A new catalog shows surprising visual diversity in the art of the Book of Mormon

Was Benjamin’s Book of Mormon tall or short, light-skinned or dark in color? Does Navi have curly muscles from Arnold Freiberg painting Or was his manhood more silent, as in Masterpieces of Minerva Tshirt?

Artists have been making such visual choices and interpretations of the Mormon Bible since the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830.

Now artists, scholars, and the public can view more than 2,000 of these works in a recently produced digital catalog, which has collected art from public and private collections and museums as well as from private church holdings.

The Mormon Art Catalog Book It is the “first permanent and comprehensive database” of these pieces, says the curator Jennifer Shambox. “More than just a listing of artwork, the catalog site also provides a wealth of information on each piece and unparalleled research tools for scholars, artists, church members, and anyone interested in the visual art of the Book of Mormon.”

It also highlights, she says, “the diversity of last-day saint art and artists.”

(Kathleen Peterson) “Abish and the Queen”, 2015, oil.

Says Spencer Flohman, CEO of Neil A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Endowment at Brigham Young University, which helped fund the project. “It is a source that I am glad both Latter-day Saints and scholars now have within their reach.”

Beyond that, he says Matthew BowmanHunter W., Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California, helps this group “break down old, boring stereotypes in order to imagine the Book of Mormon in new and striking ways.”

Bowman says in a press release that the database “reveals once again the complexity and importance of the text as a reference to American religious history.”

see a need

(Jorge Coco) “His Marks”.

The project began, says Chambaugh, an art historian who lives outside of Denver, when she was investigating how the story of the Book of Mormon known as “A Dream To Live” was depicted in visual art of the last saint.

It soon became apparent to her that no single researcher could trace all the visual images in a particular scene from the Book of Mormon, she says, “because there are so many sources to research, many of which are inaccessible to the public.”

She concluded that scholars and church members needed some sort of central clearinghouse for this art, Chambox says, and so she set out to create one.

She says it would be good for artists to see the different ways in which people interact with religious texts visually.

She said her team, which included student researchers at the church-owned University of BP, wanted to give “a full sense of what’s going on — without judging the artists’ skill or interpretation.”

sophisticated style

(CCA Christensen) “God Bless His Offspring”, 1890, oil on board.

In some early 19th-century works, the characters appear “entirely European,” says Chambox, “in their features and costumes—even including Roman togas.”

Both the Nephites and the Lamanites (the two main groups in the book) were light-skinned and bearded, like a realistic painting from France at the time.

Because the art of the Book of Mormon was completely new at the time, she says, the creators were “understandably based on European icons.” These days, more and more characters are being portrayed with a “Central American look.”

Over time, what the art historian describes as the “last day saint style” emerged.

Art that comes through in official church media tends to be “a figurative, narrative, and realistic style of art,” says Chambox, who occupies a place in the spectrum of possibilities.

But the historian says, “There is little danger when people see scenes from the Bible in a very realistic fashion with the same interpretation.” “They’re starting to think it’s almost like the picture, how things really happened.”

A vision expands faith

(Michael Hall) “Enos Wrestles with His Sins”, 2018, bronze maquette.

For this reason, it is important, says Chambox, to “make a greater range of art available to artists and members alike.”

It helps believers keep “an open mind about interpretations and parts of the story,” she says, and realize “there is only one way to read a passage from the Bible.”

Indeed, the curator hopes that seeing the breadth and depth of this collection, she says, “will help us see the scriptures in new and fruitful ways.”

(CCA Christensen) “Navi’s Vision of the Virgin and Son of God”, 1890, oil on board.

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