How Walter Rane’s masterpieces have dramatically changed Latter-day Saint art

Walter Rane selects a paintbrush from a tin can. The thin wooden tool fits in his hand so naturally it seems to be an extension of his fingers. Dabbing at the collection of colors on his palette, he brings brush to canvas.

With each stroke, a soft scratching sound whispers throughout the room. Minutes turn into hours, but Walter doesn’t keep track of time. He lives to create, and the possibilities are endless: a cityscape beneath blue clouds tinged with sunlight, angels cascading from the sky like water, a magnolia tree in full bloom in spring, the resurrected Christ descending from the air.

For Walter, eating is a burden; he hungers for art. Adding another brushstroke to the canvas, he coaxes the bristles to bend beneath his touch. He pauses — listening, perhaps, to what the painting is saying — and considers where it should go, and how he can take it there.

The process may be observed by few, but Walter’s paintings have caught many an eye as his works have inspired people worldwide. Today, 14 of his originals are displayed in temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from Rome, Italy, to Palmyra, New York, to Barranquilla, Colombia. Ten originals hang in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, and 14 of his Book of Mormon paintings are displayed in the meetinghouse below the Manhattan New York Temple. In total, the Church History Museum has a staggering 72 pieces by Walter in its collection, including paintings, etchings and preparatory drawings for paintings. And that’s not to mention the works housed in many buildings on Temple Square as well as the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center and the Whitmer Farm.

But of even greater consequence than the number of paintings Walter has created for the Church is what he has accomplished through his pieces: By bringing new life to religious art for Latter-day Saints, he has invited countless viewers to deepen their faith.

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