Ranch Kimball: Mormon Artist
Ranch S. Kimball, in the words of the Springville Museum of Art, was “a man too spirited to limit himself to a single pursuit.” During his lifetime he was a painter, cartoonist, entrepreneur, sign painter, graphic artist, magician, actor, and gardener.
He was born in 1894 in Salt Lake City, Utah. In high school he studied mechanical drawing and founded the Kimball Sign Company; a company he later returned to in the 1930s. He studied art at Brigham Young University for two years then studied for three years at the Art Institute of Chicago. Among other aspects of art, he studied lettering under Oswald Cooper who invented several fonts, including the still-popular Cooper Black. Kimball himself later created and used a font in his work for Lagoon. Kimball also studied in the Art Student’s League in New York City. He then worked as an artist for a time in Manhattan and Chicago.
Kimball returned to Utah and exhibited his paintings at the Utah State Fair and Art Barn. He also began drawing pastels of Salt Lake City and environs. During the Great Depression, Kimball was fortunate to be commissioned to work under the Public Works of Art Project. He was charged to chronicle the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and created works such as “Virgin River Flood Control.” In his work in the series, he used a “flat and lean palette” In a different palette, he depicted the CCC check station at the entrance to Zion National Park in brighter colors that are still thin and flat pigmented, a technique that the Springville Museum of Art considers “modern for its day . . . the grandeur of Zions is not lost in a painterly study of color or light.”
He was a member of the Utah State Institute of Fine Arts board from 1940 to 1944.
In 1934, Kimball announced that he would stop painting until he either earned $1 million or turned 75. He reestablished his Kimball Sign Company, and in the late 1940s, began a long association with Lagoon, a historical amusement park located in Farmington, Utah. He is remembered for answering the phone “It’s a beautiful day at Lagoon!” As general manager of the park, he created a new Lagoon with new buildings and a new color palette. His distinctive lettering style dotted the park signs. He also created gardens throughout the park.
Kimball was also known for his sense of humor and his ability to put people at ease. He also did an good imitation of his relative J. Golden Kimball. He was an amateur magician and performed regionally.
He was married twice; after the death of his first wife, Rowena, he married Helen Snow. He died on January 22, 1980.