Jacque Baker

Artist of the Save Brigham Young Academy Print


BY Academy by Jacque Baker

Artist Joins Effort to Save
BY Academy Building

By Jeff McClellan
Date of article: March 1996

When Utah artist Jacque Baker stumbled onto the Brigham Young Academy Education Building in August 1995, she had no idea her talents would become a part of the latest -- and perhaps last -- effort to save the 104 year-old structure.

Baker was in Provo to sign prints of her Utah centennial painting during Education Week, and while driving around she happened upon the Academy -"a beautiful old woman that needed her face lifted and then could be gorgeous again," she says. Sitting on the beehive fountain in front of the Academy, the artist looked at the building and cried.

"I have a heart for old buildings," says Baker, who spent several years buying and restoring old homes, including the 120-year-old Victorian in Santa Cruz, California, that she still owns.

About 10 years ago, Baker turned her creative efforts from restoring buildings to painting. In her art, she combines her love of architecture with her years of needlepoint to create a style that has grabbed the attention of many, including Clint Eastwood, a Japanese amusement park, and Pebble Beach Resort.

Baker's works often focus on historical landmarks, so when she found the Academy, it was only natural to begin work on a painting.

"I didn't know why I was painting it," Baker says. "I just knew that I loved that building."

As she began researching the Academy, she soon found herself talking to the great-grandson of Abraham O. Smoot, the "financial father" of Brigham Young Academy. Besides being A.O. Smoot's descendant, L. Douglas Smoot is the former dean of BYU's College of Engineering and Technology and just happens to be heading up the most recent effort to save the Academy.

Sold by BYU in 1975, the Academy has spent the last 20 years bouncing between various owners who have tried to make something of the four buildings, which weather and vandalism have slowly deteriorated.

In 1994, Provo City bought the block, but a preservation easement prevented the buildings from being torn down. Now the city is embroiled in a legal battle to have the easement annulled.

Smoot, however, is leading a major effort to convince the city that the Academy--or at least part of it--can be saved. When he and Baker met, the two collaborated their efforts.

"The building deserves to be saved," says Baker of the Education Building, the main Academy building. Baker delved into books, pictures, archives, and interviews to research the Academy. "A lot of old buildings do not deserve to be saved. This one not only is a beautiful old building, but it has history--history that's pertinent and relevant to the town and the university and the Church."

Baker shares that history through her painting, which includes the wooden stairs that led to Upper Campus in the early 1900s, the Y on the mountain, and many other minute details, including the state bird, tree, animal, flower, and flag.

She also painted the birch trees planted by two young daughters of an early Academy leader.

"One tree was to be planted on either side of the entrance to the Academy," Baker says. But when the youngest daughter learned her tree wouldn't be next to her sister's, she began to cry. "So they ended up planting both birch trees side-by-side."

The painting features the Education Building and the first three buildings of Upper Campus. Sitting on the beehive fountain is Joseph Don Carlos Young, the Education Building's architect, and on the street are Brigham Young, Karl G. Maeser, and Abraham O. Smoot.

"Abraham Smoot spent his entire fortune saving this building," Baker says, "and he was such an admirable man--a human dynamo."

A.O. Smoot was the first president of the Brigham Young Academy Board of Trustees, from 1875 until his death in 1895. A successful entrepreneur and Church leader, Smoot sustained the Academy through those difficult early years. When he died, much of his estate was sold to pay the many personal notes he had signed to build the building and to keep the Academy afloat.

Smoot's great-grandson discovered his ancestor's legacy while writing a book on him. "Having seen A.O. Smoot's efforts gave me another incentive to try to save the Academy. I love Provo and this university, and that was already enough incentive."

To save the Academy, Doug Smoot realized two things: The building must be used for a public purpose, and it must be a purpose the city needs and will help pay for.

Smoot found his project in the Provo City Library at Academy Square, which is in need of a larger facility. To pay for a new or expanded library, the city has planned to spend $4 million--$4 million Smoot would like to see used to help renovate the Academy to be the library's new home.

To prove such a renovation is possible, the BY Academy Foundation has raised $50,000 for an extensive feasibility study. Designed with help from the city council and the library board, the study is examining the Education Building and College Hall to determine if the buildings can "measure up to some very exacting requirements to be an ultra-modern, high-tech library," Smoot says.

The study is scheduled to be finished by March 16. If the results indicate such a renovation is feasible, Smoot will go before the library board and the city council in April to present his case.

If the project is approved, Provo City voters must authorize a $4 million bond, and Smoot and the Academy Foundation must raise the rest of the estimated $1012 million required for renovation.

"The money's out there," says Shirley Paxman, secretary-treasurer of the foundation. "People love those buildings. All over the United States people love them, and the money's there."

And that's where Baker and her painting come into the plan. Prints of the painting will sell for $40, or $70 with Baker's signature, to raise funds for the project. The BYU Alumni Association is helping to sell the prints, but Smoot emphasizes that the Alumni Association will retain the proceeds until the project is approved by the city. If the effort fails, the funds will go to the Alumni Association's Replenishment Grant Scholarship Fund.

Having been involved with nearly every effort to save the Academy over the past 20 years, Paxman sees real promise in the library project because there is community support.

Smoot agrees. "One of the nice things about this project is there's broad cooperation and participation with Provo City and the citizens and the BY Academy Foundation."

"All it takes is money and time," Baker says. "And money is nothing. Money will be spent on far-less-worthy projects."



Thanks to: Brigham Young Magazine, March 1996


L. D. Smoot Historical Footnote:
It was in September of 1995 that I commissioned the Academy Square painting by Jacque Baker with the intent to make and sell prints, small post cards and note cards to promote awareness of and raise funds for this new preservation effort. The painting was completed and an unveiling luncheon was held on December 23, 1995, to celebrate the occasion and to promote the Academy preservation project.

I had originally scheduled this luncheon to be held on the BYU campus. Then I received a very surprising and greatly disturbing phone call from BYU Vice President Brad Farnsworth, indicating that we were not to hold this event on the BYU campus. I pressed him, indicating that campus facilities were open for such political groups as Republicans, Democrats and city organizations. He then retreated from his hard position and requested we not hold the event on campus.

I honored this request but, through the whole preservation process, I neither sensed nor received publicly declared support or encouragement from BYU's central administration, even though strong financial support and encouragement were forthcoming from the First Presidency, as well as the BYU Alumni Association. Presidents Rex E. Lee and Merrill J. Bateman personally contributed financially.

The Utah Historical Quarterly displayed a reproduction of the Baker painting on the cover of its Summer 1996 issue.

The Jacque Baker painting shows Karl Maeser, Abraham O. Smoot and Brigham Young (L-R), the historic Academy gates on the left and right, the architect Joseph Don Carlos Young sitting on the Beehive Fountain, the artist on a bicycle, the state flag, bird, tree, animal and flower, and the old wood staircase to the Upper Campus buildings (Maeser, Brimhall and Grant). The artist explained that the rainbow to the Y on the mountain, with the proverbial pot of gold, was symbolic of the prosperity of BYU.

by L. Douglas Smoot, in The Miracle at Academy Square

Artist paints what she wants ~
with heart

By Dave Gagon
Deseret News visual arts writer
May 1997
Jacque Baker sees everything like it was pie dough, rolled out flat.

``You can't learn to see that way,'' she says. ``You either do or you don't.'' It's this ability to visualize things in a vertical plane that allows Baker to create her captivating folk art city/landscapes.

``I see the finished painting before I even start, so it's just a matter of sitting down for a month and painting it.''

As a novice elementary teacher in California in the early '60s, Baker discovered to her dismay - that she couldn't tolerate children in large groups. ``I love them individually,'' she says, laughing, ``but groups of them make me very nervous.'' Resigning from her teaching post, Baker put an innate love and ability to decorate to use as an interior designer, creating a thriving business during the California building boom. She spent the next 20 years decorating large medical and professional buildings.

After selling the business, Baker moved to Santa Cruz, Calif., purchased an old Victorian house and began renovating. When the house was completed, Baker became bored for lack of any creative outlet. ``So I got some books on color, a subject that had always interested me. As I read, I created a working manual on color. Eventually I began painting. That was 15 years ago,'' she says. ``I don't think I've looked up since.''

Like every passion, painting became a compulsion for Baker. Once she started she was painting 10 to 12 hours every day. Sometimes she'd paint through the night.

She was so overjoyed with her first painting that Baker applied the marketing skills acquired during her business years to create posters, postcards, cups, puzzles and more from the individual work. (She has done this with every painting since). ``The stuff is still selling in Santa Cruz by the carloads,'' she says. Virtually a one-woman show for years, Baker now allows her sister to run the marketing of her prints in Utah, giving Baker more time to paint.

Before starting a painting, Baker does extensive research into the history of the area she is going to render in acrylic and oil paint. In addition to the finished work, she writes a condensed history of the buildings and landmarks in her painting so people get a richer feel for the locale. ``I don't do fantasy,'' she says. ``Every building relates to the story and actually existed.''

When Baker started out, she only painted subjects that interested her. Today she fills her time with commissions from all over the world. In one, ``Western World in Japan,'' Baker was flown to Japan only to discover bare buildings as her subject.

``The company that commissioned the painting knew I had a background in interior design so they asked me to not only paint the picture but to decorate it: paint the buildings the color I saw, paint what I wanted in the windows, paint little signs like in front of the sheriff's office where it says `reward' on the posters, hitching posts, all the things that existed in a western atmosphere.'' Later the company sent her photographs showing they'd made the village exactly the way she'd painted it.

A part-time resident of West Point, Utah, Baker moved there to care for her aging father, Capt. Devere Baker, of the raft Lehi fame. She spends half the year here in a beautifully renovated and tastefully decorated home and half a year at her residence in Santa Cruz. But no matter where she is, Baker continues to paint her way, according to her unique vision.

``You don't want to fool around with the way you see,'' she says. ``It's a naive vision, and you can't let others fiddle with it. I'm fortunate I don't have to do this as a living. I'm a purist. I paint what I want to paint and I paint it with my heart.''

Thanks to Deseret News, Friday, May 23, 1997.


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