Arts & Entertainment

A mother’s paintings inspired through a daughter’s lens and the spirit that ties them

PARK CITY, Utah — This May 31, Park City’s Trove Gallery will host a one-day pop-up evocative art exhibition featuring the works of Gwen Cates. The show carries a significance far beyond the canvases displayed. Gwen Cates’ daughter, Dr. Trevor Cates, is orchestrating this event not only as a celebration of art but as a heartfelt tribute to the late Larry Holiday, a revered Navajo educator who played a transformative role in her life.

Dr. Cates’ connection with Monument Valley is deeply personal, intertwined with spiritual and familial ties. Her journey with the valley began when her husband Barclay Burns, who was her boyfriend at the time, introduced her to his long-time friend and colleague of 32 years, Larry Holiday.

“[Monument Valley] is a place where we could come together spiritually, where we both felt a connection, and Larry really opened this world up to us and we have a lot of really incredible spiritual experiences there.”

Holiday was a pivotal figure in the local Navajo community; speaking both fluent Navajo and English, he was “the bridge between two worlds,” Dr. Cates said.

From left to right: Charlotte Holiday, Dr. Trevor Cates, Dr. Barclay Burns, and Larry Holiday.
Posing at their wedding in front of the “Money Tree.” From left to right: Charlotte Holiday, Dr. Trevor Cates, Dr. Barclay Burns, and Larry Holiday. Photo: Dr. Trevor Cates

The spiritual essence of Monument Valley, coupled with Holiday’s guidance, helped blend Dr. Cates’ and her husband’s diverse cultural and spiritual background with the rich traditions of the Navajo. The place holds so much reverence for them that Dr. Cates got engaged and married in Monument Valley, with Holiday officiating their wedding.

The artistic journey that led to this exhibition began with a simple, poignant suggestion from Holiday during a visit to Dr. Cates’ and Dr. Burns’ home. Noticing the absence of Monument Valley in their décor, he proposed, “Why don’t you have any pictures or paintings of Monument Valley in your home?” This question sparked an idea that would eventually fill the exhibition halls in Park City. Dr. Cates took Holiday’s advice to heart, sending photographs of the cherished landscapes to her mother, Gwen Cates, a seasoned artist residing in Virginia.

Despite never having visited Monument Valley herself, Gwen Cate’s ability to capture its essence from photographs is a testament to her profound artistic talent. “She’s never been to Monument Valley, but she paints from the photographs I send her,” Dr. Cates said. “She’ll have me send as many photographs as I can of a particular spot, and she will then make a kind of combination. She pulls it together in her mind and paints it.”

Gwen’s paintings, derived from her daughter’s experiences and captured through her lens, convey the spiritual and visual splendor of the valley.

“Although I was not able to be with my daughter in person, I have been able to walk amongst Monument Valley in my imagination… I have felt passionate about the way the monuments look in different times of the day because of the different colors and patterns,” Gwen Cates said. “I am touched by the spirit of the place, and I hope others will find something sacred in the artwork too.”

Dr. Cates' favorite and memorable piece painted by her mother Gwen Cates.
Dr. Cates’ favorite and memorable piece painted by her mother Gwen Cates. Photo courtesy: Gwen Cates

Dr. Cates’ favorite painting by her mother is of the West and East Mitten Buttes in Monument Valley, which remind her of the hands of God. “I feel like she just captured that feeling of welcoming—that feeling of being held in Monument Valley—that grounding sense,” Dr. Cates said. But, she also feels her mom is led by her own spirituality with her painting, and visualizing art in general, calling her “divinely guided.”

“What my mom has taught me is, take a pause, take a step back, and really open your mind,” Dr. Cates said. “And it’s not just painting and art, but she’s always had that perspective, and she’s like that with people too.”

Gwen Cates looks to art as a medium for therapy, using the world as her canvas.

“To me, nature has always been the great healer. I have spent my entire life painting the world around me,” Gwen Cates said. “Art is important for the world in which we live because it can inspire us to go on living, dreaming, and creating.”

The exhibition, initially planning on raising money for a “Hogan Project” in the Navajo community, found its poignant purpose following Holiday’s unexpected death. The artworks, now imbued with deeper significance, serve as a tribute to Holiday’s legacy and a fundraiser to support his family. “It’s become a way to pay homage to Larry and help his family during this difficult time,” Dr. Cates said.

Through the showcase of Gwen Cates’ vibrant depictions of Monument Valley, attendees will not only witness the artistic translation of a sacred landscape but also partake in a celebration of cultural bridges and shared human experiences.

“I wish everyone could go down to Monument Valley and spend time there and be with the people and learn from them,” Dr. Cates said. “Larry and his family are just so welcoming, and they really want people to enjoy Monument Valley and the land and the sacredness of it… There’s such healing opportunities.”

Those in attendance on May 31 will have the opportunity to meet Gwen Cates, Charlotte Holiday, and some of the Navajo tribe from Monument Valley.

Wild Mustangs Running, Monument Valley.
“Wild Mustangs Running, Monument Valley.” Art by Gwen Cates.

Gwen Cates sees this exhibition as an opportunity to embrace the spirit of the Navajo people and find a sense of oneness with Monument Valley.

“I was told that some amongst the Navajo believe that souls of the people return as horses who run free. Perhaps I will run free with them one day,” she said.

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