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New U gallery honors famed portrait artist Alvin Gittins

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, 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 5-7 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, a 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 professionals—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, Gittins painted prominent individuals in the arts including Mary Lois Wheatley, a former student and patron of the arts; Utah Symphony Maestro Maurice Abravanel; Utah Govs. Scott Matheson and Calvin Rampton; and U.S. Sen. Frank Moss. He also painted The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President David O. McKay and what is perhaps the most well-known portrait of the church founder Joseph Smith.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is his influence as a committed teacher. He provided students with 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 (B.S. ‘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.