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Museum to display paintings by Provo judge

Associated Press Published: September 6, 2012

PROVO, Utah (AP) — Judge Fred Howard left his black robes at home Friday when he and his wife, Carolyn, drove to the Springville Museum of Art to unload stacks of bubble-wrapped oil paintings.

Howard has served in Provo's 4th District Court for nearly two decades, and he worked as a lawyer for years before that. His more prominent recent cases include those of former American Fork treasurer Heidi Mitchell, who is accused of stealing from the city, and Gypsy Willis, who is connected to accused killer Martin MacNeill. But unlike many of his peers on the bench, Howard doesn't use golf to take his mind off the harrowing experience of judging people's crimes. Instead, he paints.

Beginning Saturday, Howard's paintings will be on display for "The Great Organ: Paintings of the Tabernacle Organ by Fred Howard." The exhibit will feature a total of 33 works that all depict the organ in the LDS Church's Salt Lake City Tabernacle.

"It's an iconic subject," Howard said Friday after dropping the paintings off at the museum. "It's so representative of the LDS Church."

Howard explained that the idea for the paintings occurred to him while watching the rehearsals of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Carolyn sings in the choir, Howard said, and as he watched he became more intrigued by the unique shape of the massive, 17,000-pipe instrument.

Howard eventually contacted the president of the choir and received unprecedented access to the tabernacle. He was able to paint small studies while inside the historic building, as well as take photographs, which he then used to develop larger pieces. The project gradually expanded until Howard decided the paintings should be donated to the tabernacle organists and their families.

"The paintings have more meaning to them because it's their legacy," Howard explained.

For Howard, the collection of paintings and the exhibit in Springville is the latest manifestation of what Howard pointed out was merely a "part-time" gig. According to Howard, his time in the legal system is intellectually rigorous and highly analytical. However, when he paints -- which he usually does at 5 a.m. in one of two spaces at his home -- he is forced to focus on his hand-eye coordination. The result, he said, is that painting allows him to focus briefly on art rather than law.

Howard went on to describe his art as highly collaborative, with Carolyn serving as his critic. For her part, she said she enjoys her husband's work, which he began producing about nine years ago. Carolyn also characterized Howard as a perpetual student of painting and noted that he has done extensive plein air work.

"There's not a second he wants to waste," she added.

But despite the unique skills his painting requires, Howard said there are surprising overlaps between his art and his work in court. Both require hard work and rigorous study, he said, and perhaps most importantly both require creativity.

"You really can't expect to excel by ignoring good principles," he said of his approach to art. "The law is very much the same."


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