‘Friend of Russian Art’ who saved 24,000 pieces of art to speak at Russian monument initiative launch

Composite image featuring sculptor Michael Aaron Hall with artwork and Dr. Vern G. Swanson (inset), date and locations unspecified | Photo of Hall by Tanner Wilson at Sequoia Visuals, Swanson photo courtesy of Roger McEvoy, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Sears Art Museum is proud to welcome author, art critic and Director Emeritus of the Springville Art Museum, Dr. Vern G. Swanson, as he recounts his passionate mission to Russia to save 24,000 Soviet impressionist masterpieces from tragic demise.

St. George residents Mike and Kelsey Cutler, who first met in Yekaterinburg, Russia, will be hosting the event April 27 at the museum on the campus of Dixie State University beginning at 6:30.

In 1991, Swanson, who has served with distinction at the Springville Art Museum for 32 years, was walking through a Moscow art gallery when he stopped in his tracks. His eye caught a lovely painting that he thought was a refreshing contrast to the post-modern works his host was pushing but which was neglected on the floor.

In this discover, he had unwittingly scratched the surface of a vast treasure trove of Soviet impressionist and realist paintings, sculptures, etchings and more. The progressive mood in the USSR at the time was anti-Soviet, anti-propaganda and had condemned these works – many of them masterpieces – to the proverbial junk pile.

At the upcoming Sears Museum presentation, in his lively, entertaining style, Swanson will detail his adventures to Russia where he would eventually rescue art for world markets, including the 24,000 impressionist works.

By 2013, Russians not only had a change of heart but acknowledged his efforts by awarding him the Putin Prize for “Friend of Russian Art.”

Swanson’s visit to DSU is sponsored by Worldwide Family Statues, which is under the direction of Roger and Donna Stanley McEvoy, who are launching an initiative for support of a Russian monument for families.

The McEvoys, both 74 years old, started the nonprofit WFS as a result of their stint in Russia serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Scaled down version of statue by Michael Aaron Hall, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Roger McEvoy, St. George News

At the April 27 presentation, the McEvoys will unveil their plan for a one-of-a-kind effort between Americans and Russians to erect a 3-meter-tall bronze statue of a traditional Russian family in the city of Yekaterinburg, Russia – designed to provide inspiration and encouragement.

“I woke up one morning and told Roger, ‘We need to put a statue of a traditional family in Yekaterinburg,’” Donna McEvoy said. “We were curious about our new city so we scoured the internet. This historic, industrial municipality showed off its modernity in skyscrapers and its history in statues – imperial and Soviet monuments presiding over busy thoroughfares. We were impressed, but what about the people, these strangers we would live among? There were photos of military parades and children in school, but what about families?”

And why a statue? The idea came gradually, but Roger McEvoy said that art is “the perfect medium to edify and lift. It teaches without preaching. And in this case, it can endure for generations.”   

He said Swanson introduced the couple to Provo resident and sculptor Michael Aaron Hall, who decided to help them pursue this monumental task. Their plan calls for him to travel to Yekaterinburg, where he will team up with an artist from Moscow. Working in stages, they will create the statue using a Russian foundry and place the monument on site.

In Russia, the McEvoys have already engaged the services of Anatoly Tischenko, an established architect. Tischenko has been their “man on the ground,” identifying a studio, a foundry and possible sites for the placement of the finished work.

Swanson has been our hero,” Roger McEvoy said. “We’re thrilled to have his support. Now we need support from others. Those at my stage in life are looking for a legacy, a way to leave a contribution to mankind, something substantial beyond a donation to the Humane Society. Families are the future. What better grant to make?

He said WSF is designed to accept donations, and they welcome others to join in their cause. 

“There are plenty of good-hearted people our age who could support our cause. They have resources and would like to leave an enduring legacy. This is one.” 

For more information on Worldwide Family Statues, visit their website, call 435-754-4202 or email donna.stanley.mcevoy@gmail.com.

The presentation by Swanson is free and open to the community.

• S P O N S O R E D  C O N T E N T •

Event details

  • What: Sears Art Gallery presents Dr. Vern G. Swanson.
  • When: Dixie State University, 225 S. University Ave., St. George.
  • When: Saturday, April 27, 6:30 p.m.
  • Cost: Free.

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