In the News

Find out about the 12th International Art Competition awards

Visitors’ Choice Awards announced as the public show came to an end March 4

Find out about the 12th International Art Competition awards

Visitors’ Choice Awards announced as the public show came to an end March 4

Nearly 150 pieces of art from more than two dozen countries were displayed from June 2022 to March 2023 in the Church History Museum as part of the 12th International Art Competition.

As the show concluded, the Church announced six winners of the Visitors’ Choice Awards. Those who came through the exhibits at the museum or who viewed the art online could vote for their favorite pieces once the display opened. At that time, the 11 Purchase Award winners and 10 Merit Award winners were announced to coincide with the exhibit’s opening.

Art for the show, submitted by more than 850 artists, came in various sizes and formats reflecting the competition’s theme of “All Are Alike Unto God.” The theme came from 2 Nephi 26:33.

All of the works can still be seen online on the Church History Museum’s website.

Visitors’ Choice Awards

More than 25,000 shells gathered from Alabama, Florida and Mexico create the color and texture along with pieces of driftwood and other items as part of Shelby Stroud’s mixed media piece “I Remember Those Who Are on the Isles of the Sea.”


“I Remember Those Who Are on the Isles of the Sea” by Shelby Stroud — featuring more than 25,000 shells used to make a portrait — is one of six Visitors’ Choice Award winners in the 12th International Art Competition.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Stroud found out she had won an award shortly before leaving on a road trip that took her through Salt Lake City from St. Louis, Missouri. This gave her another chance to stop by the museum. As she sat in front of her piece, she observed others looking at it as well.

“One couple brought in some kids and made them stand real close and find things like the seahorse and crab and feather,” she wrote in an Instagram post.

“They pulled them back to see the whole picture and proceeded to teach them about how the little things matter and add up. It made me cry.”

Esther Hi’ilani Candari’s “As a Loving Parent” shows a child having his hand guided toward the white, glowing fruit of the tree described by Lehi in 1 Nephi 8. That fruit symbolizes the love of God.

“I feel inspired by this paternal instinct to guide one’s child to the good, true and enlightening things in this life and the next,” Candari said.


“Encircled in the Arms of His Love” by Amy Bunnell Jones is one of six Visitors’ Choice Award winners in the 12th International Art Competition.

The Church of Jesus Christ or Latter-day Saints

Amy Bunnell Jones’ mixed media piece titled “Encircled in the Arms of His Love” also won a Visitors’ Choice Award. In an Instagram post, Jones described this piece as depicting “the world’s largest group hug.”

The only animator to win for her entry in the competition was Ester Kawai of São Paulo, Brazil. Kawai is an illustrator and 2D animator whose work was also selected as part of Brazil’s International Children’s Film Festival.


“Batchan (Grandma)” by Ester Kawai — an animated short film created as a homage and farewell letter to her grandmother — is one of six Visitors’ Choice Award winners in the 12th International Art Competition.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“This animated short film is an homage and a farewell letter to my grandmother,” said Kawai about her film. She said the video ponders the sometimes-incomplete ways God’s children touch each other in this life and the eternal promise offered in the temple that family relationships can continue forever.

The five-minute film can be watched on the Church History Museum’s website.

Kelsy Lightweave’s nearly glowing digital print of “Common Thread” shows more than a dozen hands reaching, holding or clinging to the iron rod as it leads to a shining tree. The scene comes from 1 Nephi 8:19.


“Common Thread” by Kelsy Lightweave — showing different hands reaching for the iron rod described in the Book of Mormon — is one of six Visitors’ Choice Award winners in the 12th International Art Competition.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Lightweave said, “This gift, or common thread, binds us together in love and unity, marching toward the same goal and lifegiving light.”

If the piece has a familiar appearance, that may be because Lightweave and her husband, Jesse, won an award in the last international art competition the Church sponsored in 2019. “Finisher of Faith” depicted the moment when Peter was rescued by the Savior moments after walking to Him on the water.

Michelle Franzoni Thorley’s painting won both a Purchase Award and a Visitors’ Choice Award. “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 at the exhibit’s opening.

“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.

Michelle Franzoni Thorley is pictured with “Making Space for Us” during the 12th International Art Competition at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

Michelle Franzoni Thorley is pictured with “Making Space for Us” during the 12th International Art Competition in the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 9, 2022.

Deseret News archives

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 [see] 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.”

Purchase and Merit awards

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.’”

Newman also won a Purchase Award.

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. Her piece for this competition won a Purchase Award.

“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 sees 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.”

Church History Museum

While the exhibit featuring these pieces of art is no longer available, the Church History Museum has other exhibitions to see when visiting Salt Lake City.

The ongoing exhibits of “Temples Dot the Earth,” “The Heavens Are Opened,” “Mormon Trails” and “Presidents of the Church” are all open for visitors to see.

The Church History Museum is located 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.

The museum also maintains many of its past exhibits online for viewers to see around the clock and from around the world. These include past international art competition exhibits, artist exhibits and topical exhibits.

One even includes some of the watercolor art created by President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church.

Award winners

Winners of the competition’s Purchase Awards and Merit Awards were announced June 9, 2022, at a presentation in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. The Visitors’ Choice Award winners were announced on Feb. 24, 2023.

Purchase Awards:

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”

Merit Awards:

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”

Visitors’ Choice Awards:

Amy Bunnell Jones, “Encircled in the Arms of His Love”

Esther Hi’ilani Candari, “As a Loving Parent”

Ester Kawai, “Batchan”

Kelsy Lightweave, “Common Thread”

Michelle Franzoni Thorley, “Making Space for Us”

Shelby Stroud, “I Remember Those Who Are on the Isles of the Sea”

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed