New U. gallery honors famed portrait artist Alvin Gittins and celebrates new era

March 01 2023

On March 13, 2023, the University of Utah Department of Art & Art History will open the doors to its new 2,360 square-foot Alvin Gittins Gallery with an exhibition called “Return,” featuring alumni from the department who have gone on to thrive in their respective disciplines.

With its relocation from the ART Building to the Film & Media Arts Building (FMAB: 370 S 1530 E, Salt Lake City, UT 84112), the new Gittins Gallery will become an even more prominent anchor in the U’s visual arts corridor on campus along with the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the Departments of Art & Art History and Film & Media Arts.

The opening will be celebrated with a public event on March 23, 2023 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. and will feature works from alumni from various disciplines within the department including: Art Teaching, Book Arts, Ceramics, Graphic Design, Illustration, Painting and Drawing, Photography, Printmaking and Sculpture.

Retrofitted to be a state-of-art facility, the new gallery boasts two new video/installation spaces, an additional small gallery in the foyer, more square footage, energy efficient lighting, movable walls, restrooms located adjacent, kitchen for catering, ADA accessibility, adjustable climate control and sound control. This new space will allow for more contemporary and experimental works to be created with an eye to future possibilities for artists — both for students and professional — to grow and expand their research.

The thing that will remain the same — thanks to the generosity of the Wheatley family — is the name, which celebrates one of America’s most beloved portrait artists, Alvin Gittins, who was appointed to the faculty in 1947 and served as the chair of the department from 1956-1962.

Gittins was an advocate of academic realism who practiced a rigorous technical approach to teaching and who received the Distinguished Service Awards in Arts and Letters in 1976 and the Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters Distinguished Service Award in Arts and Letters 1980.

As the university’s artist in residence, he painted 89 portraits of individuals connected to the university including presidents, researchers, scientists, physicians, and artists. 

Beyond the university, he painted prominent individuals in the arts including Mary Lois Wheatley, a former student and patron of the arts, Utah symphony Maestro Maurice Abravanel, Utah Governors Scott Matheson, Calvin Rampton, and US Senator Frank Moss. He also painted Latter-day Saint Church president David O. McKay and what is perhaps the most well know portrait of the Church Founder Joseph Smith. 

Perhaps his greatest legacy being his influence as a committed teacher.  He provided students a strong foundation in the principles of art, a fundamental knowledge of anatomy, and most importantly, a commitment to authenticity.  He encouraged his students to find their own voices — a paramount mission of the University of Utah College of Fine Arts.

“Return” artists:

Art Teaching
Josh Graham (MFA ‘19)
Dianne Sanchez Shumway (BFA ‘10)

Book Arts
Cory Cooper (BS ‘19)
Sara Jensen (CRU ‘16)

Vanessa Romo (BFA ‘12, MFA ‘17)
Brad Taylor (BFA ‘88)

Graphic Design
J.P. Haynie (BFA ‘14)
Nick Mendoza (MFA ‘11)

Dung Hoang (BFA ‘92)
Micah Player 

Painting and Drawing 
Connie Borup (BFA ‘72, MFA ‘92)
Ben Duke (BFA ‘02)
Denis Phillips (BFA ‘62)
Mary Lois Wheatley (BFA ‘48)

Abbey Hepner (BFA ‘08)
Nancy Rivera (MFA ‘16)

Stephanie Dykes (BFA ‘03, MFA ‘10)
Amber Heaton (BFA ‘09)


Ephraim (BFA ‘03), Kiersten and Raivo Puusemp
Justin Watson (BFA ‘14, MFA ‘16)

Learn more about the Department of Art & Art History here and the College of Fine Arts here