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 John (J.B.) Boylston Fairbanks  (1855 - 1940)

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Lived/Active: Utah/New York / Canada      Known for: landscape painting, murals

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BIOGRAPHY for John Fairbanks
Facts/Data
Birth
1855 (Payson, Utah)
 
Death
1940 (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Lived/Active
Utah/New York / Canada




Often Known For
landscape painting, murals

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Painted in Latin America
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Payson, Utah, John Fairbanks was a painter, muralist, copyist and art educator who traveled extensively from his native state of Utah to study in Europe, explore the Southwest, direct a major archaeological expedition to Mexico and homestead in Canada.  As a painter he was known for his "glowing harvestscapes, a subject he knew well from his years of farming" (Dawdy, 84).  He also did many scenes of Zion National Park, where he spent four summers, and from 1920, he painted frequently in Bryce Canyon.

His father, John Fairbanks, was a Mormon bishop and Indian agent, and young John began painting by copying chromolithographs.  He was then given lessons by his friend John Hafen, landscape, portrait and figure painter, and they did much painting together around Ogden. Fairbanks also took many photographs on those excursions for later enlarging into paintings, and in 1884, he earned money by working as a photo enlarger in a photography shop.  He also did several portraits in crayon that earned him local attention as a skilled portraitist. However, words of encouragement were not earning him much money, which was discouraging because of expanding family, which eventually numbered seventeen children including several famous artists.

However, his studies in Paris led to the attention that ultimately established him as a noted American painter.  In 1891, at the recommendation of John Hafen, Fairbanks was commissioned to paint murals for the Mormon Temple. To prepare him for this assignment, Fairbanks was sent by the Church to the Julian Academy in Paris where he was much influenced by the Corot or Tonalist school of painting. Returning to Salt Lake City, he worked with other Utah painters who had also been sent to Paris, and together they decorated the walls of the Salt Lake Temple. In this endeavor, his associates were John Hafen, Will Clawson and Lorus Pratt, and the results of their studies in France injected much sophistication into the cultural climate of Utah including the formation of The Society of Utah Artists that sponsored exhibitions.

Fairbanks, along with Hafen, also taught at Brigham Young Academy at Provo.

To support his children including the future painter John Leo and sculptor Avard Tennyson, he continued to operate a photography studio in Provo.  He also did extensive traveling.

Part of an exploration party in 1900 as painter and photographer, John Fairbanks traveled throughout Arizona, southern Utah, Mexico, Central and South America.  In 1902, he became director of an archaeological trip to Mexico, Central, and South America.  This mission was sponsored by the Mormon Church to find proof of stories contained in the Book of Mormon.  In 1905, he homesteaded in Canada, but deciding to return to Utah, he became superintendent of art in Ogden, the first person to fill that position.

In Utah and in New York City, he tried to sell his copies of Old Master paintings, but this business failed, so he opened another art gallery and made enough money to travel in Europe with Avard until World War I brought them home.

Sources include:
Peggy and Harold Samuels, The Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of Artists of the American West
Vern Swanson, Utah Art
Doris Dawdy, Artists of the American West, Vol. I

Biography from Anthony's Fine Art:
John B. Fairbanks was born in Payson, Utah, on December 27, 1855.  His parents, John Boylston Fairbanks and Sarah Van Wagoner Fairbanks, crossed the plains with a Mormon wagon train in September of 1847.  Because he and his father shared the same name, he was referred to as J. B. by his family.

As a young boy, J. B.'s interest in art was apparent.  His mother owned two pictures she prized a great deal.  One was a steel engraving of Rosa Bonheur's Horse Fair, and the other was a print of an old family home in Massachusetts.  J. B.'s mother had the pictures stored safely in a trunk to preserve them.  J. B. was so interested in the pictures that he took every opportunity to examine them.  He handled them so often they began to show signs of wear.  His mother finally decided to hang the pictures in their home so J. B. could view them as much as he wanted without touching them.

Though he always loved art, it was not until J. B. was 18 years old that an experience moved him to choose art as his profession.  John Hafen, the well-known artist, moved to Payson and opened a studio.  At the time, J. B. was preoccupied by baseball; however, one day he visited John Hafen's studio and after seeing his works, he forgot baseball, and he focused his ambition on art.  He spent a great deal of time at Hafen's studio watching the artist, until one day, Hafen asked him to paint a picture.  J. B. painted a picture of an old Welsh castle that was so well executed, he had difficulty convincing his mother it was his own work.  When he finally did convince her it was his work, she was so pleased that, with tears in her eyes, she hugged him and cried: "John, you are an artist."  John Hafen became J. B.'s mentor and friend and remained so for the rest of his life.

J. B. worked for several years, often in conjunction with Hafen, painting landscapes of Utah and drawing portraits of such notable state figures as George Q. Cannon and Heber J. Grant.  Although he received praise for a number of his works, artistic success eluded him, and he worked at various jobs including enlarging photographs for George Edward Anderson and selling newspapers.

Fairbanks married Lilly Annetta Huish on June 24, 1877.  He also served a mission for the Mormon church to the Southern States Mission in 1881-1883.

One of the most important events in Utah art history occurred in 1890, when John Hafen and Lorus Pratt visited George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency of the LDS church to request funding to study art in France.  The artists had been called to paint murals in the soon-to-be-completed Salt Lake Temple and wished to receive better training before beginning.  The funding was granted and three artists were chosen to travel to France: John Hafen, Lorus Pratt, and J. B. Fairbanks.  The three were given $1,800 and were set apart by the church as "missionaries with a special purpose."

The three artists enrolled in the Academie Julian in 1890, where they studied figure drawing in the studio and landscape painting in the French countryside.  The approach of painting outdoors was new to the three Utah artists, but all enthusiastically embraced it.

J. B. studied with several artists including Rigelot, who painted in the French Rural Naturalist style using muted colors and tone.  Fairbanks also trained under Benjamin Constant, who was so pleased with J. B.'s improvement while in France, he suggested J. B. needed no further instruction in landscape painting.  While in Paris, J. B. painted a copy of the Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur that had so much influence on him as a child.  Then, with their studies completed, the three artists returned to Utah to direct the painting of the murals in the Salt Lake LDS temple.

After the murals in the Salt Lake temple were completed, Fairbanks traveled to Arizona to assist with the murals in the Mesa temple.  After the painting in the temples was completed, J.B. struggled for a time as an artist.  He was a Tonal Impressionist who, more than any other Utah Paris-trained artist, felt the necessity of painting "The Farm."  In spite of the relevance of his work to early Utah life, his exhibited paintings often were ignored or only faintly praised.

In addition to his limited artistic success, in 1898, his wife Lilly fell down the stairs while carrying their youngest son Avard.  She died, leaving J. B. with seven children to care for.  In 1900, he left his oldest son Leo and his daughter Nettie to care for the younger children while he traveled to South America.  The Cluff Archeological Expedition had hired him to sketch and photograph the travels of the group.  During his two years in South America, he found time to make numerous sketches from which he later produced beautiful paintings.

After his return, J. B. married Florence Gifford, and she bore him five more children.  Several of J. B.'s children followed their father into the art profession. Leo and Avard were the most successful and spent a great deal of money and effort in supporting their brothers and sisters when their father was gone or was not able to support them. 

Although J. B. continued to paint and sell pictures, he was from time to time, forced to take a position as a window dresser to get by.  Fairbanks also became an art educator, serving as art supervisor in Ogden where he replaced John Hafen.  He also taught at the LDS College in Salt Lake City, and was a board member of the Utah Art Institute.

J. B. continued to paint for the remainder of his life; finally, in the 20th Century he received some positive recognition, but never the success and fame he had obtained during his trip to France. 

After a life dedicated to art, J. B. Fairbanks passed away at the age of 85 in 1940.

Biography courtesy of the Springville Museum of Art

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