The Wonder of a New Religous Art Tradition

Terryl Givens and Richard Bushman share a common pattern of scholarship. Both seek to put the Mormon experience into a broad cultural and historical framework. Both seek engage us by bringing Mormon history into dialogue with the broader history of our shared civilization. This is part of an encouraging direction in serious Mormon scholarship that seems to be moving beyond myopic focus of endless chronicles. Givens’ work had the added benefit of good prose that is actually fun to read.

Givens brings the voices of earlier writers and thinkers within the Western tradition into the discussion. He attempts to show how Mormonism fits in as well as contrasts with intellectual flow of Western Civilization. He also seems to be showing how Mormonism has something to contribute to the discussion. I applaud this break out from an historical myopia that has for too long passed for Mormon historical scholarship. Givens’ background in Western literature and intellectual thought helps him bring many voices forward that are seldom, if ever, present in discussions about the Mormon experience. I particularly liked his many cogent citations from William Blake.

Someone once said that creativity is the ability to make connections between things or ideas that at first don’t seem to have anything in common. Givens builds this approach into his provocative title, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture. Givens reaches out with frequent literary, philosophical, theological, and historical references to the broader Western experience. So perhaps it is not coincidental that he has once again published his book with Oxford University Press, a press that actively reaches out to the English-speaking world.

Givens writes about a wide range of ideas and history that can be placed under the umbrella of Mormon culture. This essay will focus on the visual arts because art history is where I have spent my professional career.

He mentions many interesting paradoxes within Mormon culture. One that I particularly applaud is his notation that today only 14% of Mormons live in Utah and over half the membership of the Church lives outside the U.S.A. Then Givens asserts that within the first century, Mormon culture was largely a Utah construction. There is a paradox here that the author doesn’t really develop. He then concludes with a hope that scholars will “produce examinations of Mormon culture in the truly international complexion being ushered in by the new millennium.”

He acknowledges that nineteenth-century Utah culture was produced by a people that were as much as 60% foreign born, or whose parents were foreign born. But at least in the visual arts, he seems to then miss the cultural implications of these demographics. Even though the visual arts would actually bolster his model of using paradox as an analytical tool.

Givens appropriately give temple architecture in pioneer Utah a lot of print. Stylistically he repeats the mantra that early Utah Mormons borrowed ideas of architectural forms and details from American Gothic Revival. The reality is actually much more interesting. In the late 1830’s Joseph Smith sent the Twelve on missions to England. These missions had two effects: Lots of converts gathered to Nauvoo (and eventually came to Utah), and early Church leaders (almost all of whom were American) were exposed to the older, richer, more established, culture of England.

Brigham Young, for one, was fascinated by British architecture and took many opportunities to tour historic cathedrals. For example one day he was down in Worchester and he and Wilford Woodruff went to visit its superb Gothic cathedral. Wilford wrote in his journal:

Today we visited the noted splendor of the Worchester cathedral. It surpasses anything mine eyes have ever beheld. It is so superior to the architecture of the present generation.

This celebration of historic British architecture would later have a big impact on Mormon culture. In Utah, Brigham called Truman Angell to be the architect of the Salt Lake Temple. Brigham then sent Angell on an architectural study mission to the British Isles and France to see great buildings, many of which Brigham had seen during his mission. All four of the pioneer temples in Utah were commenced and completed by presidents of the Church who had lived in England. The particular kind of “Gothic” style of architecture of these temples is also related to England. The style that had such an impact on pioneer temple architecture is actually more of a Norman style that is particularly British. Most of the windows in our temples are round arched (Romanesque) rather than pointed (Gothic). And then there are those battlements… Linking their design to the embattled and defiant political environment of the nineteenth-century Saints may be true. It is certainly poetic. But when looking for stylistic precedents, the Brits are among the few who put battlements on their religious buildings. And we know that those in charge in pioneer Utah had lived in England.

The British connection didn’t stop with Church leaders. Many of the skilled craftsmen in pioneer Utah were British convert/emigrants. Angell’s chief draftsman was British-born William Ward who also designed Young’s Gothic Revival Lion House with its battlements. Ward even carved the stone lion over the door. (What could be a more British sculpture in the 19th century than a lion?) Eagle Gate was carved and built by two English artist/craftsmen, William Bell and Ralph Ramsey. Ramsey also carved the wooden beehive on the Beehive House, as well as constructing and carving the ornaments on the casing for the Tabernacle Organ. Brigham was so taken by Bell’s work as a cabinetmaker that Young carved a lot out of his estate and gave it to the English craftsman to build a home and workshop. Most of the skilled stoneworkers who built the pioneer era temples were British and Scandinavian convert/emigrants.

So if a historian is looking for the roots of Medieval revival architectural styles in pioneer Utah, it seems more reasonable to see that influence coming straight from Great Britain rather than slowing moving west from the American east. Besides, a slow movement from the American east wouldn’t explain the fairly early use of this style in pioneer Utah.

If you look at the Logan Temple you see another cultural paradox that is rooted in the diverse population of Pioneer Utah. The stone part of the building is British in style. The upper white towers look more like a New England meetinghouse. The paradox can be explained by the fact that many people from the U.K. populated early Utah. But some early pioneers, including the architect, had New England roots. There is an interesting piece of pioneer graffiti in the Church Museum that was salvaged from the Logan Temple. It states: “We are here together several nationalities with the best of feelings among all men.” Early Utah Mormons brought much of their native cultures with them when they gathered to Zion.

Now let’s look at nineteenth-century painters among the Mormons. First the chronology.

Givens seems to see a sort of stylistic progression that moves thematically from farmsteads to romantic landscapes. Indeed those themes exist. But the problem is that the dates of these works are all jumbled up. Sometimes Romantic landscape paintings preceded the farmsteads. Sometimes farmstead paintings were done after the death of some of those that painted the Romanic landscapes. So what gives? The names of the artists provide the clue. The farmsteads painters were virtually all Scandinavians. The Romantic landscapes were painted by British convert/emigrants.

What were these two groups of artists trying to do? Romanticism in the British visual arts had two main foci, the Middle Ages and an exaggerated nature. For British Mormons, nature had an additional appeal. It stood for the purity of Zion. Mountains and wilderness also had scriptural parallels as places where one went to get away from “Babylon” to be spiritually purified and commune with the Lord. Scripturally, the temple was referred to as “the mountain of the Lord’s house.” Mountains were also physical and symbolic walls that held “Babylon” at bay. If you look at poetry of 19th century L.D.S. hymns that celebrate Zion’s mountains (for example, “O Ye Mountains High”) most were written by British convert/emigrants.

Givens accurately sees Alfred Lambourne’s exaggerated and dramatic Salt Lake Temple paintings of Hill Cumorah and Adam-ondi-Ahman as pure Romanticism delivering a spiritual message. He attributes this Romantic interpretation to Lambourne traveling back East to see early Mormon historical sites. What he missed was that virtually all of the paintings ever created by British-born Lambourne were Romantic landscapes. For the LDS British artists, the Millennium seems to have been the conceptual return to a highly Romanized Garden of Eden.

But what of the Scandinavian convert/emigrants? In the mid 19th century Scandinavia was not faced with the physical and social disruption of the industrial revolution or the spiritual burdens of the wealth and power that came from having the largest empire in the world. Their challenge, particularly Denmark’s, was the treat of being engulfed by the rising power of Germany. As a result there was a lot of artistic focus on reinforcing Scandinavian cultural identity to avoid being eclipsed by Germany. This was broadly expressed in two ways, a celebration of both local history and local genre (particularly farm families and their farmsteads). Why? Danish farmsteads and peasants didn’t look like German ones. Danish history was different than German history. When Scandinavian artists became Mormons they continued to paint history and farmsteads. But now it was Mormon history and farmsteads that also happened to document the history of building Zion. For the Scandinavians, the Millennium seems to have been the building a New Jerusalem of which their farmsteads were a part. The vast majority of paintings about Mormon history from the early Utah period that have come down to us were painted by Scandinavian convert/emigrants. With these storytelling roots, why should it be a surprise that so much of contemporary LDS art from Utah and the West is highly narrative?

The point? If Givens had better understood the nineteenth-century history of Mormon art it would have reinforced his paradox model of looking at Mormon culture. In the early visual art of the quintessential American religion, most of the artists were British and Scandinavians. In fairness to Givens, some of the bits and pieces of this historical data made it into his book. The problem is that the data was presented in a fragmented way that missed the significant conclusions. Part of the price Givens paid for missing these conclusions was then his lack of an interpretive historical framework to better understand much of the LDS art of the present.

Givens’ also makes the claim that there was a lack of traditional religious art in the 19th century Utah. That is only partially true. Actually there were several painting series with Biblical and Book of Mormon themes painted. Some of these works have been exhibited at the Church Museum and published in their first exhibit catalogue. Both the Church and private parties commissioned these works. Most were painted by the storytelling Scandinavians. There were also some large paintings of Christ created. Most were commissioned to hang in temples. A few were placed in Mormon chapels.

But by far the largest Church commissioned paintings were landscape murals for temples. Here was another fascinating paradox; landscapes have usually been seen as secular, not religious art. But Mormons were using them in a liturgical context in their most sacred structures. In the history of world art, this is a fairly significant paradox. Eventually the Church sent some of its most promising artists to Paris as art missionaries. (Another paradox, art missionaries were sent to the very heartland of secular culture of the time in order to develop artistic skills to paint religiously significant art for temples!) They came back painting magnificent impressionist landscapes. Those landscape-painting skills were then employed to paint temple murals. Is it any surprise that Mormon artists in the 20th and 21st centuries are among the better traditional landscape painters of the American West?

And what of the present? For the visual arts, Givens seems to look to the late twentieth-century university art school model. But the audience for that art doesn’t seem to be very broad either intellectually or aesthetically. In looking at LDS art through this lens he seems to have largely missed the art from the non-Western members of the Church that make up half the membership of the Church. He also misses virtually all the traditional arts of women. The best interpretive models are usually those that can incorporate the most data.

There is a certain lament about the lack of financial support for artists. Many artists who work within the university art school model seem to frequently teeter on the edge of poverty even in a wealthy country. Yet some cultures that have far fewer financial resources seem to produce lots of art. Polynesia and Africa are good examples financially poor countries that produce rich art traditions.

Every three years the Museum of Church History and Art sponsors a huge Church-wide art competition complete with cash prizes and many purchases. On the average about a thousand artists from all over the world submit entries. Hundreds of thousands of LDS museum goers have visited these exhibitions. Church publications have often taken the lead in publishing these works of art for the Saints around the world. There have also been several articles in BYU Studies illustrating and analyzing some of this international LDS art.

These art competitions, along with extensive curatorial fieldwork, has enabled the Church Museum to amassed a significant collection of American and international art. This has been added to already large collection of historic LDS art. Some of the Church’s finest new artists, both American and international, were brought to the attention of Church membership through these art competitions. Among them is Walter Rane, whose work adorns the dust cover of Givens’ book

Unfortunately, I found only three sentences mentioning the Museum of Church History and Art in the book. Why does this matter? Because the Museum of Church History and Art is the largest repository of religious art produced by the Mormon culture. Miss the Church Museum and its huge collection of art and you miss much of our religious art. You also miss virtually the only public collection of LDS international art. Such gaps could skew understanding of the history of Mormon visual art.

The permanent art gallery of the Church Museum isn’t the only place to see the Church art collection. The Museum regularly mounts temporary exhibitions that focus on different aspects of Mormon art. Many of the Church’s best works of art have also been placed in the cavernous lobby spaces of the new Conference Center. Some of the new temples also contain significant works of art. For example far more temples have received newly painted murals in the last ten years than in the previous hundred and fifty years. Given had concluded that the temple mural tradition had largely died in the early 1950’s. Fortunately it has been reborn. The new Museum of Fine Arts at B.Y.U. has also mounted some very significant exhibitions of Mormon art while at the same time building their own collection of religious art. The Springville Museum of art has sponsored a superb annual religious art exhibition. But while most of that art is by LDS artists, virtually all of them are from Utah, which Givens reminds us in his introduction only account for about 14% of the current LDS population.

All of this overt Church support for the visual arts is having an effect. There are far more Mormon artists than ever before. Many are exhibiting in art galleries and are actually making a living as full time artists. There is a growing body of LDS private art collectors. Many are seeking and finding art that reinforces their cultural identities as Mormons. Admittedly, some of this art is tacky. But some is really superb.

To create a cohesive religious art tradition that has been able to transcend artistic style and demographic boundaries is no mean achievement. To have done this during a time when a growing militant secularism has engulfed much of the art producing West, is nothing short of amazing.

Perhaps the final paradox of Mormon visual art is that the visual arts not being part of LDS weekly worship may actually be an asset for the development of Mormon art. This may have helped to keep the aesthetic and interpretive canon more open and avoided aesthetic and interpretive ossification. This would have been particularly catastrophic for the addition of artistic expressions coming from new members of the Church that are flooding in from non-Western traditions. And this brings us back to the beginnings. Among the best refreshment of the roots of Mormon art have been and continue to be the demographic and cultural expansion of the Mormonism and the openness in embracing new artistic ideas.

Givens’ book makes a great contribution to the analysis of the Mormon experience. Those interested in Mormon culture will find it fascinating. But “culture history” is a huge field. I think that Givens is at his best when he deals with literary and intellectual history from within the framework of Western Civilization. When he moves into the area of the visual arts he is seems to be moving outside of his field of expertise. This also shows up when Givens attempts to reference the “world Church.” This gap points out that scholars of Mormonism probably need to begin develop a greater familiarity with non-Western history and culture if they are to hope to deal with the past half century and as well as the future of much of Mormon culture.

Still I would highly recommend this book. I think that it is quite possible that over time we are quite likely to begin framing our discussions within the intellectual constructs that Givens has created in this book. Were that there were more in the Mormon scholarly community with his broad interests and vision.

Richard Oman is a senior curator at the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is solely responsible for the views expressed in this review.

29 comments for “The Wonder of a New Religous Art Tradition

  1. Thanks, Richard. Speaking of the Museum of Church History and Art…

    One of the most fascinating trends that I have seen in international art are the various representations of Lehi’s dream. It seems to be a subject that quite a few Mormons have take on (if I’m remembering correctly — all the art I’ve seen has been in the Ensign or online). It’s also a great artistic subject because it’s both uniquely Mormon and somewhat universal (in that it ties in to the Tree of Life motifs found in various cultures).

  2. Thanks for confirming what I instinctively felt when I read the first reviews, even before reading Givens. The worldwide Mormon art competition by the Museum of Church History and Art is one the most significant endeavors for the international church and for an evolving definition of Mormon culture. This endeavor has not only brought to light amazing work of high quality, but has confirmed the rich diversity in the church. Yet few Utah (or American) Mormons seem to be aware of it. To miss the importance of this dimension in a book on Mormon culture shows how long a way we still have to go in the maturation of our perceptions.

  3. I agree with Wilfried D. Those displays in the Ensign of art from the musuem organized by theme or in response to a competition are deeply moving.

    After a lot of blather, I got around to talking about them here:

    I realized that we Mormons had created a distinctive form of art. Paul Johnson points out that most works of art are made to be complete in itself. The artist’s vision is a total one. So museums are artificial ways of seeing art–the surrounding works are not all a necessary part of the experience and may even be a distraction. But that’s not the case with us. For us the work is the show. From time to time the Church calls for works on a theme–Families and Temple, for example, or Lehi’s Dream. Our artists create the best they can and then submit their parts to the show. And the show is the artwork. Like a testimony meeting, the message is not the individual component but the collective voice of an African proclaiming in bronze heads and a Daughter of the Utah Pioneers in needlepoint that Families are Forever or that Lehi dreamed a dream. The parts are beautiful and the whole is great. Now I have an inkling why seeing these shows move me.

    Here’s real valuable comments on the missionary art Ensign issue– — and the First Vision art Ensign — .

  4. Good job, Richard! It was great to hear all this again.

    The rest of you need to know that when the history of Mormon art is finally written (probably centuries from now) Richard will deserve an honored place in that history. He has carried the banner for inclusive LDS art for over a quarter of a century when virtually nobody else cared. For example it was not so long ago that Kuna molas were rejected at a fairly high level as “hippie drug art”.

    Much of the seed planting and encouragement of international LDS art was directly and personally financed by Richard when he couldn’t get the institution to pay attention. The Church is richer, temples worldwide are more reflective artistically of the places where they are because Richard was willing to stick his neck and pocketbook waaaay out.

    The idea for the international competitions was born in Richard’s office. The first competition was restricted (by those who had to approve such a thing) to traditional western “fine art” forms. Yet it was billed “international”. Fortunately a translator called Richard to figure out how to translate “fine art”. When it became clear to the guy from translation that his culture’s arts would not be included it created an opening for Richard to push for more inclusion. Again he willingly stuck his neck waaaay out. But from these much more inclusive competitions has come a now substantial and growing body of truly international art owned by the Church. Another spin off is that because of these competitions the Church increasingly knows where the really good (artistically) and faithful LDS artists are worldwide and many of them have been commissioned to produce are for the temples in their own lands. There has probably never been a better time to be a faithful LDS artist than the present.

    What will the final Mormon art look like? Who knows? It may be like Christmas music, many styles and forms but all celebrating the same majestic ideas. We will recognize Mormon art when it finally emerges, as all the Saints from every land bring their finest gifts to Zion.

  5. I’ve always enjoyed the displays in the Church Art Museum of the international art that results from those competitions (whenever I happen to be in town at the right time). I love the cultural diversity reflected in these entries. Thanks for your essay, Richard, and thanks to T&S for hosting this timely symposium.

  6. As a child I spent many hours thumbing through the catalogs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery, even collections of Norman Rockwell. We had molas on the wall by collections of CCA Christensen paintings.

    Fast forward to a street display in a university town in Western Germany. We had improved a previously totally artless street display with pictures from the gospel art picture kit and other pictures available in the library of a small German branch. We wanted to point to pictures in succession and visually go through the first discussion. We had many fascinating encounters with the students. One day one of them told me, those pictures are kitsch. Although I had never thought about “Mormon art” before, I found that I could not disagree with him and requested that he look past the pictures to the message. I guess I was telling him to see the artwork for its liturgical purpose and not as an expression of the Mormon culture or doctrine (Yeah, like I could say that in German…).

    My husband and I have been trying for years to agree on religious artwork to place on the walls of our home. Unfortunately, there is not much available that falls outside the “kitsch” category. We agree on the no Greg Olson. No Harry Anderson (I love it, but as a mural in a church building, not as a piece of art on our wall). No Del Parson (I’m ducking as people throw tomatoes this direction). Well, now that I’m writing this I see that the the Museum is offering some artwork online now through Hmmm. There are some interesting options. Perhaps that Liverpool picture to put with my picture of the Danish missionary.

    I also have some questions. I enjoyed your commentary. I was especially interested in the division of 19th century Mormon artists into British immigrants and Scandinavian immigrants. Was there any dialog between the two communities as to their respective art theories? For that matter, was there an art “community” at all? Was there friction between the different types of artists? And lastly, were there any American (non-European) artists in 19th century Utah? If so, what styles did they tend toward? I’m looking through your book “Images of Faith” and it seems like American contributions to art in that period largely consisted of photography and furniture making. Whoops. I just answered my question…page 34, George Ottinger “The Lone American Artist in Pioneer Utah.” He did a lovely portrait of Brigham Young, a familiar picture of the Mormon Battalion, and a series of sketches while crossing the plains. It looks like he might be a category by himself.

    I think the Church Museum has done an great job in the last three decades in providing alternatives to kitsch as far as our choices for religious art go. I would like to see more offerings available, although I realize that there is probably a limited market.

    I think I’ve been rambling on long enough, but I have one final comment. For years I’ve thought it a pity that there is not artwork in our chapels, in the style of the old stained glass pieces or murals that used to be in church buildings. I love the murals in the Mesa and Manti Temples. However, I find your point in the end of your review very interesting that this practice “helped to keep the aesthetic and interpretive canon more open and avoided aesthetic and interpretive ossification.” That sounds like the reason I don’t show my children those living scripture videos.

    Thanks for your essay, and based on Marjorie Conder’s comment above, thanks for your influence on LDS art in recent decades!

  7. RIchard O….oh, my, Mr. Oman. How wonderful to hear to you disertate. You are, as ever, amazing. Does Susanna Gale know about all of these acolades you are racking up?

  8. I don’t know if #11 is a put-on, but on the chance that some of you really don’t know, yes, Richard is Nate’s father. About 2 years ago Richard started forwarding to me (and lots of other people) e-mails from Nate. Always excellent. I thought they were random essays. I had never heard of blogging nor the bloggernacle. Actually all these essays had appeared on T&S. When I finally made the connection, I was hooked–addicted actually. Hooray for the blogggernacle.

  9. Honestly, I thought this was one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. Certainly not one of the most commented – but the post is scholarly, informational and still very readable. That’s a nice combination. Not to mention that it’s dealing with Mormon history, Mormon art, etc.

    I don’t know how soon nominating begins – but whenever someone decides to do a ‘best of’ 2007 bloggernacle posts series, I’d mention this one.

    I’d like to read a lot more of what Richard Oman has to say about art and things in general – any chance he’ll become a permablogger? (nudge, nudge)

  10. Great post. As an artist from Santa Fe, New Mexico, who has recently started to create LDS inspired artwork, it is a thrill to hear that there is growing support for a new type of devotional art. I’m thankful for the Church Museum’s international exhibit. A small icon from Russia in show number 6 helped me make a needed break through in my art. The opportunity to see Mormon themed art from around the world will influence other artists to work harder to create interesting and diverse expressions of our history and beliefs. I hope to see increased opportunities for LDS artists to exhibit their artwork and explore new ideas in the near future. (Maybe the Springville Museum could open up the borders of their annual spiritual exhibition once in a while.) I also hope that the audiences will be open to explore the dialogues the art creates. Finally, thanks for the Mormon art history lesson.

  11. Re #14, Marjorie: “I don’t know if #11 is a put-on, but on the chance that some of you really don’t know, yes, Richard is Nate’s father.”

    Nooo, it wasn’t a put-on. I honestly didn’t know … I suspected there was a connection, but I honestly didn’t know … Thanks for endeavoring to enlighten the unenlightened. ;-D

  12. The next Church-wide international art competition will be coming up in the early spring of 2009. Entries are due in October of 2008. Entry instructions and forms are on the Church’s web site. Spread the word to all your LDS artist friends.

  13. My mother-in-law is an artist so when she visited us she made a point of dropping in to see Larry Ogan. She had us look up some of his Latter-day Retablos, which were pretty rich. If the Church Museum helped inspire them, hurrah for the Church Museum.

  14. Richard, your finer-grained analysis of early Mormon art was absolutely fascinating, thank you. I will say, in Givens’ defense, that he broadly acknowledges the immigrant character of early Utah society. I remember being floored when he noted that in some year—1880s, maybe—60% of the Utah population was foreign-born or the child of foreign-born parents. I guess I should have known that, but I’d never thought of it in that way.

  15. Larry,
    Could you e-mail me some images of your work? Your living in Santa Fe and doing Mormon art intrigues me. The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe is one of my favorite museums in the world. I also have a thirty five year love affair with Hispanic and Native American Art. Santa Fe is one of the great art centers!

  16. Richard O. or Larry Ogan, do you have any interest in Helen Hardin? She’s one of my favorite artists and she was Native American from the Santa Fe area. I know it’s a little random to bring up one name – just thought I’d check.

    I find myself wishing I could see some of her actual works, rather than just images online or in books. I wonder if anything by her has ended up in New York City … but I don’t quite know how to look that sort of thing up. So I thought I’d bring up these questions with some experts.

  17. #21 Richard
    Your interest in native American art is wonderful. 45 years ago when the church had the Indian Placement Program, our family had several live with us. The first was Aaron Talashoma. He lived with us during his 7th and 8th grade. We were in the same classes. He was a very talented singer, guitarist and painter. When he was in high school his art was on exhibit at either ASU or the Uof A. In his early 20’s he and his older brother, returning home from playing at a New Years Eve party were killed by a drunk driver. I do not know what happened to his art work. His younger brother, whom I also knew through the placement program was Lowell Talashoma Sr.
    Also my wife Susan says to say hi to you and Pammy

  18. Helen Hardin is one of the early influences on many of the contemporary native artists in Santa Fe. I believe her daughter Margarete Bagshaw is the executor of her estate. Margarete is also an artist who shows at the Ventana Gallery here in Santa Fe. You can see her mothers influence in her art. Helen’s art is shown at the Adobe Gallery also located in Santa Fe. I not sure where in New York you would see her artwork. Maybe she has work In the National Native American Museum in Washington DC.

    Well known native artists who are members of the LDS Church here in New Mexico are Tammy Garcia, who lives in Taos and is from the Santa Clara Pueblo which is where Helen Hardin mother was born. The others include two artists from the Santa Fe Ward. My first counselor in the Elders Quorum is Harrison Begay, a Navajo, who is in the Church Museum collection. Our Cub Scout leader is Les Namingha, from the Zuni Pueblo, who should be in the collection if he is not already. Hardin’s sense of design can be seen in all three of these artist’s work.

    Harrison just completed a carved pot for our Bishop of the First Vision. I haven’t seen the completed piece but the sketches looked good. I truly believe that as the Church membership expands world wide unique expression of the Gospel will gain in popularity. To see Gospel themes executed in indigenous forms is a thrill for an art addict like me.

  19. Larry, thanks for your comment. I once tried to track down an email address for Margarete Bagshaw but didn’t have much luck.

    One of the reasons I want to see Helen Hardin’s artwork is because I’ve read that she used layer after layer of acrylic and iridescent paints. This created a complexity or depth of detail that could not be captured in photographs and also may have created a rather ‘armored’ piece of work. According to a book about Hardin, she and a friend did ‘a Timex test’ on one of her artworks by driving a car over it and the painting remained intact. Reading that makes me very curious about these artworks. I guess one of these years I’ll have to find my way to Santa Fe.

    It’s interesting to see she’s had some influence on some LDS artists. I have wished to myself, when looking at Hardin’s work, that she had been familiar with (and believed in) Book of Mormon narrative. I’m sure she could have worked out some Book of Mormon symbolism into her artworks. I really think she was onto something in the way she depicted icons and symbols from Native American beliefs into her paintings while simultaneously being a very modern artist.

    I will be looking up the LDS artists you mention. I’m now very curious to see their works as well.

  20. Steve Jones,
    Good to hear from you. The Church Museum has a superb rooster kachina by Lowell Talashoma on permanent exhibit. I collected that piece about fifteen years ago from Lowell. I haven’t visited with him for years. Last I knew he lived at Second Mesa, Arizona.
    Harrison Begay in a very dear friend. Tell him hello for me.
    He has done several very significant works of art for the Church Museum including: Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life (pot on permanent exhibition in the Conference Center Lobby), The Last Supper (multiple figures), The Nativity (multiple figures). This last piece is currently on exhibit as part of the Church Museum’s Christmas show. I would love to see an image of Harrison’s First Vision pot.
    We commissioned Les Namingha to do a large Hopi pot depicting the Three Degrees of Glory. Tell Les hello for me.
    The Church has a magnificent pot by Tammy Garcia depicting Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life. I think that it is one of her finest pots. For those of you who would like to know more about this absolutely world class LDS artist, there is a very good book out on Tammy and her art.
    I wrote an article a few years ago for BYU Studies that illustraits and interprets some of the Church Museum’s best LDS Southwest Native American pottery in the Church Museum that we had up to that time. Virtually all of the pieces have LDS thematic content. Pottery by Navajos, Hopis, and Santa Clara Pueblos, and Zuni/Hopis are represented and discussed in the article.

  21. Richard

    Lowell Sr. died about 3 years ago and his son Lowell Jr. is carrying on the tradition

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