Utah Chooses New State Works of Art

Ancient rock art and Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” are poised to become state symbols

Spiral Jetty
Spiral Jetty is on its way to becoming Utah's official work of land art. ShutterStein - Flickr/Creative Commons

What’s your state symbol? There are birds—like Connecticut’s American Robin. There are musical instruments—like Louisiana’s diatonic accordion. And now one state is looking to add two new state-recognized works of art. As Lee Davidson and Benjamin Wood report for The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah's House of Representatives and Senate have voted to honor its ancient rock art and “Spiral Jetty,” an earthwork sculpture by Robert Smithson, with state designations. 

The bills—HB211 and SB171—now move to Governor Gary Herbert's office. If they are signed into law, that will make the Native American rock art the state works of art and “Spiral Jetty” the state work of land art.

Representative Rebecca Edwards (R-North Salt Lake), sponsor of the Spiral Jetty measure, tells Davidson and Benjamin that both bills are “a nod to prehistoric people who lived in our state and an acknowledgment of the contemporary land art that is so unique in our state.”

For thousands of years, Utah’s Native American people created art on rocks throughout what is now the state, carving images into the stones that surrounded them. The jury is out on how old the rock art is—as SmartNews reported in 2014, a recent analysis found that some figures in Canyonlands National Park are between 900 and 2,000 years old.

“Spiral Jetty” is much younger, but impressive in its own right. The 1970 sculpture was made entirely of natural materials and is 1,500 feet long. With the help of dump trucks and tractors, Robert Smithson beckoned to Utah’s prehistoric past with materials that suggest the volcanoes that once pocked the Great Salt Lake.

As Dia Art Foundation, the project's steward, writes, Smithson “envisioned an artwork in a state of constant transformation whose form is never fixed and undergoes decay from the moment of its creation.” Today, “Spiral Jetty” is considered one of the greatest examples of land art, a movement that used America’s wide-open spaces as canvases for monumental creations.

State symbols can seem whimsical, but they help memorialize the things that make each state unique. Among Utah’s other state symbols are the Sego Lily, the honey bee, the square dance, and even a state cooking pot, the Dutch Oven. The move to recognize Utah's ancient rock art and “Spiral Jetty” serves as a reminder that art, too, helps define a state’s unique identity.

(h/t New York Times