The cultural diversity of LDS pioneer artists is just beginning to be appreciated, said the curator of two new art exhibits at the Museum of Church History and Art.
One exhibit is titled "The Spiritual Foundations of Latter-day Saint Art." Opened in April in the central gallery, the exhibit is a permanent installation replacing the LDS Masterworks exhibit that opened in 1984."As Church membership grows worldwide, Latter-day Saints are rapidly becoming more culturally diverse," explained curator Richard Oman. "Translation skills are increasingly needed to understand the spiritual insights expressed by the saints to each other."
The variety of cultural backgrounds was reflected in early Mormon art by the emigration from Scandinavia and the British Isles.
"That diversity meant that the Danish artists chose different subjects with a different emphasis than their English neighbors in Utah," Brother Oman said. "The pioneer Scandinavian artists told the epic story of the Latter-day Saints by painting everyday life and shared experiences."
Examples of the work by C.C.A. Christensen and Dan Weggeland illustrate this portion of the new exhibit.
British immigrant artists such as William Major, John Tullidge and George Beard were interested in "showing God's handiwork in the national environment and the divine institutions of church and family," Brother Oman pointed out. Other examples of this approach include renderings of glowing landscapes by artists H.L.A. Culmer, Reuben Kirkham and Alfred Lambourne.
Brother Oman, an authority on early Mormon artistry and religious symbolism, explained that artists such as John Hafen and Lorus Pratt became impressionists through their studies in Paris. Another group that emphasized the spiritual significance of human labor includes LeConte Stewart, Minerva Teichert and Mahonri Young.
Also in the gallery are 10 sculptures representing works of nationally known artists Cyrus Dallin, Mahonri Young, Torlief Knaphus and Avard Fairbanks.
An adjunct to the central gallery spiritual foundations display is the new contemporary art exhibit titled, "Seeing With Other Eyes: Cultured Divinity and Religious Symbolism in Contemporary Latter-day Saint Art." This exhibit is in the east gallery. It opened Feb. 13 and closes next year on Feb. 22.
In explaining the importance of symbolism, Brother Oman said: "Symbols are visual elements whose meaning expands beyond the literal representation of life. Symbolic art can open our souls to an understanding that is unavailable to people who see only with the temporal eyes. Understanding symbolism helps us focus on the religious content in art; it helps bind us together as a religious people."
Just west of Temple Square, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Admission is free.