Painting with the dean

Around campus, it’s not unusual to see a University of Utah professor leading a painting class. But it’s not often that the instructor is a materials scientist or that the class takes place around the corner from a bank of seismograph equipment. In January, accomplished artist and College of Mines and Earth Sciences (CMES) Dean Darryl Butt led 15 students, faculty and staff in a landscape painting class called “Paint with the Dean.”

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Samantha Davis, CMES

Emily Kam with her painting.

Emily Kam, ASUU senator for CMES, organized the event to help participants explore art as a stress-relieving activity. She is a member of the student group Inclusive Earth, which promotes awareness of biases in science and mental health education. “I believe we all, especially students who have so many things to balance and manage, should be conscious of their mental health,” she said. “I wanted to create something for our college to help students with this very thing.”

Kam approached the college about organizing a de-stressing activity, and the college, in turn, looked to Butt who despite decades of painting experience had never before taught a class. Butt began taking art lessons as a child and said he’s had a painting in progress nearly constantly for about 15 years. “It’s therapeutic,” he said. “I paint while I’m listening to soccer.” Butt gives away paintings as they are completed, and his paintings can be found throughout the Sutton Building. One hangs in the CMES advising center.

Butt’s love of art and career in science have come together as he’s used laboratory techniques to analyze the chemical composition of pigments in historical artwork and has taught courses on the science of art. But the Paint with the Dean class was the first time he’d ever taught the techniques of oil painting.

PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Samantha Davis, CMES

CMES dean Darryl Butt teaches oil painting techniques.

On Jan. 18, 2019, in the Student Epicenter on the ground floor of the Sutton Building, Butt and 15 eager participants sat at easels, turned on soft music and picked up their paintbrushes. With Butt’s encouragement and instruction, each student painted their interpretation of a mountain scene featuring far-off blue and purple peaks and a bright flower-covered hillside.

“I was able to let go of so much anxiety, stress, and frustration as I sat and painted,” Kam said. Her painting now hangs in her home above her desk. She hopes other colleges and departments can organize similar events, drawing on their unique talents and character to help decrease stress and promote mental health.

How did Dean Butt enjoy his first turn as an art teacher? “It was a blast,” he said. “I was amazed at the talent that we have in the college.  We’re planning to do it again in the spring.”

Click here to watch an excerpt from the class.