Award-winning Japanese artist Kazuko Covington created her first quilt 40 years ago without knowing what quilting was.
Shortly after they were married, Covington and her husband, Stan, moved into an apartment in Brigham Young University student housing while Stan attended classes. The walls were bare. Covington wanted to paint something, but they couldn’t afford paint or paint brushes.
Instead, she pieced together scraps of fabric and old clothing around the house and hung it.
“My visiting teacher came over one day and said ‘Oh, you made a quilt!’” Covington recalled in a recent Church News interview. “That’s how I found out what it was, and that was my motivation to learn to quilt.”
Covington, who lives in Tokyo, Japan, has entered quilts in three of the Church History Museum’s previous International Art Competitions. Her quilts were selected each time for the exhibit, including her pieces “Touching the Hearts of Many Generations” and “God Speed the Right” that won Merit Awards.
Through her quilts, Covington said, “I seek to calmly speak of truth and the joy to be discovered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Church History Museum will hold the 12th International Art Competition Exhibition in spring 2022. The theme is “All Are Alike unto God,” in connection with 2 Nephi 26:33. The submission period will be open from Feb. 1 to June 1, 2021.
“We hope that they have an opportunity to express their faith in Jesus Christ through art,” said Church History Museum Director Alan Johnson of those who participate in the upcoming competition.
“They can share their connection to heaven through art. They can share their trials, their personal experiences through art — anything that they feel represents their tie to the scripture, anything that helps convey things that are important to them.”
Exposure for artists
The Church History Museum, which opened in 1984, has held the International Art Competition every three to four years since 1987.
“Art was always a big component and continues to be,” Johnson said of the museum, which was formerly named Museum of Church History and Art until 2008.
With each competition, the art has become more diverse. The 11th International Art Competition Exhibition in 2019 featured the work of 151 artists from 26 countries selected from more than 900 submissions, he said.
Johnson said the purpose of the International Art Competition is three-fold: first, to encourage artists around the world to create quality art; second, to showcase the breadth and diversity of Latter-day Saint art styles and media; and third, to develop the Church History Museum’s collection.
The competition is also an opportunity for others in and around Temple Square to see new Latter-day Saint artwork and connect with the artists, Johnson added.
Such was the case with artist J. Kirk Richards, who currently has a painting displayed in the Church Office Building lobby and paintings printed in “Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ,” the revised missionary handbook released last year. His work has also appeared in Church magazines and the Conference Center.
Richards, who lives in Woodland Hills, Utah, has submitted pieces to five International Art Competitions — winning three Merit Awards and one Purchase Award — and served as a juror for the 11th International Art Competition in 2019.
His advice for artists: “It’s the direction more than the destination that’s most important. If you feel inspired to create something and enter it into the show, maybe it’s that movement, that direction, that’s more important than whether or not you actually get in the show.”
That “direction” could be more training or other opportunities to develop an artist’s craft, Richards said.
‘All are alike unto God’
Laura Howe, art curator for the Church History Museum, said she is looking forward to seeing the artists’ creativity with the theme “All Are Alike unto God.”
“I love this scripture (2 Nephi 26:33) because it shows the diversity of people and how wonderful people are in each of their unique cultural perspectives that they bring. And ultimately, as we come unto Christ, ‘all are alike to God,’” she said.
Though the theme was finalized last fall, its message is proving to be more timely than ever given national and international conversations, Howe said. “Hopefully this will be on people’s radars, and they can think and really internalize what this means.”
To an artist unsure about participating, she said, “Your perspective is needed.”
Carrie Snow, team lead for the 12th International Art Competition, echoed Howe’s words: “We want everyone.” As she’s worked with the six previous competitions, Snow said she has seen how the stories told through the art can be “moving” — especially in the statements artists attach to their work.
“There is this great kind of circle of empathy and understanding that the public gets from the art itself,” she said.
Creating art can also be an opportunity for introspection, regardless of your talent or skill level. “It doesn’t matter if you’re professional; it doesn’t matter if you’re an amateur. It doesn’t matter if you have a masters of fine arts or you’re self-taught. Just try because I think the whole experience of just creating something is meaningful,” she said.
Howe added, “Art provides us a platform to work out who we are and what we think and what we feel, and so it becomes another way to come unto Christ.”
The 12th International Art Competition is open to all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints above age 18 (must be 18 by the final day of submission). Each artist can send only one piece of art, and the artwork must have been completed after 2018.
To learn more about the competition details, general rules, jurying process and criteria and awards, please visit History.ChurchofJesusChrist.org/content/museum/competition-details. Previous International Art Competition exhibits are also available online.