Thursday, October 30, 2014

Franklin S. Harris and the Fine Arts

Franklin S. Harris and the Fine Arts

I think I speak for all my cousins in saying that we are honored to be here to 
help celebrate the fine arts at BYU and the contribution of Franklin S. Harris 
to the fine arts.  The BYU legacy is alive in the Harris family.  All of his 
children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren have graduated from BYU.  
There are currently at least five great grandchildren who are students at BYU 
and numerous great great grandchildren. Three great grandsons are currently 
working or teaching on campus.

Prior to becoming president of BYU in 1921 Harris was an agronomist and 
scientist at Utah State Agricultural College in Logan.  More than one person has 
asked why the Harris Fine Arts Center was named for this scientist.  I think 
there are two main reasons.

Harris was a personal patron of the arts.  Shortly after Harris's death B.F. 
Larsen sent some notes to Herald R. Clark in which he quoted Harris as saying, 
"I use my knowledge of science to make a living, but through my interest in art 
I live."  In an abridged version, this saying has been used a number of times. 
Whether he actually said it or not, it certainly characterizes his philosophy. 
As BYU president he attended more arts events than athletic events, which 
probably could not be said of any president since. While traveling, which was 
frequently, he always visited museums and art galleries and attended the theater 
and concert halls.  The amazing thing was that many years later he would 
remember a specific work of art that he had seen. Harris liked to listen to the 
Texaco Metropolitan Opera on the radio on Saturday mornings.  He would be 
disappointed to know that KBYU-FM no longer carries the Metropolitan Opera in 
its programming.  At one point he
 even wrote a letter to the Texaco Company in which he said that whenever he 
listed to the opera it made him want to rush out and buy Texaco gasoline.  His 
children, however, did not remember that he ever bought Texaco gasoline.

In addition to his personal support of the arts, Harris was a great supporter of 
the arts at BYU.  In the 1920s it was very unusual for a university to have a 
curriculum in the fine arts.  Within a few years after his arrival at BYU he 
established the College of Fine Arts with Gerrit deJong as dean.  It was the 
first such college in the western U.S.  With the help of Herald R. Clark he 
brought numerous performers to this small backwater college.  A niece who was 
raised by the Harrises said, "I can remember the many artists of every kind that 
Uncle Frank lured to the Y.  He was very persuasive." In addition to supporting 
the performing arts he acquired about seven hundred art works and had them hung 
in the offices, halls, and classrooms.  In that day the entire campus was Lower 
Campus (where the Provo City Library now is) and a couple of buildings on the 
point of the hill. Finances were tight, but he had a clever way of acquiring 
art.  He gave tuition
 credit to family and friends of artists in exchange for paintings.  Several of 
Minerva Teichert's paintings were acquired in this way.

I sent a copy of this year's fine arts brochure to a cousin on the east coast 
who has had little contact with BYU.  She was thoroughly impressed with the 
quality of the brochure itself and with the quality of the performance offerings 
at BYU.  I think Harris himself would be pleased and impressed with what has 
been built on the foundation he laid for the fine arts at BYU. The entire 
community has been blessed by this growth. At the close of his administration 
Harris is reported to have said, "After all, I think my greatest accomplishment 
is what we have done with the fine arts."  

Janet Jenson
Founder's Luncheon , BYU, 14 Oct. 2014