Photo by Kevin Kiernan
Photos by Kevin Kiernan
Renowned painter Valoy Eaton is a modern-day Renaissance man. The 79-year-old was a star on the basketball court at Brigham Young University in the late 1950s. In the next decade, Eaton became a beloved teacher and coach at Cyprus High School in Magna. Then, in the early 1970s, with a firm but nice nudge from his sweetheart, Ellie, Eaton picked up his paintbrushes professionally and hasn’t set them down since.
“In a way, it all started at the 1967 Utah State Fair,” Eaton says. “I was just a part-time amateur, and I won Best of Show against some of the best painters in Utah. I sang in the car all the way home!”
By Jason Wright
Photos by Kevin Kiernan
From Coach to Painter
In a subsequent conversation with Ellie, the girl he’d loved since high school, his wife told him it was time for more. “I’ll never forget it,” Eaton says. “She told me she didn’t want to be married to someone who had so much talent and only wanted to have fun. She wanted me to build a career, and she promised to support me every single day. And she did.”
The early years weren’t a perfect masterpiece — times were tough and Eaton traded paintings for groceries and sometimes worked in his simple studio all night long before shaving, showering and racing to his teaching job.
Finally, in 1972, Eaton made the long jump to full-time painter. In the years since, with Ellie often at his side, Eaton traveled the world sharing his work at galleries and in shows of all sizes. His acclaimed work began appearing in Zions Bank corporate offices and branches.
Grounded in Faith and Family
Still, as his name and fame blossomed, Eaton remained grounded in his faith and family. “Ellie always came first, then the kids, church and my art,” he says. As their family grew to five children and three dozen grandkids, Eaton and his wife often put their kids’ needs above their own. As it turns out, many of his posterity followed in his massive shoes by playing basketball at the high school and collegiate level. Not surprisingly, he rarely misses a game.
His favorite creation? For prolific artists, it can be a challenge to select just one. Eaton has no such trouble. “My favorite piece is a large square painting of my wife carrying a beautiful bucket of apples,” Eaton says. This prized work of art hangs in a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Payson, Utah. “I call it my angel in the temple.”
Hanging on to His Brush
Though Ellie died a few years ago, her influence is still powerful. “I feel her presence in my studio all the time,” says Eaton from his home in Midway, Utah. “I think she’s still very aware of what I’m doing, and she’s rooting me on.”
When someone speaks of retirement, Eaton smiles. “This is who I am,” he says. “There really is no such thing as retirement. Art is my lifesaver. I even walk around my studio talking to myself sometimes. I don’t recommend it, but it keeps me going and I’m painting as well as I ever have.”
Eaton doesn’t know how many paintings are left in his soul, but for now he offers himself this wise advice: “Just hang on to the brush and let it do the work.”
It’s not just inspired counsel for this affable artist, it’s a stroke of genius for his audiences, too.