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LDS artists team up to paint murals for temple

By Andrea Ludlow - New Utah Correspondent - | Jun 23, 2002

New Utah Correspondent

PROVO — After a year of planning, painting and perfecting the murals for the Nauvoo Temple, six LDS artists say they are honored to have contributed a small portion to a significant spiritual and historical project.

“There were hundreds of people that were just as dedicated in whatever they were doing,” said Chris Young, an Orem artist who painted the temple’s garden room murals with Provo’s Jim Christensen. “The murals were just one added element to make this building pretty special.”

Robert Marshall, professor of visual arts at BYU, agreed.

“While people think that the paintings are one of the most visible elements, there are hundreds of contributors that did all they could do to make every detail just right,” he said.

“They’ve all done everything with love and attention that speaks of a real attitude of doing the best they could do. The whole building speaks of that.”

Young, Christensen and Marshall, along with artists Frank Magelby, Gary Smith and Doug Fryer, will be able to view their completed project in place at the temple dedication services Thursday.

The artists started their undertaking after temple planners decided to include murals in the Nauvoo Temple. Similar murals have not been placed in an LDS temple since the Los Angeles Temple was dedicated in 1956.

“We were excited about it because we knew that they hadn’t been done for many, many years,” said Smith, a Highland artist who has done 65 paintings for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “But with the whole historical aura hanging over the Nauvoo Temple, it was a very appropriate thing to be done. It may have even set a precedent.”

The painters began the daunting task in the fall of 2000 by rearranging their busy schedules and doing preliminary research.

After presenting their ideas to the church’s First Presidency, the artists began painting the nine murals at the BYU film studio in February 2001.

“Maybe the most exciting part was walking into the motion picture studio and seeing these big blank walls — they looked huge,” Young said. “They looked like they were going to be impossible. But it was exciting.”

Although they broke into three teams of two to produce the murals for the garden room, the world room and the creation room, the artists kept a certain level of consistency by loosely modeling their styles after the Hudson River school of painting — a painting style popular in the mid-19th century.

“We kept it in our minds as something we could focus on, and we kind of did our own interpretation of that,” Smith said. “We wanted to get that sense of panorama. We used it as a focal point, because the early Saints would have been used to that kind of environment, but we did it in our own way. It probably has a little bit more of a contemporary feel to it.”

While each tried to let his unique painting style come through, the artists said they appreciated having feedback and support in such an intensive painting environment.

“When we were getting down, you’d feel the support. They’d come in, cheer you up, get you going,” Young said. “We had worked together enough that we were secure in taking criticism. It was pretty special. We had a good time.”

Marshall said, “I think the highlight would be being there with five other artists that I respect and admire, and being able to work together and talk about what we’re doing.”

The project was often difficult and overwhelming, but spiritual and emotional aid was abundant, the artists said.

“We had a lot of experiences where we were very baffled about what we would do, but it always seemed to work out so easily without an awful lot of labor on our part,” Smith said. “Whether that was divine help, I don’t know, but I do know, as far as producing those paintings, that everything went very well. We met the deadline very easily.”

Young expressed a similar sentiment.

“We went through a gamut of emotions and feelings. It was kind of an endurance painting; you just had to keep plugging away,” Young said. “But at your darkest hour, someone would show up and support you. I felt that on this project, definitely. There was no way I could have pulled this off by myself.”

The artists went to Nauvoo in May — some for the first time — to hang the murals.

“The climax came as we all flew back and helped put the murals up. It was kind of spectacular rounding that last bend and seeing the temple lights,” Young said. “I couldn’t even sleep the night before our tour.”

The artists expressed appreciation for an opportunity they say comes around only once in a lifetime.

“It just went very well, and we really had a great time with it,” Smith said. “There’s probably not a more meaningful experience an artist in the church could do.”

“It was an honor to be asked, and it was an experience that probably will never happen again,” Marshall said. “I hope that we contributed something appropriate and meaningful.”


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