Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

A Second Coming Neglected during her lifetime, Minerva Teichert’s illustrations for the Book of Mormon find a warm embrace from a new generation

Over the past decade, Minerva Teichert’s work has surged in popularity, receiving from the Mormon community the sort of enthusiastic embrace the artist dreamed about for much of her life — 40 years after her death, reproductions of her work can be found in meetinghouses belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world, and her originals are displayed in prominent locations on the campus of church-owned Brigham Young University. Contrast this with her own lifetime, when mural designs she created for three different LDS temples were rejected, and her most ambitious project, a suite of 42 paintings intended to illustrate the religion’s foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon, went unpublished. In A Visual Testimony: Minerva Teichert’s Book of Mormon Paintings, Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art brings these paintings together — with a handful of related works — in an exhibit that celebrates the Mormon modernist’s vibrant talent and begs the question: why did it take so long for these works to become part of the Mormon community’s visual consciousness?

Teichert grew up on a ranch in Idaho, at the turn of the 20th century, with no formal education. At age 14, she visited her first art museum in San Francisco, an experience which inspired her to pursue a career in art. She traveled east to study, first in Chicago and then in New York, where at the Art Students League she was mentored by noted modernist Robert Henri. He encouraged Teichert to paint the “great Mormon story,” which she did, in relative isolation, creating hundreds of scenes in oil depicting Western life and the stories of the Mormon people out of her home in Cokerville, Wyoming. Though she painted constantly and prolifically, working at night while her children slept, her desires for official church recognition went unsatisfied until 1947, when she took first prize in the LDS Church’s centennial art competition, and was subsequently invited to paint a mural in the Manti Temple. Flush with excitement from these successes, in 1949 Teichert embarked on her most ambitious project, the Book of Mormon illustrations.

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