The story of the valuable art collection at Lehi High School begins with two Lehi painters in the late 19th Century. James T. Harwood and Edwin Evans grew up in Lehi back when there was an adobe fort wall surrounding the city. Harwood was mentored by prominent Utah artists Danquart A. Weggeland and Alfred Lambourne, who encouraged him to study in Paris, which he did beginning in 1888. Harwood became the first LDS artist to have a painting exhibited in the Paris Salon. Probably his most recognizable painting is “Christ Calling Peter and Andrew.”
In 1890, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent five promising young artists, set apart as missionaries, to Paris to perfect their technique. Edwin Evans was one of those five artists. He returned to Utah in 1892 and in 1893 Evans won Honorable Mention for his painting “Wheat Fields” at the Chicago World’s Fair. Evans and the other missionary artists used their talents to paint murals inside the LDS temples. Evans painted murals in the Salt Lake Temple as well as the Cardston Alberta Temple.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the graduating seniors at Lehi High School gave the school paintings by Harwood and Evans (as well as one of Floyd E. Breinholt’s paintings) for their senior gift. The collection grew to include 32 paintings which were displayed around the high school in the halls and the library for many years.
One painting in particular, “Old Fort Wall” by James T. Harwood, was a favorite of Russell Felt’s when he was a member of the faculty of Lehi High and Lehi Junior High. “Old Fort Wall” depicts the adobe wall that surrounded Lehi City and Harwood painted it before he studied in Paris. Lehi and Harwood are a long way from their humble beginnings. All that is left of the Fort Wall are a few chunks of rock on Center Street in Lehi, with a plaque explaining what it used to be. Another of Harwood’s paintings in the Lehi High School collection, “Ninth Bridge Right Bank Paris,” shows the skill and sophistication he gained from studying abroad.
During Russell Felt’s time as principal at Lehi High School there were thefts of art in high schools in Central Utah. Lehi’s art collection was moved to the school library for added security. In the 1990s, all the paintings were sent to the Springville Art Museum to be cleaned and repaired. “Old Fort Wall” had been damaged and was most in need of repair. When Russell retired in 2001, all the paintings were back up in the library on display.
In 2015 the Felts happened to be in the library at Lehi High School for an event when Russell noticed that only two of the 32 paintings were still on display. Felt discovered that most of the paintings were haphazardly stored in a custodial closet at the high school. He began working with Sari Sorenson, artist and Assistant Principal at Lehi High School, to insure the collection and to find a way to display them as a collection somewhere in Lehi. Sorenson remembers a custodian actually approaching her asking if the art should be thrown away! Estimated value of the collection is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
All of the paintings are now in a bank vault awaiting their final home. The Lehi Historical Society is responsible for the care, maintenance, and inventory of the remarkable collection.