Richard LeRoy Gunn

Art Teacher, Publications Adviser
Religion Teacher, Art History Professor
& Author

Richard L. Gunn, BYH Faculty 1948-1954

Richard L. Gunn, BYH Faculty

Brigham Young High School Faculty 1948-1954

In 1948, Richard L. "Dick" Gunn arrived as a new faculty member at Brigham Young High School, at the young age of 30. The school year of 1948-49 was his first on the Lower Campus. For six years he taught assignments in art and religion, and he served as the faculty adviser to the student newspaper, the Y'ld Cat, and the annual, The Wildcat. His final school year at BYH was 1953-1954.

His BYH students loved him. One, Richard C. Bryson of the BYH Class of 1955, wrote this to his class: "I was not a member of the Church when I started attending BY High, but your influence and the teaching shared with us in the religion classes brought about a major change in my life. Because of Brother Richard L. Gunn's special influence in my life, he baptised me and I'm so grateful."

Richard Gunn was born in 1918, and raised in Salt Lake City. His parents were Benjamin LeRoy "LeRoy" Gunn and Fanny Louise Ensign Gunn.

His career in art began in the fourth grade, he said, when he made a sketch of Abraham Lincoln, which his teacher recognized as good work. His interest increased with each year, and he graduated from high school in SLC in 1935.

He enrolled at the University of Utah where he studied for two years, including taking art classes from Lee Greene Richards. He interrupted his studies to serve an LDS mission in Hawaii for several years.

While in Hawaii he wrote letters home to both his parents and his girlfriend, Jeanne, describing his missionary experiences. Early in his mission, he said his parents were startled to learn that he had been living on a different island for many weeks. Somehow, he had failed to mention the transfer in his letters home.

Reading between the lines of his mother's next letter, he could tell that his parents were hurt. They had made many sacrifices to send him on a mission, and Gunn felt sad that he had made them feel left out.

Writing everything three times, once in his journal, then to his parents, and again to his girlfriend, he found tiring. As the months passed, his accounts became more and more sketchy.

Then he had an idea. He began to use carbon paper to duplicate his diary entries. Even though he spent less time writing, his journal grew rapidly. His parents were delighted with the additional details, and they told him that they felt more involved in my mission. He felt he also became a better missionary because he analyzed his own progress each day as he wrote.

He also served as editor of the mission's monthly newsletter.

The attack on Pearl Harbor came about half way through his mission. He was serving on the island of Maui at the time. They were standing by the ocean that night when a submarine surfaced about 30 feet from where they were standing, and fired shells over their heads.

Blackouts were required of everyone, and it is not easy to get much done in total darkness. That night they heard a knock on their door. When they opened it they saw two policemen. The police asked if they were Mormon missionaries. When they replied "Yes" the police asked the missionaries if they would go on patrol with them.

The police said they felt they could trust Mormon missionaries, and they really needed help. That night they went on patrol with the police. While on patrol they saw sparks flying up in the air, and in their missionary attire they crawled through the jungle landscape to check it out. It turned out to be two loose electrical wires bumping in the wind.

The attack came on Sunday, December 7, 1941. Elder Gunn was to transfer to Honolulu on Saturday, but they were working on painting a church and needed to finish it, so the flight was changed to Monday. He arrived in Honolulu the day after the attack. The airport runway was full on holes and many hangers were destroyed.

He had never before seen a tank in Hawaii, but upon arrival in Honolulu he saw dozens of tanks patrolling the streets.

While serving in Honolulu the missionaries were enlisted to work about 8 hours a day in a government program to fingerprint everyone on the island. At the same time a person was fingerprinted, they had to declare their nationality. They were still doing fingerprinting in April 1942.

Missionary work changed drastically. If they had a cottage meeting or were meeting with a someone interested in the Church at night, they couldn't return home because they were under curfew and couldn't be out at night. They sometimes had to stay overnight at the home where they were teaching.

The windows of all airplanes were painted black and so on transfers, no one could see outside. Everyone was issued gas masks and on transfers very little luggage could be taken, so they packed razors and toothbrushes, in their gas masks.

Gunn observed that the Japanese-American youth of Hawaii who were of military age were anxious to enter the service, but the government wouldn't allow it until finally they decided to go ahead after hearing so many stories of the loyalty of these people. Those who entered the military were not involved in the war with Japan, but were transferred to Europe.
Richard L. Gunn & Jeanne Wright Gunn, Nov 1942

Richard Gunn returned home from his mission and married Jeanne Wright on November 19, 1942 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Her parents were Walter Wright and Emily Jeremy Wright, also of Salt Lake City. Richard and Jeanne were married in the SLC temple by Joseph F. Smith, Patriarch, and their wedding breakfast was held in the Lion House social center. [Jeanne later authored a family history: With Thy Might: A biography of Walter Wright.] They had six children (see below).

Gunn joined the U.S. Army, first attending the Army Training School at BYU. Eventually he served with the Army engineers in India during World War II. His deep interest in art led him to take photographs and make sketches overseas, from which he created paintings upon his return home. He attended the McCune School of Art & Music for one quarter, before he transferred his art studies to BYU.

Now a BYU student, he studied art under the legendary teacher Bent Franklin "B. F." Larsen. He earned his BS in Art from BYU in 1947. Before graduating in 1947, Superintendent Moffitt offered him a job at Dixon Junior High School while he continued to work on his degree. He was later persuaded to accept the position of curator of the Springville Art Museum for a year, September 1947 to June 1948, during which time he taught art at Springville High School. In September of 1948 he joined the BYU faculty, teaching art and religion at Brigham Young High School.

While teaching at BYH, he worked on his masters degree in the summers, and received his MS in Art from BYU in 1950. He continued his summer studies at Stanford University, where he received a PhD in 1955. At that point Dr. Gunn became a professor on the Art Department faculty at BYU, teaching college students.

In 1981, his book, A Search for Sensitivity & Spirit, was published by Deseret Book.
Search for Sensitivity & Spirit, R L Gunn, 1981

Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of BYU, wrote in his foreword that this book "is an adventure into the spirit of things - especially into the human spirit - as we wake and walk and talk and live. It deals, among other things, with children, and with nature, and with art. It reveals to us the great impact that creativity and sensitivity and wonder can have on our religious life."

Salomon Aranda, a brilliant Utah artist and outstanding teacher, a contemporary of Dr. Gunn, enjoyed telling a story about Gunn. He said he mentioned Dr. Gunn's name in a conversation with a friend -- his friend worked as a plumber on the BYU campus. Aranda said this man emphatically told him "In my opinion, Professor Dick Gunn is as crazy as a bedbug!" Taken aback, Aranda asked his friend why he had arrived at that conclusion.

His friend said that one morning he received a call to come and fix a water leak in the Harris Fine Arts Center. He grabbed his tool box and hurried to the location described. When he arrived, the plumber said he found Professor Gunn totally absorbed in observing the water as it spread slowly over a large wall of bare concrete.

When he opened his tool box and began to work, Dr. Gunn noticed him, and asked him if he would mind returning later; Gunn wanted to watch the whole process that was unfolding before his eyes.

Scratching his head, and perhaps rolling his eyes, the plumber retreated for an hour or so. When he returned, Dr. Gunn was still there, now with a group of students, all studying the water spreading over the wall.

The plumber was finally able to return to fix the leak in the late afternoon. Aranda finished his story by saying that perhaps only a person with an artistic nature could have understood what Dr. Gunn was doing.

Gunn was named Professor of the Year at BYU in 1972. He spent a total of 35 years at BYU, inspiring countless students through his graphics and art history classes, until he retired in 1990.

One of his students nominated him as one of her all-time favorite professors at BYU. The following is from her letter of nomination:
I had some wonderful professors during my stint at BYU, but my most influential and favorite, would have to be Richard Gunn, professor of art history.

I wasn't even interested in art history when I signed on with Professor Gunn, but needed a fine arts class, and Art History 101 fit my schedule.

Once the class started, it didn't take long before we were all smitten with Professor Gunn's love of art, love of his students, and general zest for life. His efforts to imbue in his students a love of great art worked their magic on me and have enriched my life to this day.

I remember a particular day in the late 70s when our class found out that Prof. Gunn had been diagnosed with cancer in his leg and was absent from the class for a short time in order to undergo surgery. We were all surprised that he was only absent a couple of days.

As I sat and listened to his lecture on the day of his return, I noticed that his wife was sitting in the front of the classroom. Prof. Gunn, never one to sit still during a class, sat on a stool at the front of the class with his crutches at his side.

At one point, he neglected to grab his crutches when he got up and his wife, camera in hand, jumped up and took his picture as he stood before the class on his injured leg.

We later found out that she was going to use the picture as evidence that he was disobeying doctor's orders! There was no keeping this man from doing what he loved most--sharing his love of art.
--Laurie Holmes Smith, BYU ’76, Safford, Arizona
Another leader in the Utah art community, Kandace Steadman, credits Gunn with changing her life:
Have you ever tossed a small pebble into a pond and watched as the ripples extend out seemingly forever? The Utah Museum of Art at 125 South Main Street is a relatively new and small organization but it is making its presence felt and generating big waves in the Utah art scene.

Executive Director Kandace Steadman is the driving force behind all of the action.

Kandace Steadman was born in Salt Lake City to parents who were involved with theater and music, but not necessarily the visual arts. “I am a product of ‘road shows’ and can probably hum or quote lyrics from most musicals dating back from the 1970s,” reveals Steadman.

“I went to BYU with the intention of studying interior design. I had registered for an art history class with Dr. Richard Gunn and fell in love with the topic.

“I distinctly remember standing on the quad at BYU when I decided to change my major to art history -- as a freshman no less -- and feeling a visceral, internal shift take place inside of me. It's as if one set of doors had closed and another opened.”

Steadman stayed at BYU, and earned a masters degree in educational administration. Employment took her to Washington DC, where she lived and worked for 12 years.

Eight of those years were blissful times working at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, where she worked in a variety of departments, gaining valuable museum management and operation skills.

“My favorite position was as assistant curator of education, where I ran a literary series and also put together a series about women chefs in Washington, DC and their sources of inspiration.”
Visiting Richard Gunn’s home is an experience in visual stimulation, according to one visitor. His rooms are filled with fascinating artifacts from places he has visited.

For 51 years Richard L. Gunn traveled to almost every country in the world. The shelves in his library are filled with fat journals containing detailed accounts and photos of his trips.

He enthusiastically introduced others to various corners of the world by directing groups for the BYU Study Abroad program or LDS Travel.

The world opened to Gunn through his travels, and he consequently developed a personal philosophy that he has applied to all aspects of his life.

While at BYU, Gunn took to heart the suggestion of a favorite teacher, Joseph K. Nicholes, who counseled, “Don’t hesitate to go the second mile.”

At the time, Gunn said he knew the principle, believed it, but really hadn’t used it.

“Doors and opportunities were opened for me throughout my life when I applied that principle,” he later recalled.

Gunn’s first wife, E. Jeanne Wright Gunn, born February 24, 1919, passed away from cancer on December 21, 1989.

Dick Gunn & Jeanine D. Gunn - 1990
Dick Gunn & Jeanine D. Gunn

Richard Gunn married Jeanine Done on December 8, 1990 in the Provo Temple. Since Dick Gunn lost his total vision in 1989, his family says that Jeanine has been an "extra special angel" taking very good care of him. They continue to reside in Provo.

Dr. Richard L. Gunn, Professor Emeritus in Art History at BYU, spent a considerable amount of time at the computer preparing vignettes of his life to share with his family. Source.

Dr. Gunn has delighted in attending class reunions of Brigham Young High School, where he is always an honored guest. Dr. Gunn attended the all-classes BYH reunion in September 2010. One alumnus who greeted him was Elder Dallin Oaks [BYH Class of 1950].

When Dr. Gunn informed Elder Oaks that he has been totally blind for the past 2 1/2 years, after gradually losing his vision because of glaucoma, Elder Oaks observed that the blind still see, but in a different way, and Dr. Gunn agreed.

Perhaps only a person with a spiritual and artistic nature could have fully understood what they were saying.

Dr. Richard L. Gunn, BYU Art History Professor

Dr. Richard L. Gunn, BYU Art History Professor

The six children of Richard L. Gunn and Jeanne Wright Gunn:

Katherine Luana "Kathy" or "Kaye" Gunn [BYH Class of 1961], (Wilford H. Roberts), Provo, Utah.

Elizabeth "Betty Jeanne" Gunn [PHS Class of 1963] (Gerald V. Witkowski), Amarillo Texas.

Richard Jackson "Rick" Gunn Valdez [BYH Class of 1966], (Laura Gomez), San Ysidro, California.

Thomas Jeremy "Jeremy" Gunn [PHS Class of 1970], (Amal Idrissi), Casablanca, Morroco.

Becky Bea Gunn [PHS Class of 1973] (James B. Barton) Riverton, Utah.

Candy Gunn [PHS Class of 1975], (Patrick W. Jackson) Orem, Utah.

In Memoriam

Richard L. Gunn, 1918 ~ 2013
Richard LeRoy Gunn traveled extensively to every continent showing its beauties and teaching world cultures to countless people.

On March 28, 2013, at 94 years of age, he traveled on to his next great adventure.

He was born on September 28, 1918 to Benjamin LeRoy and Fanny Louise Ensign Gunn in Salt Lake City.

He served a mission to Hawaii, and the spirit of Hawaii stayed with him throughout his life. Pearl Harbor was attacked while on his mission, and he enlisted in the Army upon his return, serving in the mapping unit of the 948th Army Engineer Corps during World War II.

He married Jeanne Wright in 1942 and they had 6 children- Kathy, Elizabeth, Rick, Jeremy, Becky and Candy.

He received a doctorate in art education from Stanford. He was a well-loved professor of art and master teacher at BYU for 34 years. In 1972 he was recognized as Professor of the Year.

He had a tremendous impact on those he came in contact with. He was an avid, diehard BYU sports fan, attending games long after he lost his sight.

As a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he served in various capacities including Bishop and served on the Young Men's General Board for over 20 years.

He was preceded in death by Jeanne, his dedicated wife of 47 years who passed away from cancer. He later married Jeanine Done Hansen, his devoted wife of 22 years, who gave tender loving care to him in his failing years.

He is loved and remembered by their combined 12 children and spouses, and their 53 grandchildren and 57 great grandchildren.

Funeral services were held at Oak Hills Hillside Chapel, 1960 North 1500 East, Provo, Utah on Friday, April 5th, 2013. Interment, East Lawn Memorial Hills Cemetery. The family suggested donations to the Church Perpetual Education Fund. [Provo Daily Herald, April 2, 2013]

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