When Blue Mountain Hospital first opened its doors in July of 2009, hospital administrators commissioned a painting to depict the history of the settlers of Blanding and the White Mesa area of San Juan County.
Kelly Pugh, a Blanding native and renowned artist was given the job, and the work he created has been studied and admired by hospital visitors and patients for the past six and a half years. The painting hangs in the lobby outside the Utah Navajo Health System, Inc. Community Health Center, on the north end of the hospital. It is on the wall between Precision Rehabilita- tion and the BMH Dialysis Unit, for all to see. Accompanying the painting is a black and white print with a legend, detailing who the people in the painting represent. Pugh says he chose current residents of the Blanding and White Mesa area to represent the historical figures in the painting.
"I chose people I knew would fit the people in the painting," Pugh explained. "Paul Mantz as the mountain man, my brother Alon as a missionary, Aldean Ketchum as a Ute playing his flute, and a Pueblo woman in her wedding dress. It took a couple of months to finish, and I used a computer to help get the people where I wanted them to be in the painting. Photoshop is my best friend," he joked.
Pugh graduated from San Juan High School in 1989 and then served a mission for the LDS Church in the Mexico, Mazatlan Mission. He always enjoyed art, but it wasn't until he returned from his mission that he really became serious about art as a career.
"My mom wanted me to be an art teacher," Pugh said. "But I tried substitute teaching and said, 'no way I'm going to choose that for my life'."
He attended Southern Utah University, in Cedar City, and received a Bachelors Degree in Art. While there he also met his future wife, Sheri Blodgett, whose father teaches German at SUU. After graduating, Kelly had several jobs in his field, including jobs in Blanding, Springville, Utah, Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Dinosaur Museum at Thanksgiving Point. Eventually he decided to return to college and get his Masters in Fine Arts at SUU.
In 2003 he and his wife returned to Blanding and opened the Ridgeway Art Gallery. At that time he also began work on a book of Blanding pioneers. The book featured paintings of many of the early settlers of Blanding and told their stories. It received critical acclaim and is one of the premiere books on Blanding's history. Pugh has also created historical murals for sites like the Old Main Building at SUU and for the State of Alaska. He has also produced paintings that were displayed at various Dinosaur Museums. He is currently creating pioneer theme rooms for Blanding's Cliff Palace Motel and he is about to do a six-week project in Vernal, Utah.
Pugh has moved his art gallery to his home and people can contact him on his website at www.ridgewayart.com. He can also be contacted on Facebook @kellypughblanding.
We're proud to feature Kelly's work in BMH and we invite our visitors and patients,who haven't yet seen his painting, to look it over and study it. You might know someone in that painting, who represents an early San Juan County pioneer.