Worldwide art objects reflect gospel themes

As old as the beginnings of the Church, and yet as new and diverse as today's worldwide membership.

That describes a contemporary armoire decorated in a tradition that dates back to Austrian folk art of the 1830s.The large, painted cabinet was commissioned in 1986 by the Museum of Church History and Art to expand its international collection of objects dealing with Latter-day Saint history. It will be seen in a case in the new Church history exhibit with other works of art from around the world.

Hand-painted, decorative patterns on the armoire are authentic to the 1830s in the Austrian homeland of Rosalinde Lipp. She is an internationally known teacher and practitioner of decorative furniture painting, according to Richard G. Oman, senior art curator at the museum.

Sister Lipp and her son, Gerhard, carefully hand painted the furniture piece built for them by master craftsman Fred Dietrich, a Swiss immigrant to Salt Lake City. The Lipps were living in Utah at the time but have since returned to Austria.

"Traditionally," Oman explained, "the images on the armoire would have been religious motifs of Lintz, Austria, where she learned how to paint. Instead, as a convert to the Church, she has substituted her own experiences and Latter-day Saint religious history."

Set among the bright floral patterns are tiny scenes depicting Joseph Smith's First Vision, the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, the delivery of the plates by Moroni, a pair of missionaries, and a baptismal scene.

"It is a beautiful example of how cultures from many parts of the world can become vehicles for expressing gospel themes," Oman said.

"The armoire is a large and very complex piece. It represents the finest in an art tradition that Sister Lipp is helping to preserve," he said. "The Austrian government has sent her to teach others in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Great Britain."

She has also served as a temple missionary for the Church in Switzerland.

The international exhibit case will include a number of other diverse art works.

The Salt Lake Temple appears as a central theme in a Tongan tapa cloth, an Indonesian batik, a Kenyan batik, and a Cuna Indian mola.

The huge tapa was made in the 1930s as a gift of the Tongan saints to a mission president from Idaho Falls, Idaho. Fashioned from the bark of the mulberry tree, it depicts a number of prominent sites on and around Temple Square.

Hadi Pranoto, who has served as a branch president in Yojyakarta, Java, made the Indonesian batik. The dyed cloth art form was handed down through several generations to Pranato, who is a full-time batik artist.

The creator of the Kenyan batik is Titus Mutiva, an early convert from his east African homeland. Mixed into a collage of African landscapes and animal scenes are LDS themes as well.

The mola, a decorative applique cloth, was made by an unknown Relief Society member in Panama. A large collection of these colorful pieces is now on display in another museum gallery.

Another Latin American piece in the Church history exhibit is a large, round woodcarving of Lehi's dream of the tree of life. The artist is Victor de la Torres, a native of Ecuador who now lives in Caracas, Venezuela.

Leta Keith's pictorial rug of missionaries visiting a hogan in Arizona's Monument Valley is one of several works by native American artists in the new exhibit.

These, and many other reflections of faith and history, bring the story of Church history into the present and confirm themes of conversion and commitment found throughout the new gallery.