Pieces of art from more than two dozen countries are on display in the Church History Museum as part of the 12th International Art Competition, which opened officially Thursday, June 9.
Art for the show, submitted by more than 850 artists, was in various sizes and formats reflecting the competition’s theme of “All Are Alike Unto God.” The theme comes from 2 Nephi 26:33.
Artist Steven Newman’s work, “Living Water,” is a reflection of what Newman says was an important moment in current events and the Savior’s life.
“The theme came at a very pivotal time in the world,” he said. “I think that theme was inspired.”
His painting features water coming forth from a singular source and cascading through a series of hands.
“I thought of this pivotal moment in the Savior’s ministry of the Samaritan woman at the well,” Newman said. “He told us that living water is available to us all. … This links me directly to the theme that ‘All Are Alike Unto God.’”
Paola Bidinelli of Italy created a mixed-media collage to convey the feelings of solitude that many felt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her piece, “Sense of Oneness,” features the photos of friends, family and neighbors each at the bottom of a tin can, isolated from each other on the wooden panel to which the cans were mounted.
“Working on this piece gave me a wider sense of the human condition and especially how it is important to let our Savior be the Author of our life’s story,” she said.
Michelle Franzoni Thorley’s painting, “Making Space for Us,” shows the Savior coming through an archway in the middle of a desert.
“Sometimes people will say the desert is ugly, but they have no idea how lush and beautiful and vibrant the desert is,” she said.
“I think the same thing with people. People can have stereotypes of who others are or where they come from or how desirable or worthy they are,” she said, as she talked about the variety of desert plants in her painting.
“The Savior says to all of us” like plants that each bloom in their given environment, “we all belong.”
Franzoni Thorley put a lot of her Hispanic heritage into her painting.
“There is a lot of my family and my culture and mi gente [my people],” she said, her eyes filling with tears.
One of the competition’s jurors, Rose Datoc Dall, said she hopes people will see paintings like Franzoni Thorley’s and consider the growing diversity of the Church’s membership.
“I hope that people who come to this exhibition will come to appreciate the diverse visual culture that we have in this Church, which is now a worldwide Church and it’s no longer just a pioneer Church in Utah,” she said.
Datoc Dall is also an artist and credits the Church’s competition with helping her to have the confidence to continue honing her skills.
“I found my voice through this competition,” she said. “I found that I had more to paint in this that was spiritual and sacred subject matter.”
Fellow juror Nnamdi Okonkwo is a sculptor and said he was impressed by the quality of technical skill demonstrated by the artists in addition to their spiritual themes.
“The pieces have to reflect the theme of the show — ‘All Are Alike Unto God’ — but the pieces also have to be good works of art,” he said.
As he considered almost 1,000 pieces that were submitted, he said some had immediate impacts on him.
“I was confronted by pieces of art that made me stop and recompose myself before I could continue,” he said. “It was definitely a spiritual experience.”
Curator Laura Paulsen Howe said the competition “seeks to broadcast the lived faith of members of the Church.”
“We hope to encourage the creation of quality art, showcase the breadth and diversity of Latter-day Saint cultural production and purchase art for the Church History Museum collection that helps to represent who we are as a people.”
Using fabric and thread, Carol Johnson quilted a piece that depicts 20 pairs of feet as seen under the pews at church. Johnson said she started sketching feet she noticed in church for no particular reason.
“And then during the pandemic it did, the idea just came to make a quilt of the feet, and so I wanted to depict all the different people in the world we’ve met.”
She said she wanted to “depict the love that God has for everyone.”
Even though each individual’s full body is not visible, the feet and shoes each tell a story of the person they belong to. Some feet are bare, others have a cane placed next to them, others have military boots — a tribute to the U.S. Marines she and her husband served with while living in North Carolina.
And between one pair of feet is a book of scriptures, opened to the competition’s theme verse.
“I took a picture of it, printed it on fabric, and then I really thought about all the people that we’ve been associated with through Church service and serving in the Church and how our Heavenly Father has blessed them,” she said.
Of Johnson’s four entries into this and previous competitions, this is the only one to win an award.
“I was surprised,” she said about winning a Merit Award. “I usually do fabric landscapes, so this is very different for me to do this piece. I felt inspired to do it. That’s what Heavenly Father wanted at this time.”
Erica Stenkrona lives in Sweden, a place where “you stick out when you are a Christian,” she said.
Stenkrona’s submission, “He Doeth That Which Is Good Among the Children of Men,” depicts what she calls “a joyful family.”
The mother, father and two sons sit together on one chair surrounded by their favorite things that “give the family happiness and energy, gifts of a loving Savior,” she said, describing her piece.
Stenkrona hopes to continue painting and share her work in churches around Sweden.
“I want to convey the feelings of spirituality, of hope and love,” she said. “I want to express the love that I feel for my Savior, and have people feel that love when they see it.”
Newman said he thinks there will be a piece of art that resonates spiritually with everyone who comes to see the exhibit.
“Art is like music. Some people like country-western, some people like pop, some people like jazz,” he said. “You’re going to see that represented here with all different styles. … There will be something that you like here.”
Seeing what an individual likes from an art perspective is one part of it. But having an opportunity to feel the influence of the Holy Ghost is also a part of the experience, he said.
“This is not a Utah church. This is the Church of Jesus Christ for the entire world. You’ll see that represented in the show.”
The exhibit is open to the public until April 3, 2023.
The Church History Museum is just west of the Tabernacle at the corner of North Temple and West Temple in Salt Lake City and is open Monday, Friday and Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Tuesday through Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. It is closed on Sundays. Admission is free.
Winners of the competition’s Purchase Awards and Merit Awards were announced Thursday night, June 9, at a presentation in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
Aïsha Lehmann, All Alike?
Susana Isabel Silva, Su Luz Sobre Todos
Steven Newman, Living Water
Nicole Woodbury Preece, Within the Marrow of Our Bones
Emma Koepsell, Inviteth Them All
Michelle Franzoni Thorley, Making Space for Us
Julie Yuen Yim, Partake of His Goodness
Joseph Banda, But This Is That Which Was Spoken by the Prophet Joel
Megan Knobloch Geilman, Pietà
Erica Stenkrona, He Doeth That Which Is Good Among the Children of Men
Carrie Ellen Carlisle, Family Dinner
Ryan Muldowney, Man of Sorrows
Christa Gedris, All Are Encircled in the Arms of His Love
Loren Brown, House + Wilderness
Joanne McLeish, The Tapestry of Rescue and Redemption
Carol Johnson, Pew Shoes
Diane Hatch, Lift Up the Hands That Hang Down
Ryan Moffett, Not Even a Sparrow
Laura Erekson, Cross Section of a Tree No. 1
Michelle Romano, The Invitation
Alyce Bailey, The Others