-By D.E. Brown, Newswire.net
6-minute video telling the story can be found here
12 iconic images from the Book of Mormon, signed by the author Arnold Friberg, sat forgotten in an underground vault since Sept. 11, 2001.
Arnold Friberg was the most inspiring and probably the most recognized American artist in the history of Mormon church.
To the world at large he is known for painting George Washington in “The Prayer at Valley Forge”, for his portraits of the British royal family, and his images of the Royal Canadian Mounties.
But to Latter-day Saints, he’s the Book of Mormon artist, who simply happened to paint all that other stuff.
Friberg’s art has been enjoyed by millions of readers of the Book of Mormon for decades, and his iconic vision, realized in pieces such as the Mormon Bids Farewell to a Once Great Nation, have earned Friberg a well-deserved title of “Painter of Scripture”.
In 1951 Friberg was commissioned by Adele Cannon Howells, the president of the Church’s Primary Association, to paint 12 pieces depicting Book of Mormon scenes for the organization’s monthly magazine Children’s Friend.
Sister Howells never conceived this idea with an intention to publish these works anywhere other than the magazine. The idea was to depict notable religious leaders in the Nephite scripture with an aim to inspire the youth reading it.
However, this was a very costly project for a small children’s magazine. And after the Church decided against funding the project, she arranged a sale of her personal property to raise the funds. This would be her last act as the president of Primary, as she died the the night after signing the commission documents.
According to Friberg, in the months leading up to his commission, he had many meetings with Sister Howells to decide on the topics the paintings would depict. They selected a wide variety of events from the scripture – events and topics that had significant historical value, which Friberg would later choose the final twelve from, based on their artistic potential.
After Howells’ death in 1951 Friberg had a series of meetings with senior General Authorities of the Church about issues related to adherence to doctrine, as well as archaeological findings as they might be depicted in his paintings. He was the “painter of scripture” and as such he felt the need to portray the events as accurately as possible. But such matters often require a level of tact and politics that Friberg was not accustomed to. His approach was often to attend the meetings, listen to everyone’s arguments and points of view, and then resolve the issues according to his own artistic judgment.
For example, in his first painting, The Brother of Jared Sees the Finger of the Lord, Friberg was faced with the dilemma – should he paint God’s finger or not?
He solved the problem by composing the scene in such a way that the light emanating from 16 crystals was too bright for the hand of God to be visible.
Author of a book on Friberg’s art, Ted Schwarz, wrote that the painting succeeded in “conveying great visual power without creating theological controversy.” Such was the intuitive genius that Friberg possessed.
In his article titled The Book of Mormon Art of Arnold Friberg – Painter of Scripture, author Vern G. Swanson stated Friberg was starting to experience frustration over scrutiny placed upon him regarding “every detail in every picture”. So, in 1954, when Friberg was offered a contract as chief artist-designer for Cecil DeMille’s mega-film The Ten Commandments, he jumped at the opportunity. In addition to getting the time off from the project, Friberg saw the chance to work with DeMille as means to broaden his experience before he resumed his Book of Mormon paintings.
Friberg ended up taking a four year hiatus while he worked on the movie. During that time he completed 15 paintings for the Hollywood epic. He was so influenced by this experience that, although never realized in finished paintings, upon returning to his Book of Mormon project, he decided to use Charlton Heston as a model of Nephi, and Cecil DeMille as King Mosiah in several sketches.
Eventually the remaining four pieces were completed, and each canvas in the series was published in the Children’s Friend, just as Howells had envisioned.
As Friberg’s audience overwhelmingly reacted to his work in a positive way, millions of reproductions were created, galvanizing his status as the church’s foremost painter of scripture.
This popularity lead to his 12 depictions appearing in the missionary versions of the Book of Mormon for decades.
In his later years Friberg increasingly focused on other aspects of his artistry. The portraits of various members of the royal family were commissioned by the Queen of England during the later stages of his work on the Book of Mormon series. This was followed by series of paintings exhibiting early western motifs.
However, towards the end of his life, Friberg decided to print a limited number of lithographs of the now-iconic twelve Book-of-Mormon pieces. The lithographs were signed by the artist, but before they could be sold, the September 11 attacks happened, resulting in the collapse of the American art market.
The lithographs were placed in an underground vault at the south end of Salt Lake Valley, where they waited for a right moment to see the light of the day.
Years went by, and on July 1, 2010, the aging artist, Arnold Friberg, passed away. He was 96 at the time of his death.
For years, the lithographs featuring the imagery considered most iconic in the minds of millions of scripture readers around the globe, sat forgotten in storage.
But fate would have it that an avid admirer of Friberg’s art learned about the existence of these lithographs and decided to do something about them. It was through his work that these pieces were eventually made available for sale.
Each set is authenticated by Friberg himself, and is now sold with his certificate of authenticity. It is not clear how long these prints will remain available. But what is certain is that these iconic pieces can never be reproduced again.