Andy Warhol Slept Here?
by Will South
Go West, young man—go West!
[p.1] Horace Greeley was a brilliant editor and colorful political leader whose achievements include founding the New York Tribune. Over the course of his eccentric career, Greeley promoted vegetarianism and spiritualism, while he was against the use of alcohol, the practice of divorce, and women’s suffrage. He vigorously opposed slavery, helped elect President Abraham Lincoln, and championed emancipation in a famous editorial entitled, “The Prayer of Twenty Millions.” Greeley himself ran for U.S. president against Ulysses S. Grant as the nominee of the Liberal Republican Party, which he was instrumental in forming.
In 1859 Greeley made a trip to the West that so impressed him that he wrote the famous words, “Go West, young man—go West!” Indeed, Utah and the West were a source of constant intrigue to the Eastern establishment, and were the subject of ongoing articles of varying veracity. On his trip Greeley stopped in Salt Lake City where the Mormons won his “hearty admiration” and where he was introduced to Brigham Young. The resulting “remarkable interview” was published in Harper’s Weekly, along with comments by Greeley:
Governor Young spoke readily, not always with grammatical accuracy, but with no appearance of hesitation or reserve, and with no apparent desire to [p.2] conceal anything, nor did he repel any of my questions as impertinent. He was very plainly dressed in thin summer clothing, and with no air of sanctimony or fanaticism. In appearance, he is a portly, frank, good-natured, rather thick-set man of fifty-five, seeming to enjoy life, and in no particular hurry to get to heaven.
Mr. Greeley and Brigham Young (from Harper’s Weekly, 3 September 1859)
• • • • • • •
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton
I must here warn the reader that in Great Salt Lake City there are three distinct opinions concerning, three reasons for, and three diametrically different accounts of, everything that happens, viz. that of the Mormons, which is invariably one-sided; that of the Gentiles, which is sometimes fair and just; and that of the anti-Mormons, which is always prejudiced and violent.
—Sir Richard Burton, 1860
[p.3] One of the earliest visitors to Salt Lake City was also one of the most unique men of the nineteenth century. Sir Richard Burton was one of the greatest adventurers of his own or any era, was a superb scholar, a fierce soldier, and a prolific writer. Among his many achievements were sneaking into the forbidden city of Mecca and living to write about it; surviving a spear through the face while exploring in Africa; mastering at least twenty-nine languages; and being the first European to lead an expedition into Africa in search of the source of the Nile. He studied a myriad of subjects, including alchemy, Theosophy, the Kabbalah, Roman Catholicism, spiritualism, and the occult—he was the first person to use the term “ESP” for extra-sensory perception.
Writing in the middle of the Victorian era in England, the often controversial Burton advocated sex as a pleasurable activity for women as well as men. He further believed in polygamy as a way to increase family stability and to allay the debilitating practice of prostitution. It was inevitable that he would travel to the last of the great “Holy Cities.”
After an overland journey of 1,136 miles across America, Burton arrived in Great Salt Lake City in late August 1860. He kept meticulous notes during his travels, and published these as The City of the Saints and Across the [p.4] Rocky Mountains to California. In that colorfully detailed travelogue, Burton wrote of his meeting with Brigham Young: “He [Young] shows no signs of dogmatism, bigotry or fanaticism, and never once entered—with me at least—upon the subject of religion. … He often reproves his erring followers in purposely violent language, making the terrors of a scolding the punishment in lieu of hanging for a stolen horse or cow.”
Sir Richard Francis Burton.
Photography courtesy Utah State Historical Society.
At the end of twenty-four days of careful observation of the people and politics of Great Salt Lake City and of collecting “facts, not theories,” Richard Burton concluded the following:
It will, I think, be abundantly evident, that Utah has been successful in its colonization. … I cannot help thinking, that, morally and spiritually, as well as physically, the protégés of the Perpetual [p.5] Emigration Fund gain by being transferred to the Far West. Mormonism is emphatically the faith of the poor, and those acquainted with the wretched condition of the English mechanic, collier, and agricultural labourer … must be of the same opinion. Physically speaking there is no comparison between the conditions of the Saints and the class from which they are mostly taken. In point of mere morality, the Mormon community is perhaps purer than any other of equal numbers. I have no wish to commend their spiritual, or rather, materialistic vagaries—a materialism so leveling in its unauthorized deductions, that even the materialist must reject it: but with the mind as with the body, bad food is better than none. When wealth shall be less unequally distributed in England, thus doing away with the contrast of excessive splendour and utter destitution, and when Home Missions shall have done their duty in educating and evangelizing the unhappy pariahs of town and country, the sons of the land which boasts herself to be the foremost among the nations, will blush no more to hear that the Mormons or Latter Day Saints are mostly English.
• • • • • • •
I left Great Salt Lake a good deal confused as to what state of things existed there–and sometimes even questioning in my own mind whether a state of things existed there at all or not.
—Mark Twain, Roughing It
[p.6] Fleeing religious persecution in Missouri, the Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) relocated in 1838 to Nauvoo, Illinois, a site about fifty miles upstream from Mark Twain’s home in Hannibal, Missouri. As a boy, he no doubt heard impressionable tales of the Mormon plight, especially of their migration west in 1846. Twain came face to face with the Mormons on his visit to Salt Lake City in 1862. His adventures there and elsewhere in the West are related in his 1872 travelogue, Roughing It, a witty and worthy precursor to his better-known novel, Tom Sawyer, and his masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn.
Unlike the more acerbic and fairly routine condemnations of the Mormons and polygamy that appear in nineteenth-century journalism, Twain’s stories of life in Zion reveal his gift for outrageous and rollicking satire. Tagging along with his older brother Orion, who was then serving as the secretary of the Nevada territory, Twain had the opportunity to meet the “king,” Brigham Young. Twain gives the following account of that historic meeting:
The second day, we made the acquaintance of Mr. Street (since deceased) and put on white shirts and went and paid a state visit to the king. He seemed a quiet, kindly, easy-mannered, digni-[p.7]fied, self-possessed old gentleman of fifty-five or sixty, and had a gentle craft in his eye that probably belonged there. He was very simply dressed and was just taking off a straw hat as we entered. He talked about Utah, and the Indians, and Nevada, and general American matters and questions, with our secretary and certain government officials who came with us. But he never paid any attention to me, notwithstanding I made several attempts to “draw him out” on federal politics and his high handed attitude toward Congress. I thought some of the things I said were rather fine. But he merely looked around at me, at distant intervals, something as I have seen a benignant old cat look around to see which kitten was meddling with her tail. By and by I subsided into an indignant silence, and so sat until the end, hot and flushed, and execrating him in my heart for an ignorant savage. But he was calm. His conversation with those gentlemen flowed on as sweetly and peacefully and musically as any summer brook. When the audience was ended and we were retiring from the presence, he put his hand on my head, beamed down on me in an admiring way and said to my brother: ”Ah—your child, I presume? Boy, or girl?”
Mark Twain, 1862
• • • • • • •
There are twenty admirers of the fine arts in this city today, where fifteen years ago there was one. What the [local] painters should now do is to see that their work is really meritorious.
—Salt Lake Herald, 19 October 1881
[p.8] Albert Bierstadt was but one of many prominent artists attracted to the American West by its magnificent scenery. Included among the itinerant painters who worked in the vicinity of Salt Lake City in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are Albert Blakelock, Edwin Deakin, Gilbert Munger, Thomas Moran, and Maynard Dixon. The reputations and achievements of these well-known American artists must have been an inspiration to local painters whose solitary pursuits did not receive the same kind of support and encouragement as did the communal activities of music and theater.
Bierstadt arrived in Salt Lake City in 1863 when, reportedly, there was but one “art admirer” in the whole town. His visit took place coincidentally (perhaps) at the same time that the Deseret Academy of Art was being formed, a noble experiment that was arguably the first art school in the West. The academy lasted just ten months, due no doubt to the limited number of interested persons, or person.
Bierstadt returned to Salt Lake City again in late August 1881, and was sought out by the “rising young artist, Mr. Alfred Lambourne.” Lambourne (1850-1926), who would become one of Utah’s most accomplished early painters, accompanied Bierstadt on sketching trips to the Cottonwood [p.9] and American Fork canyons, as well as to Ogden Canyon. Not surprisingly, he attempted to mimic Bierstadt’s depiction of wide, dramatic landscapes and brilliant atmospheric effects.
Over the course of his own career, Lambourne influenced many younger Utah artists both by example and by advising them to seek the European training possessed by artists such as Bierstadt. Salt Lakers began studying art abroad in the late 1880s, a tradition that has never ceased.
It was also in 1881, just about a month after Bierstadt’s visit, that local artists (including Lambourne) coincidentally (perhaps) joined together to form the Salt Lake Artist’s Association, later known as the Utah Art Association, which still later became the Utah Art Institute. Eventually, the number of art admirers living in Salt Lake City surpassed twenty.
Utah artist Alfred Lambourne, who painted side by side with Bierstadt.
Photograph courtesy Utah State Historical Society.
• • • • • • •
We must try and live up to our blue china.
[p.11] “The Master is among us, and although the worshippers of the Beautiful will hasten to lay their lilies at his grand and earnest feet, there be those who know him not.” So wrote an ardent admirer of Oscar Wilde upon the occasion of the poet’s American lecture tour in 1882. Famous now as the consummate fin de siècle playwright (The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Windermere’s Fan), as a significant novelist and essayist (The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Decay of Lying), and as a tragic victim of Victorian morality (as well as his own political ineptitude), Wilde had written nothing by 1882 save a small collection of decidedly mediocre poetry. He was, like Andy Warhol and Madonna in our own era, more famous for being famous than for quality of product. However, true to his Irish heritage, Wilde practiced conversation as a martial art; witty, learned, and personally theatrical, he became a star of London literary and social circles, and the individual most identified with the ephemeral movement known as “Aestheticism,” which he spoke of as “a search after signs of the beautiful.” Although incomplete and dependent on the personality of the orator for impact, it was nonetheless this eerily amoral and seemingly rootless message that Wilde brought to the conservative and isolated Utah community of mostly Mormons in April of that same year.
[p.12] On the afternoon of 10 April 1882, a crowd of Salt Lakers waited outside the Walker House for Wilde’s arrival. Many were no doubt surprised when a tall, sturdily built man emerged from the hack that delivered him. Inside an enterprising hotel keeper had installed sunflowers behind the bar, attached a sunflower to the lapel of the young boy who showed Wilde to his room, and had ladies sitting at a dinner table with lilies in their hair. To everyone’s disappointment, the poet took dinner in his room. Before the afternoon was out, though, Wilde met with Mormon church president John Taylor, toured the tabernacle (which he later described as shaped like a soup kettle), and chatted with one of Taylor’s “charming daughters.”
That evening a nearly full house extended its courtesy to Wilde as he took the stage of the old Salt Lake Theatre dressed in black velvet lined with purple and wearing the ruffles and seals of the regency. For almost an hour, Wilde spoke evenly and without gesticulation on the importance of the Beautiful in daily life. The craftsman and workman must join with the artist to create beautiful objects; the commonplace was a sign of fraud. Our cities, he said, are full of commonplaces. Art would live and grow when the craftsman and the citizen were surrounded with a wealth of color and refined design, as in Pisa of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Our architecture was inartistic, the dress of the citizenry drab. The solution was not in rebuilding another Pisa, he said, but in building upon the inventions of the nineteenth century.
There was social import to the lecture, also. The rich could have art simply by purchasing it. The poor must create it. This they could do in an encouraging environment. The benefits would be more than simple enjoyment and entertainment: beauty would find its way into the hearts of children and art would become a common intellectual atmosphere. Barbarism and war would give way to the refinement of comely and gracious things (this utopic power of art was later a feature of many an early modernist doctrine). The attentive listener might have concluded that with the patterns of daily life so dependent upon art, life and art would, indeed, become indistinguishable. As Wilde had said earlier on his tour, art was the secret of life.
Local reception to both the personally extravagant Oscar and his lecture was mixed.
Caricature of Wilde on the occasion of his American tour.
Harper’s Weekly 2, no. 1324:575.
The Deseret Evening News reacted violently to what was perceived as a “burlesque on common sense.” Not only were the poet’s ideas “floaty,” he was too effeminate for community tastes: “Had his view on what constitutes the panacea for all the warlike manifestations among the nations of men been delivered in a more robust and manly fashion it would have created roars of laughter.” The Salt Lake Herald went further in its personal attack: “In the matter of his lecture he tells nothing that any tyro in art does not know. … Only in matters of exhibiting decidedly vulgar front teeth, and display-[p.14]ing an abundance of not even wavy hair, is he a success.”
Oscar Wilde by Sarony.
Photograph courtesy Bettman Archive.
It remained for the Salt Lake Tribune to come to Wilde’s defense: “He praised industry, simplicity, integrity, individuality and democracy; it is for the people and through the people that he would re-awaken the love of art. Nothing is to be despised. There is nothing unworthy of our attention. He would have the children taught to use their hands while their minds are forming. He would surround our handicraftsmen with the creations of art, and by thus furnishing them with the incitement and also with perfect designs, encourage them to make their [p.15] lives more rich and enjoyable. The way he was received by the art connoisseurs of your contemporaries proves that if there is anything refining and ennobling in art, there is plenty of occasion for the work Mr. Wilde has chosen. Finally, we should like to see the person in Salt Lake who can fill an hour more entertainingly than Oscar Wilde, on art or any other subject.” The Tribune also defended Wilde’s teeth, observing nothing offensive in them, and noted that it was not his fault that his hair did not curl.
Oscar Wilde died a very unaesthetic death in Paris in 1900. Had he lived on into the twentieth century, he would have seen the very vulgarities he warned against elevated to heights so extraordinary that even he, with his gift of imagination, would not have dreamed possible. To make wall paper that looks like marble was a sham, he lectured. In our time few objects are what they appear to be, though most are plastic. America, which had so much potential for honest creation according to Wilde, has made tackiness into a multi-billion dollar business since his death. Wilde advised artists not to paint landscapes on soup plates or to put fish and game on carpets (he felt like eating his dinner on the floor and walking on the crockery). If only he could have lived to see that the plate would become the most common destination for the image of American icons, from Elvis Presley to U.S. presidents to “the Duke.”
The result of making art a regular part of one’s life will be, as Wilde noted so many years ago, a fuller existence. Of course, it may render one incapable of eating off a plate with Elvis’s face on it. Enlightenment does not come without sacrifice.
Advertisement from the Salt Lake Daily Herald, 8 April 1882.