California pioneer history exemplified in art competition


When Boyd Jensen and his late wife, Diane Helen Jensen, of Rancho Cordova, California, served their second mission at the Church History Museum across the street from Temple Square in Salt Lake City, one of his duties was to photograph the winners of the Church’s International Art Competition, which is held every three years.

“When I got back, I could only think of two pieces of artwork that were on early California history,” Brother Jensen said. “So I thought, we’ve got to do the same thing Salt Lake is doing, because they generate so much beautiful artwork on Church history.”

So as part of his role as member of the board of directors of the California Pioneer Heritage Foundation, and with the sponsorship of that organization, he developed and coordinated the California Pioneer Spirit in Art competition and exhibit. The first in 2010 was open to 21 stakes of the Church. The next two competitions, including the most recent one, have been open to all California artists.

“This year the artwork that has been produced is just fabulous,” Brother Jensen said. “We are starting to get a good list of great artwork on the pioneers of early California. That’s why we’re doing it.”

This year, Jeff Byrd of Sacramento won the first prize of $500 with his painting “Jean Baptiste Charbonneau — Guide.” The artist had intended to do a painting of an ancestor from the Mormon Battalion, but though he couldn’t find one, he came upon a name that sounded different than other names in the group: Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Charbonneau, who lived from 1805 to 1866, was the son of Sacagawea and was the guide for the Mormon Battalion.

After travelling with the battalion to San Diego, he worked as as a gold prospector and hotel operator in the Auburn, California, region. During his lifetime he worked as a fur trapper and a translator, spent six years in Europe and was a linguist with skills in English, German, French, Spanish and Shoshone and other Indian languages.

Sarah Blair of Sacramento took second place of $250 with her photograph titled, “The Bear Flaggers.” Her husband, Kent Blair, portrayed William Todd, the nephew of Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary, who painted the first California Bear Flag for the Bear Flag Revolt.

“My sister had the costumes,” Sarah Blair said, “and my husband made the table and the candlestick. We did the paints and I made the flag up, and we re-created everything.” The photo started out in total darkness. “We lit the candle first, and then everything else was pitch black, and my son went around with a flashlight,” she said.

Third place of $150 went to Alison Campbell of Campbell, California, with her painting “Early Morning Roundup.” She said that her work depicts the optimism and opportunity of the frontier. “Through them I tell the story of those who experience and overcome the struggles of life,” she said. “In my recent work I have been exploring the use of portraiture, landscape and still life to convey an emotion or conjure a memory. This challenge is to set the stage for the viewers to interact with the scene and bring their own memories and emotions with them. Capturing a moment in art preserves the emotion to be relived and reexamined another day.”

A special prize of $250 was awarded for the best artwork depicting Mormon influences in early California history. This went to Sharon Benton of Rescue, California, for her photograph “ ‘Til We Meet Again.”

“I have always been touched by the stories I have heard regarding the Mormon pioneers as they moved their families across the plain,” she said, “so they could settle in a place that would allow them to worship as they desired and live in peace.”

Her image is of “a grief-stricken mother and father who are burying another child,” she said. “This sweet little girl is being met by her older brothers who have come to greet her and return her to their heavenly home.”

The California Pioneer Spirit in Art exhibit will be displayed at the Folsom History Museum in Folsom, California, through Feb. 28. More information about the California Pioneer Heritage Foundation can be found at

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