Art Collection - Figurative art mural painting
BRIAN T. KERSHISNIK (b. 1962), "She Will Find What Is Lost," 2012, oil on canvas, 11 x 8 feet, now owned by the Church History Museum, Salt Lake City © Brian T. Kershisnik, 2012

Featured Art Collection > Cris and Janae Baird of Arlington, Texas, have been interested in art all of their lives.

Art Collection - Janae and Cris Baird
Janae and Cris Baird

While growing up, Cris became aware that his great-uncle John Hafen (1856–1910) had been a prominent Utah artist. His grandparents owned two Hafen paintings that were ultimately donated to the Springville Museum of Art. When that occurred, Cris’s extended family held a drawing that would give the winners the right to buy prints after those paintings.

“Janae and I won, and although we were in college with young children, we found the money to buy a print, and we still cherish it today,” Cris explains. Janae’s aunt painted, her sister majored in art, and as a child she often sat before her family’s landscape prints and imagined being in the scenes herself. After studying oil painting as a teen, Janae took a 30-year break from pursuing art but has recently started sketching again.

The Bairds’ first purchase of original art occurred at a gallery in Fredericksburg, Texas, where they were charmed by three Betty Rhodes paintings depicting the scenic Hill Country nearby. In 2008 they moved to a larger home that needed some decorating, so promptly bought several works at Fort Worth’s Main Street Arts Festival.

It was in 2011 that the Bairds’ collector friend Glen Nelson asked them an important question: “What are you hoping to accomplish with your collection?” Cris marvels that “Glen realized, before we did, that our artistic sensibilities were haphazard and that we needed to be more thoughtful and deliberate — that the sum of our collection should be larger than the sum of its parts. That helped us step back and start pursuing a more careful approach.”

Since then, the Bairds have wanted “our collection to say something about both the reality of the human condition and the beauty and meaning represented in our faith.” They rightly observe that many historical artists were informed by religion, yet most artists today seem uncomfortable referencing their faith overtly.

This may owe partly to the fact that much — not all — contemporary religious art is illustrative or didactic. Whatever the reason, Cris observes, “The art market does not reward those willing to ‘go there,’ so this is a problem that must be addressed first by patrons like us. Without a robust market to support their careers, gifted artists will be forced to go in other directions.”

The Bairds, then, have gladly acquired works by such talents as Valerie Atkisson de Moura, Wulf Barsch, Daniel Bartholomew, Casey Childs, Kent Christensen, Caitlin Connolly, Rose Datoc Dall, Lisa DeLong, Cristall Harper, Brian Kershisnik, David Lindsay, Jason Metcalf, Annie Poon, Jeffery R. Pugh, Walter Rane, J. Kirk Richards, Colby Sanford, Jorge Cocco Santángelo, Casey Jex Smith, Justin Wheatley, and others.

Choosing their favorite works is impossible, but the Bairds mention several as noteworthy. Casey Childs’s portrait of Janae — an homage to John Singer Sargent’s elegant “Lady Agnew of Lochnaw” (1892) — captures her “at my best moment, with a truly timeless quality and an extraordinary attention to the textures of the dress and chair. It took me some time,” Janae continues, “to grow accustomed to a very large painting of myself, but now it’s like looking into my own eyes — a strange and moving experience.”

The Bairds have also enjoyed owning Brian Kershisnik’s “She Will Find What Is Lost” (shown at top), which is now owned by the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City after a partial gift and partial sale. While seriously ill several years ago, Janae stumbled upon this comforting image in a bookshop and was thrilled to learn that its huge original version (11 feet high) was still available.

She notes that her enjoyment of an artwork grows “the better I know the story behind it, or when it reminds me of something personal.” As examples she cites Cristall Harper’s vision of cherry blossoms, “Sonata,” for its evocation of childhood; Annie Poon’s “Art Thou as Job” for its message that suffering can be endured; and Caitlin Connolly’s “Girl Unraveled” because it signals that “my emotional messiness is what makes me unique.”

Painting of Jesus healing others
J. KIRK RICHARDS (b. 1976), “Sight Restored,” 2010, oil on panel, 36 x 36 in.

The Bairds own several works by deceased artists who also addressed matters of faith. These include the late James C. Christensen (1942–2017), especially his “Enoch Altarpiece,” and Joseph Paul Vorst (1897–1947), three of whose works the Bairds gladly loaned for his 2016 retrospective at the Church History Museum.

Most of these artworks have been acquired through galleries, though some smaller ones came directly from the artists, whom the Bairds eagerly follow on Instagram. (They add with a smile that “our pulses quicken when we learn that our favorite artists are clearing out their studios with sale pricing to make way for new work!”)

Collecting has allowed the Bairds to meet many artists, some of whom have become friends. For example, Cris and J. Kirk Richards established the Vision of the Arts Fund, now in its third year of raising and granting thousands of dollars to talented artists who address religious themes. Janae observes, “The more I get to know the artists as people, the more attached I become to their art,” adding that she is continually “amazed at how humble they are.”

As with so many collectors, the Bairds do not have enough wall space, which means they must rotate the collection every so often. They have also struggled to find storage space of sufficient quality, but were relieved recently to finish transferring their works on paper into archival-grade binders.

Anyone can enjoy an overview of their treasures by visiting “thebairdcollection” on Instagram; though incomplete, this constitutes, they say, the “beginning of a catalogue of our collection.”

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