Henry L. A. Culmer was born in Darington, Kent England in 1854. Culmer painted landscapes and is noted for his expansive panoramic views and paintings of rock formations. He died in Salt Lake City in 1914.
Culmer immigrated to Salt Lake City as a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1868. After graduating from the University of Utah, he worked in a variety of jobs until settling into a business career. Although he was largely untrained as an artist, he studied at the University of Deseret with Alfred Lambourne and Reuben Kirkham, two early landscape painters, in the 1870s. He also met and was influenced by Thomas Moran during that decade.
Culmer was the first artist to paint the Alaskan interior and the first artist to paint the Natural Bridges in southern Utah. He also painted Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. The Three Tetons demonstrates his command of topographical details and great admiration for the natural world. Augusta Natural Bridge is a notable painting of rock formations in southern Utah.
Biography adapted from Springville Museum of Art.
“Harry“ Culmer played a significant role in the promotion and early economic progress of the West as an entrepreneur, developer of natural resources, civic leader, descriptive writer and landscape painter. He liked to hike and explore unknown regions of the mountains and deserts. Like Thomas Moran and other Rocky Mountain artists, he would not allow danger or discomfort to dissuade him in his quest for panoramic vistas and scenic splendors. Culmer was the first artist to see and depict the area of the natural bridges in southern Utah and also the interior of Alaska. Culmer believe that sublime and magnificent scenery depicted both the beauty and the spirit of America.
A scene of spectacular beauty The Three Tetons is a naturalistic work that shows Culmer's desire to tell a story with both topological accuracy and chauvinistic exaggeration. Culmer had a deep knowledge of nature based on direct observation and an intense self-study and love of science. He believed that mountains were “the most noble subject for an artists' brush.“ The painting was reproduced as a 16 x 20 inch print by the The Deseret News in the spring of 1913 and offered to subscribers who paid their bills three months in advance.
The Salt Lake Daily Herald said of Brush Creek Gorge, Ashley Utah in 1886, “One of the most striking bits of scenery in the Uintah Mountains, near Ashley, next claims the attention of the visitor. The rocky walls are admirably handled and the seams and crevices from which here and there a shrub has grown, are given with striking force and naturalness. The depths of the abyss are lost in a shadowy mist, and the whole is a vivid illustration of the wonders of that little known region. It is painted for Mr. L. Johnson of Ashley, whose cattle interests lie in that direction.“
The painting seems obviously influenced by Thomas Moran, who the artist possibly met in 1879, but more reasonably from that artist's prints. The picture is one of the earliest known paintings by the artist and shows that his sophistication equaled the other second generation painters of the period.
The trees in Sunshine and Shadow form a strong foreground arch through which a background scene of rural South Salt Lake can be viewed in the glow of golden sunlight. Using subtle hues, Culmer shows the transient effect of light as it falls on form. This painting demonstrates his interest in both the moods of nature as well as his concern with the specific approach of fact as observed out of doors and rendered with fidelity.
Sunshine and Shadow placed second in the Utah Art Institute's rescheduled second exhibit held during November 1903, at the Commercial Club. Another oil Grand Canyon of the Colorado in Utah by Culmer won the $300 first prize. At the first Institute exhibit in March 1903 the artists could not agree about the awards and so the second exhibit was held to try to settle the matter. Both of these Culmer works hung in 1904 in the Utah Building at the World's Fair in St. Louis. Both were purchased by Colonel and Suzie (Utah's Silver Queen) Holmes and placed on exhibit in their art gallery built next to their Gardo House mansion at South Temple and State Street which they renamed “Amelia Palace.“ The Holmes' were ardent supporters of H. L. A. Culmer and many of his painting found a permanent home in their art gallery.
Biography courtesy Springville Museum of Art.
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