Gerald Griffin has been gallery director at Ricks College and BYU-Idaho since 1990 and oversees the permanent art collection and university art acquisition.
Griffin said the acquisition of art on campus started about 30 years ago.
“There has always been a desire to make a nice environment on campus,” Griffin said. “One of the things we did early on is we realized when we built new buildings, we wanted to put artwork in them.”
He said the school had to choose between putting posters of art in the buildings or spending a little more money to put in original works of art, oil paintings and original signed pieces of art.
“The watershed event was the opening of the Taylor Building,” Griffin said. “They needed artwork because the building was going to be dedicated and it had empty walls.”
Griffin said the university allowed a budget for art to be purchased, which is where the university art collection began.
Now the permanent art collection on campus has about 3,000 pieces in it, much of it being used for decor in buildings or used for display in the art gallery.
Griffin said he has been involved with all of the purchasing of campus art.
“When I first came here to Ricks College in 1984, they didn’t really have a budget for artwork,” Griffin said. “We have developed it slowly over all these years, and now we find the administration and the church to be quite generous, which enables us to conform to a very high standard of artwork on campus.”
Griffin said he has the flexibility to buy artwork for campus is the opportunity arises.
If he goes on a trip and sees something that would be perfect for campus, he can buy the piece without having a committee review it.
In the case of the I-Center, Griffin said he worked with former BYU-I President Kim B. Clark to make sure they were getting the type of art the administration wanted in that building, which was religious art.
Griffin said the art in the Hyrum Manwaring Center is different from the I-Center.
“The Manwaring Center has more contemporary art and student-oriented work,” Griffin said. “Art with a little more edge.”
Griffin said for campus buildings that are used for church, they try to have more conservative works of art so they won’t distract from sacrament meeting.
“We try to be appropriate for the venue,” Griffin said.
Griffin said many of the pieces he has bought for campus have now double and tripled in value since they were purchased.
“There was an Andy Warhol tomato soup can that was a little bit out of our price range at the time; I wanted to buy it, so I bought an onion soup can serigraph, which has now increased in value 10 times,” Griffin said.
Griffin said often times people do not realize the value of the works of art on campus.
“We purchased a large intaglio etching for $2,000, and one day I was walking through the Snow building, and I saw it in the garbage can,” Griffin said. “It had fallen off the wall, and the glass on the frame had cracked, so some well-meaning person thought they would clean up the area thinking probably it was just a poster and maybe worth $10.”
Griffin said BYU-I is one of the few campuses in the country where the art collection is displayed in the campus buildings.
He said BYU-I can display art all over campus because there is virtually no theft or vandalism.
Griffin said in the last 25 years, there has only been one piece of art stolen, and it was stolen by a worker who was on campus. He said the piece was quickly recovered in Idaho Falls.
“It’s nice we have the kind of environment where people respect the buildings and respect the artwork,” Griffin said. “We are in a unique place.”
Along with collecting art for campus, Griffin also likes to paint landscape paintings.
“I think when you live in Idaho, it’s difficult not to respond to your natural surroundings,” Griffin said. “I used to be a still life painter, but in the last 20 years or so, I have concentrated on landscape paintings.”
Griffin said art is important to him; it allows him to express his humanity and to explore feelings and emotions.
“It is what makes us human,” Griffin said. “It is a wonderful way to communicate things.”