Nearly 200 paintings and more than a dozen wood carvings created by President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency are on display in a special exhibit at Brigham Young University-Idaho.
The personal exhibit titled, “A Visual Journal: Artwork of Henry B. Eyring,” gives patrons a glimpse into the life and ministry of President Eyring. It opened in conjunction with the inauguration of his son, President Henry J. Eyring, as the 17th president of BYU-Idaho on Sept. 19.
The exhibit, held in the Jacob Spori Art Gallery on the Rexburg campus, includes 195 paintings from many decades of President Eyring’s life. More than a dozen other artifacts, including wood carvings, sketch books and painting supplies, are also on display.
“My motivation in all of my varied creative work seems to have been a feeling of love,” President Eyring wrote in a welcome at the entrance to the exhibit. “I felt the love of a Creator who expects His children to become like Him — to create and to build. In addition, I have always had a feeling of love for my family, friends and others who might gain some satisfaction and joy from my efforts. So, my hope today is that those who see this exhibit might feel both the Savior’s and my own love for them.”
The exhibit includes art depicting many countries around the world, as well as paintings capturing memories of his wife and family at home and on vacation.
“He handed me seven large binders of [nearly] 700 small paintings,” said curator Kyoung DaBell. “We were grateful that he would allow us to show his work.”
When she asked about the small format, DaBell said President Eyring’s answer surprised her.
“He told me he didn’t want to take too much time, since he is called to serve full time,” she said. “He does them so fast. He is so good, and so humble about it.”
His works are personal and all come from a moment or a memory in his life. Many have come after he has prayed to know what to paint.
“My attraction to drawing and building objects began in early childhood — so early that it must have come into the world with me,” wrote President Eyring. “As a little boy, I drew pictures in a blank book my father gave me. Later, my Cub Scout den leader invited me to design and build a wheeled cart to carry groceries — long before grocery carts were common. Then, when I served as president of Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho), Professor Richard Bird invited me to paint watercolors with him in the glorious outdoors.”
The subject of the paintings includes many places — walking to Church in Tonga, a Hawaiian farm, Walden Pond, many places in Europe and the Garden Tomb. Many depict a ship at sea, including one painting inspired by his forefathers Henry and Bertha Eyring traveling on the “Bark Diana — Bremerhaven, Germany” in about 1840.
“When a painting is finished, you wait for the moment when you feel magic,” the Church leader said in a short video being displayed in the exhibit.
In addition to places, President Eyring’s work includes moments — “Sunday afternoon,” “Grandson,” “Flowers for Kathy,” and “Grandpa fishing.”
“I have feelings while I paint certain kinds of things,” President Eyring said in the video. “I can’t do it unless I have something I care about. So I pray to know; I can’t just go do a picture to do a nice picture.”
DaBell said she enjoyed working with President Eyring, especially hearing how a painting or carving came to be. DaBell recalled how President Eyring explained to her how he and President Packer talked through an idea for a carving all through the night while on a plane ride from Brazil.
That carving includes part of a scripture found in Haggai 2:9 where it says “And in this place will I give peace.” The carving included places he feels peace — in the temple and in his home — and shows doves, representing the Holy Ghost.
Included in the exhibit are small posters that President Eyring and his children illustrated for use in their family scripture study.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited the exhibit on Sept. 19 and posted about it on his Facebook page.
“As an added bonus of attending the inauguration, BYU–I has a temporary exhibit of President Henry B Eyring’s artwork,” he wrote. “The exhibit is entitled ‘A Visual Journal’ and features a selection from over 700 pieces of sketches, watercolors and carvings. President Eyring explained that his creative work is motivated out of love for the Creator and out of love for his family. It was inspiring to see some of President Eyring’s artwork, and I felt his love for God and His creations.”