped establish the St. George Art Museum and served as its first director in 1990.

He’s also active on the national arts scene as a member of the National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts. He’s a former director at large for the council and still writes and photographs for its publications.

Students and community members alike have come to know Blakley through DSC’s art field trips to California and Europe each year. He’s been leading the trips to Europe for 17 years and the journeys to San Francisco for a quarter of a century. However, it’s the trip to Los Angeles that is most affordable and frequent — at least three times each year.

“For me, I think it’s an intricate part of education,” he says. “You learn so much more from travel than you do from a stale, dry classroom.”

The trips also influence Blakley’s own artistry. In Europe, for instance, he has the opportunity to see the works of one of his favorite artists, Michelangelo. “For me, as a teacher and an artist, I find it really rewarding to see the artwork,” he says.

Since 1976, Blakley has only missed one of the art trips. It’s an impressive statistic, considering that for the past two years he has battled cancer. Doctors first discovered colon cancer on October 2, 2010. He had an operation to remove the cancerous area the next day. “By the end of the month I was riding rides at Disneyland,” he says.

Although Blakley lives for art, he also enjoys the obligatory stop at Disneyland during the Los Angeles art trips. Those who have made the trip have noticed his enthusiasm for the Magic Kingdom. “I enjoy life,” he admits.

In January follow-up scans revealed liver cancer, which led to another operation. Yet he still managed to travel to Los Angeles in late March for another art trip. At this point, the cancer outlook is positive.

The art trips are always rejuvenating and uplifting for Blakley. What he truly enjoys is seeing students gain the concept of what museums are all about. “Knowledge is something that is priceless and that is powerful,” he says. “Ignorance, on the other hand, is what gets us into trouble.”

[end]

The late Glen Blakley tells stories at the of the spring Los Angeles Art Trip in 2012.

I found a couple of references to Glen in my writing from 2013. At the time, I was also writing a blog for The Spectrum’s website. There I detailed a visit to an exhibition at DSC’s Sears Art Museum Gallery that featured some of Glen’s work. Here I will just include the single paragraph that referenced Glen’s work:

I’m consistently impressed with the level of talent curator Kathy Cieslewicz brings in for the shows. This one, titled “A Walk with Good Friends,” features four artists, including DSU art professor Glen Blakley, who is kind of a father figure for the visual arts in St. George. Although he’s talented in various forms of art, Blakley is best known as a ceramicist and was the founder of the St. George Arts Festival, first director of the St. George Art Museum and started the university’s art trips to California and Europe. His pristine ceramics in this show add a nice three-dimensional element to fill the floor space and add variety to the overall look.

[end]

The other 2013 mention of Glen was a story in St. George Magazine about Southern Utah becoming an art destination. A portion of the story focused on student artists, including Anna Oakden, who was, like so many of Glen’s students, also among his good friends. The story introduced Anna as a nontraditional student (43 years old at the time) who was hoping to earn a living from art after graduation. One paragraph from this section of the story focuses on Glen’s influence:

At DSC, she discovered the value of great professors, including Glen Blakley, Shane Christensen and Dennis Martinez, who all helped her develop different aspects of her art. A major influence has been Blakley’s art tours to Los Angeles that he leads a few times each year. “I’ve always lived here,” Oakden says of Southern Utah. “Then I get on the bus with Glen Blakley and he takes me to experience this whole great world of art. … You take that in and it changes who you are, and it changes your art.”

[end]

While I’m sure I interviewed Glen at least a few times in 2014 and 2015, I couldn’t find any other stories until 2016, where he was my primary source for a story on appraising art. (The photo at the beginning of this tribute was from that story.) Here is a selection from that piece, which appeared in The Spectrum in 2016:

When it comes to having artwork appraised, there aren’t a lot of options in Southern Utah. Glen Blakley, a ceramicist and art professor at Dixie State University, said he believes he is the only certified art appraiser between Las Vegas and northern Utah.

“In Southern Utah I’m the only one,” Blakley said. “I do it to help people out, not to have a big business appraising.”

But because Blakley leads a busy life, he has to charge for the time-consuming appraisals required by insurance companies. That’s why he often encourages people to try and determine a value on their own unless they need an official appraisal.

. . .

A variety of factors influence the value of art.

Blakley has been appraising art since the late 1970s, and he draws on various experiences in addition to being both an artist and art educator. He ran the St. George Art Museum for six years and he regularly leads DSU art trips to domestic and European galleries, where he examines both modern and classic works of art a few times a year.

Among the factors influencing value is whether the artist is alive or dead.

“After you die, there is no more,” Blakley said. “Immediately the prices start to go up.”

However, appraising is easier if the artists are alive because he can simply inquire about their current pricing.

The value is also affected by how often certain pieces are resold. Their value typically rises more if resales are rare.

One less-common factor that might affect the value of a piece of artwork is its story. Blakley said personal stories from the owner could influence what it is worth. If there are any stories, he recommended documenting them and attaching them in an envelope behind the painting.

For example, because Jones was a native of Southern Utah, many of those who own his paintings actually knew the artist. Their connections to him could have an influence on the value.

Any of these factors are subject to change. That’s part of why insurance companies need recent appraisals. The price of art often fluctuates.

“A lot of times it depends on the market,” Blakley said. “It will go up and it will go down.”

While a few pieces may actually be worth less than they were 20 years ago, many are worth significantly more, he said. In general, many paintings tend to go up in value by about 1 or 2 percent every year. Before the recession of 2008, Blakley said it was common to see paintings rising in price by about 6 percent each year.

Appraisers will typically look for a current, related sale to find a ballpark estimate at the beginning of an appraisal.

Because he is known as an appraiser, Blakley said he is often approached by individuals who have purchased paintings at thrift stores or yard sales with the hopes of finding a hidden gem. Typically, they are out of luck, having only purchased a cheap print or a poster. Occasionally they do find something special.

A few years ago, a DSU student picked up an oil painting at Deseret Industries, a local thrift store, and brought it to Blakley, who recognized the artist.

“I told the kid you’re looking at a painting worth about $30,000 or more,” Blakley said before advising him to visit an appraiser in San Francisco to get a better estimate. “The kid shook my hand about six times before he left.”

[end]

Kathy Cieslewicz, curator of the Dixie State University Sears Art Museum Gallery, speaks with the late Glen Blakley during the Sears Dixie Invitational Art Show and Sale in 2013.

Glen was a man of stories, and that one about the $30,000 thrift store find was always one of my favorites. A place I often heard Glen’s stories was during the Genius Panel at the annual Business of Art. For many years, this two-day seminar designed to teach artists how to be better businesspeople was located in Kanab, Utah. It was organized by Kathy Cieslewicz, the curator of DSU’s Sears Art Museum Gallery — and the only person to rival Glen’s influence on the Southern Utah art scene in the past few decades. I was a regular presenter at the seminar and even the keynote speaker at one point, but eventually I became a regular member of the Genius Panel alongside Glen and other notable members of the Southern Utah art community. I never felt fully comfortable sitting on that panel. Sure, it was easy to look at Glen’s accomplishments and apply the “genius” label to him. Kathy assured me that my contributions to writing about the art community validated my place on the panel, but it wasn’t until Glen treated me as an equal on the panel, directing certain questions my way, that I felt as if I maybe deserved to be sitting there.

In 2016, I wrote a column for The Spectrum about my experience at that year’s Business of Art seminar. Here are excerpts from that column that talk about my interactions with Glen that year, starting with some of what we talked about on the genius panel:

We tackle questions as broad as “What is art?” and as specific as “Who is your favorite artist?” That first one is the question that took us an hour to attempt to answer and I still think we all have differing opinions. But there were definitely some inspiring thoughts. In fact, nearly every time Glen Blakley speaks we hear something inspiring.

Someone asked what kind of message art is supposed to convey. Obviously, this varies with the artist, but Glen noted something important: Sometimes beauty is the message. It can be that simple.

But he also mentioned how artists sometime see things that others don’t see. Then they are able to reveal those things to us through their art. That’s why Glen believes in teaching his students to see.

Because my wife had to head back to St. George early, I caught a ride home with Glen and McGarren Flack, another art instructor from Dixie State. We decided to take the long, but infinitely more beautiful way home through Zion National Park. I was glad to know that “taking the scenic route” is something Glen and I have in common.

As we approached the park, it was fascinating to listen to them talk. First McGarren noticed the slivers of light along the edges of the cliffs. Then Glen noted how the landscape appeared to be two-dimensional as we approached it, but as we entered the park and began to weave through the sandstone cliffs, it revealed its true three-dimensional nature.

If you’ve never driven through Zion with an artist, it’s an experience I highly recommend.

[end]

That was the last article I was able to find of mine that referenced Glen. I only worked for The Spectrum for another 10 months after that last column, but I’m sure I probably interviewed Glen at least once or twice, even if just briefly, during those final months. However, I wouldn’t remember them as interviews so much as simply talking with an old friend.

In fact, my favorite memories of Glen were those personal moments we had as human beings, not reporter and source. One of those was within the first few hours of the LA Art Trip as we stopped for lunch in Primm, Nevada. Since I didn’t know many people on the trip, I pretty much stuck with Kathy or Glen. That day, Glen invited me to join him for a meal at Panda Express. As he opened his fortune cookie, it revealed an appropriate message for the coming days: “An enjoyable vacation is awaiting you.” Glen looked at the message, smiled, then turned it around to show me. I had to get a photo. It’s a simple memory, but it’s one that reminds of the delight Glen found in the simple things of life.

The other memory that stands out to me is from about 10 years ago. I don’t remember the exact year, but it was toward the end of one of the worst sicknesses I’ve had. If I remember correctly, I had both sinusitis and laryngitis. I was single at the time and lived alone, so I was cut off from most of the world. I didn’t leave my condo for almost two weeks except to go to the doctor and get food and medicine. Finally, toward the end, I was feeling good enough to venture out a bit. I decided to make the DSU Sears Gallery my first stop since the artist Jeff Ham was there doing a live painting demonstration. I ended up spending most of the evening sitting with Glen, who, if I remember correctly, was recovering at the time from a cancer treatment. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I do remember feeling his love and guidance. For two weeks, I had felt alone, but even though he was recovering from something far worse than me, he made me feel seen and valued. His optimism and the joy he found in the creative arts inspired me, lifted my spirits, and gave me the emotional healing I needed to recover from my sickness.

Losing Glen to COVID-19 on December 31, 2020, has been devastating, heartbreaking, and angering. I’m angered at the lack of concern many people in my former home of Southern Utah seem to be showing for this disease that has taken the life of my friend. I’m also heartbroken that I haven’t had a chance to see Glen in the three years since I moved away from Southern Utah. But mostly I’m devastated that the world has lost such a bright, creative, and loving soul.

Rest in art, my friend.

— Brian Passey, January 4, 2021

Brian Passey is a writer of fictions, poet, photographer, public relations specialist, and former journalist with a passion for the arts and nature.