Local artist celebrates her work and a cherished marriage
By Dianna Troyer
Time is inconsequential to artist Darla Bywater as she paints two serene Christmas scenes. A child clutches her doll and dozes as she patiently waits for Santa. A horse-drawn carriage decorated with a
wreath is dusted in snow.
The oil paintings will be reproduced as her holiday cards.
“Once I get started on a project, the clock time means nothing,” says Darla, 79, as she paints in her home studio in Newton, Utah. “I work all hours of the day or night. I guess it’s called flow. Sometimes, the sun comes up and I realize I’ve worked all night. I got used to night work years ago, waiting until the house was quiet and I had no interruptions or distractions.”
During the holiday season, Darla says she reflects on her life’s gifts: paintings she gives as gifts, a business that led to lifelong friendships and a cherished midlife marriage to high school sweetheart Darwin Bywater, who died last year.
Darla and Darwin reconnected in 1995 when she was home visiting her sisters in Brigham City, Utah.
“My sisters told me he was recently divorced, so I invited him to have coffee,” she says. “From that time on, we were together and got married a year later.”
Before reconnecting with Darwin, Darla had a three-decade career as a commercial artist in Southern California. A partner in an ad design business in Irvine, she painted 84 cover portraits for a four-county business publication called “The Executive.” Her portraits became magazine covers and also hang in boardrooms.
Darla was commissioned to paint 26 military portraits for the U.S. Air Force Academy’s commemorative gallery in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“I don’t travel for commissions anymore, and I’m catching up on many friend and family painting requests,” Darla says. “I finally have time for long postponed works for my own pleasure.”
Some of her favorite works surround her at home. In a scenic painting, deer graze at Darwin’s family ranch along the Raft River in Lynn, Utah. The couple lived at the ranch while owning and operating
Outpost Steakhouse, a popular restaurant with adjacent rental cabins in nearby Almo.
Guests from the U.S. and abroad ate and stayed there while touring the nearby City of Rocks National Reserve, an internationally renowned destination for rock climbers and Oregon and California Trail explorers.
Darla divides her time between her Newton home and the ranch, which Darwin’s son, Jay, manages.
“When I’m there, it’s gratifying to see old friends who say, ‘We miss the Outpost’s fabulous steaks and wish you still had the restaurant,’” Darla says.
Designing, building and running the Outpost with Darwin from 1999 until 2005—when she was diagnosed with cancer—was a gift Darla still cherishes.
“It was the highlight of our lives,” she says. “The many lifelong friends we made and the pleasure of interacting with local customers and travelers from all over the world made it all worthwhile.”
While managing the Outpost, a popular holiday gift to friends and customers was Darwin’s family recipe for Pioneer Pudding. They put the dry ingredients in a glass jar and tied the recipe to it with a ribbon.
Darwin and Darla opened the Outpost after moving to the ranch and realizing 100,000 people came to the City of Rocks annually.
“There was a need for a local restaurant and overnight accommodations,” she says. “We envisioned the Outpost and just knew it would work despite doubters.”
They were undeterred by their lack of experience in food service or motel management. Darla was an artist while Darwin operated heavy equipment, and trained and raced horses.
“We risked our retirement savings to build it ourselves,” she says. “We never anticipated how popular it would become. We had an incredible staff, especially Lim Scott from Yost. She helped make our
kitchen the success it was. A dear friend, Johnny Bingham, helped us during construction.”
When customers commented on the paintings decorating the restaurant, Darla says she told them she was blessed to have inherited an “art gene” from her mother, Dolly Rockwood Coleman.
“Her studio was always the playroom for my two sisters and I,” Darla says. “She gave us abundant art supplies, guidance and encouragement. For us, making art was our fun and entertaining playtime. We
painted and drew whatever we wished. I still use her 50-yearold tubes of oil paints, and they’re as viable and brilliant now as they were when she bought them.”
Knowing the difficulty of a successful fine art career, Darla’s mother advised her to study commercial art at the Art Center College in Los Angeles.
“I was fortunate to specialize in professional portraiture commercially and now as fine art, too,” she says.
After Darla was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, the couple sold the Outpost while she underwent treatment. Several years later, issues with Darwin’s heart compelled them to move to Newton to be closer to his cardiologists in Logan.
“I’ve been blessed with incredible gifts,” Darla says. “Darwin and I had 23 wonderful years together, and painting oil portraits is still my main passion in art.”