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Phillip H. Barkdull

Philip Barkdull, a modernist painter, was born in Hatton, Utah in 1888. He was an art educator and neoimpressionist painter in the style of Birger Sand?en. He died in Logan, Utah in 1968. 

Barkdull began his education at Brigham Young High School at the late age of 23. He later held many short-term teaching positions in secondary schools in southern Utah. Barkdull continued with his art education at Brigham Young University and graduated in 1928 when he was 40. After graduation, Barkdull taught at a local high school for two years. He was appointed art instructor at BYU for the 1929 academic year. He began a 34-year career in the Logan school district as director of arts and crafts and part-time instructor after leaving BYU. Barkdull made his greatest contribution to Utah art as an educator. 

During the summers of 1927 and 1928, met Birger Sand?en, the Kansas painter who had the greatest influence on his vision and painting. Sand?en's neoimpressionist technique with raw color and regionalist subject matter influenced Barkdull. His painting Designed Landscape: Symphony in Color (1930) clearly demonstrates Sand?en's influence. Although Barkdull's work was not well received by his Utah audience, the criticism he received from New York galleries was favorable.

Biographical information on this page was adapted from the Springville Museum of Art.

All too often, talented and interesting artists are undeservedly forgotten by history. One such artist is Phillip Henry Barkdull. P. H. Barkdull was born on March 22, 1888, in the small community of Hatton, just outside Fillmore, Utah. He was the second of three sons born to John Henry and Emma Isabell Barkdull. While Henry was a child, his family struggled to make a success of their small farm. During his youth, Henry fell, hitting his head on a railroad track. He suffered a severe hearing loss. Later, a mastoidectomy left him also suffering from bad sinuses and migraines, which continued for the remainder of his life.

There were no schools in the rural area where Henry grew up, and his family needed his help on their farm, so he did not attend school. Finally, at the age of 23, he left the farm to begin high school at Brigham Young High School in Provo, where he took up the study of art. He was embarrassed because he was so much older than the other students, so he lied about his age. Even though he was always sickly, he managed to participate on the high-school track team.

After graduation from high school, he entered Brigham Young University to continue studying art. However, in 1917, before he could receive his degree, Barkdull was invited by an old roommate to accept a position as “Instructor of Art“ at Dixie Normal College in St. George. But then, his career as an art instructor was delayed by his induction into the Armed Forces. He served for only a few short months before his ill health resulted in a discharge, and he once again began teaching art in southern Utah, this time at Hurricane High School. Again his tenure was a short one, and he spent the next six years teaching art in various Utah schools.

Next, Barkdull moved to Provo where he taught arts, crafts, and design part-time at Provo High School. He spent the summers attending Brigham Young University and graduated in 1928. He continued teaching at Provo High School for two years after his graduation from B.Y.U. It was during this time that he attended summer classes at Utah State Agricultural College and met Birger Sandzen, a Kansas artist who had a greater influence on Barkdull than did any other artist. Sandzen's neo-impressionist technique, with its thick impasto, raw color, and regionalist subject matter presented in almost a Cubist style, sparked Barkdull's imagination and resulted in “Paintings [that] shine out like a beacon amidst the 'foggy grey' of many of his contemporaries,“ according to Dr. Vern Swanson, Director of the Springville Museum of Art.

The two summers Barkdull studied under Sandzen resulted in Barkdull's most productive period. Barkdull's Designed Landscape: Symphony in Color clearly demonstrates Sandzen's influence. Although formally structured, the painting is saturated with the pure hues and rich pigment of the fauvists. At the time it was painted,1930, it was a significant departure from the current Utah painting style.

This new style of painting was not appreciated by other Utah artists, who thought it was too radical. On the few occasions when Barkdull's works were sent to New York for criticism, they were given favorable reviews. However, a new artistic style appeared and soon swept the country. This style was termed “Dirty Thirties“ because it reflected the negative effects and influences of the Depression Era. Many Utah artists moved directly from Impressionism to this new style, never discovering the Neo-Impressionist style. In contrast, Phillip Barkdull had managed to stay with the leading edge of art while hidden away in the art world of Utah, making him an extraordinary artist.

It was, however, as a teacher of design that Barkdull made his greatest contribution to the Utah art scene. During the fall of 1930, a teaching position at Brigham Young University was vacated by B. F. Larsen, when he left for a year's sabbatical in France. Barkdull was chosen to fill the position. He was listed as an “Instructor in Art,“ teaching the following courses: Graphic Representation, Theory and Practice of Design, Domestic Art Design, and Outdoor Sketching with Oil Color. After his brief tenure at B.Y.U., Barkdull was hired by the Logan School District as “Supervisor of Arts and Crafts of the Logan Schools,“ and he also taught art at the high school part of the day. His busy schedule as both instructor and district supervisor combined with his constant poor health all but ended any serious focus on painting. Persistent health problems resulted in his early retirement in the spring of 1954.

After his retirement, financial problems forced Barkdull to continue working as a private instructor. During this time, he turned to painting watercolors, mostly florals. Due mostly to his battles and concerns with poor health, Barkdull never fully developed his artistic gift. His innovative style and obvious talent were never expressed as they might have been, given the opportunity. Phillip Barkdull died on November 6, 1968, in Logan, without having established his talent and significance in Utah art history.

Philip Barkdull, an interesting modernist painter, was born in Hatton, Utah. Long forgotten and completely ignored, this talented artist is usually listed as a minor Utah painter. He started his college career at Brigham Young University. Then Barkdull began a “Utah art of education odyssey“ of sorts in the fall of 1917, first as an art teacher at Dixie Normal College in St. George; then as a teacher, Hurricane High School and again Dixie College (1920); superintendent, West Millard High School; art supervisor, Provo schools; art instructor, B.Y.U. (1929-30); and supervisor, arts and crafts, Logan schools, and art instructor, Logan High, 1930-54. As a student again (B.Y.U. graduate [1927]), Barkdull's big moment in his painting life lasted just four years. Lee R. Randolph began to teach at B.Y.U. during the summer of 1927. He was followed by Birger Sandzen at B.Y.U., then Utah State University. And during the summer of 1928, P.H. Barkdull studied with Sandzen in Logan. All of Barkdull's great paintings (1927-30) bear the mark of Sandzen's thick impasto, raw color, and regionalism. At his best, Barkdull may be considered a powerful member of Logan Modernist School. Unfortunately, in 1931, he slipped while walking on a railroad track, hit his nose and damaged his brain. He never recovered completely and ceased painting his bold and vigorous landscapes. He was subject to severe migraine headaches. His work after 1931 was mostly black-and-white line drawings of animals-very exquisite.

Biography courtesy Springville Museum of Art

Books

Dunbier, Lonnie Pierson, ed. The Artists Bluebook: 29,000 North American Artists. Scottsdale, AZ: AskART.com, 2003.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Art. Layton, UT: Peregrine Smith Books, 1991.

Olpin, Robert S., William C. Seifrit, and VernG. Swanson. Artists of Utah. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1999.

Swanson Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Painting and Sculpture. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1991.

 Last Modified 9/3/14