Minerva Teichert (American, 1888-1976) was before her time, and Arnold Friberg (American, 1913-2010) was right on time.
Both considered among the most talented and imaginative artists of their generation — in and out of LDS culture — their stories represent the difference between a culture unaware of the
potential use for art and one that used art to further the missions of the Church.
Teichert was born to into a farming and livestock family in the rural West. Through a single-minded dedication to developing her talents, she studied first at the Chicago Art Institute and then at the Art Students League of New York with the famed artist Robert Henri (American, 1865-1929), who encouraged Teichert to tell “your great Mormon story.” It became her life work.
Returning to her native Wyoming, Teichert painted hundreds of monumental paintings depicting Church history and subjects from the Book of Mormon. Near the end of her life, she offered these to Church leaders. But, at the time, the Church had no mass-distributed publications with illustrations, nor any museum in which to house them.
By comparison, Arnold Friberg, working within only a few years of Teichert and with many of the same subjects, had his twelve Book-of-Mormon paintings distributed by the Church more than 60 million times in the Book of Mormon. Like the World’s Fair, the idea to have Arnold Friberg paint the works had not originated with the Church’s top leadership. The commission came from President Adele Cannon Howells, who died before the work was completed. The First Presidency inherited the relationship with Friberg, using his works in the first mass production of the Book of Mormon and in countless publications. It is fair to say that neither Howells, Friberg, nor the leaders of the Church would foresee the far-reaching applications of the twelve works. Likewise, in Teichert’s era, before the advent of the World’s Fair and central Church publishing, there was little understanding of how art could further the Church’s mission.
Both Friberg and Teichert were prolific in their exploration of Book of Mormon subjects. It is curious that, before these two artists, no other artist took on a systematic exploration of the stories in the Book of Mormon. They were doing something nearly unparalleled in the history of Western Religion. Not since the advent of Christianity had an artist been given a completely new set of stories, symbols, parables, and characters. Mormon artists not only have a new interpretation of the Bible to depict, but they have new scriptures, including the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, along with a latter-day history full of miraculous accounts, tragic events, and heroic deeds. Arguably, these events have yet to be explored in great depth by visual artists.