Exhibit depicts sacred history, message

Folks visiting the new Book of Mormon exhibit at the Museum of Church History and Art can listen to scores of faithful testimonies without hearing a word. Here faith is articulated via canvas and clay, wood and stone.

Emily Layton's oil painting "Children Waiting to Come Forward," for example, as illustrated on the cover of this week's issue of the Church News, captures Jesus Christ's comforting spirit during His visit to the Americas. Christ's figure is not depicted — but His love is reflected sublimely in the faces of a little boy and girl anticipating a moment with their Savior. Other works, like Gary Lee Price's sculpture of Lehi offering fruit from the Tree of Life, extend "an invitation for the viewer to accept the fruit; the gift is for all of us," said museum director Glen Leonard.

Indeed, LDS artists from around the world have melded talent with devotion — creating paintings, folk art, sculptures, wood carvings and other forms of media as part of the museum's fifth international art competition "The Book of Mormon: It's History and Message." The competition was designed for Latter-day Saint artists to share their interpretations and conviction of the Book of Mormon.

The exhibit opens March 25 and runs through Sept. 4, 2000.

Many works depict anecdotal themes from the Book of Mormon, such as Helaman inspecting his weary but loyal 2,000 stripling warriors. Others, like Chii Tai Cheng's painting of a humble Asian man reading the Book of Mormon in his native tongue, emphasize the universal message and blessings found in holy scriptures.

The museum received 453 entries; 217 were accepted for display. Pieces were submitted from all ends of the globe and include a variety of cultural traditions and styles. A few will win awards or be added to the museum's permanent collection.

But the works themselves transcend competition. The myriad forms of artwork express a common, moving message. The final entries arrived at the museum months ago, but emotion still sometimes catches up with Brother Leonard when he reviews the works.

"This is an exhibit filled with the Spirit that teaches us. There is strong emphasis on the Book of Mormon's witness of Jesus Christ and the importance of the Book of Mormon for us today," Brother Leonard said.

Viewers will see familiar Book of Mormon stories in new ways, giving them "a special experience understanding its messages," he added.

Museum curator Richard Oman was thrilled with the diversity of the entries. Viewers will be exposed to a number of aesthetic traditions — yet reminded of a singular theme.

"The message this exhibit drives home is that the gospel unites us," Brother Oman said.