One of the most remarkable monographs to have been written in recent years is Marian Wardle’sMinerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint. That Wardle is the granddaughter of the venerable western and Mormon muralist is inconspicuous, and with exacting detail, Wardle has created the most important work to date about Minerva Teichert. Published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art, Wardle’s masterful work is a precisioned arrangement of not only a credible biography and evocative coffee table book of 47 color plates, but also a comprehensive chronology (including an extensive catalogue raisonne), and Teichert’s never-before published autobiography.
It might be expected that a monumental treatment of Teichert’s story by a family member, and published by Brigham Young University, would be a pallid re-telling of the spiritual side of Teichert, akin to a 1940s Relief Society manual; but Wardle freely narrates the salty side of Teichert as well as detailing some noteworthy disappointments in her life. However, Wardle resists writing an extensive account of many of the stories that have been re-told for decades. Yes, in her youth, Teichert slept with a gun under her pillow. Yes, she worked as a trick roper while studying in New York. Yes, she often used her children’s dates and any others who happened by the modest Cokeville, Wyoming home as models for some of her massive and forceful murals. No, she did not create a mural for the Ellis Island receiving station.
Teichert’s disappointments chronicled in the book included being disqualified from painting murals in the Idaho Falls Temple because she was not a male priesthood holder. However, she felt fully restored when asked some years later to paint murals in the Manti Temple, the first female invited to do so. Of particular interest is Wardle’s detailed handling of two significant dreams. The first concerns her marriage to Herman, a non-Mormon, wherein she describes in great detail the tweed in his suit, the opera, Lucia di Lammermoor playing in the background, and the white hair of the man performing the ceremony, all being signs that it was alright to marry outside the faith (later, Herman joined the Mormon Church and served in the local bishopric for many years). The second dream, much more personal, surrounded the occasion of being invited by her mentor, Robert Henri, famed Ashcan School ringleader, and Mrs. Henri to travel with them to Europe. Teichert’s dream, some days before their scheduled departure, vividly illustrated her walking down a long gallery where there were “grand things” on the walls, but as she approached them, the beautiful “things turned brown and curled up.” She continued with the same event occurring with each new hall explored, until she spotted a portrait of a teenage girl in a pink dress. She commented to her companion about how she wished she “could paint like that.” The reply came back that she could and that the girl was her daughter. Teichert awoke with great excitement, wrote the Henris and told them that she could not travel with them as she had seen her daughter in a dream. A year and a half later and some years after having three dark boys, Teichert gave birth to a beautiful, blue-eyed daughter.
Like a Teichert mural, Wardle marches forward with pageantry bringing all elements of her book together in a contextual celebration. She details the influences on Teichert’s life and career. Her murals typically feature women in strong, self-sufficient roles, influenced, as Wardle points out, by her mother who wrote pamphlets for the women’s suffrage movement. The portrayal of attractive and appealing human subjects on her canvasses underscored her sensitivity. Male Native Americans are not generally represented as being warlike; rather, they frequently accompany females in dances and other celebrations, and are depicted more like “new age sensitive guys.”
Missing is a comparison of Teichert’s Book of Mormon characters to those of Arnold Friberg’s massively-muscled men that became Church icons. Wardle reports without apology that Teichert was disappointed when, after creating 42 Book of Mormon paintings in 1951 that she assumed would be embraced by her church, those in authority were non-plussed. It would be, as Wardle describes in Teichert’s extensive chronology, 1969 before the artist would donate these beautiful creations to welcoming arms at BYU, several of which are reproduced in Pageants in Paint. This was a crowning event and occurred just prior to Teicherts breaking her hip from a fall, which ended her career.
Wardle’s exuberance about her now-famous grandmother is fully understandable. Her scholarly analysis and balanced writing style about Teichert and her extensive body of work is objective, compelling, and hits the mark. For those bothered by the constant use of “[sic]” when examining primary documents, Wardle chose not to use the repetitive explanation; rather, she kept Teichert’s words as written which creates more continuity and connection for the reader. For those with OCD, no misspelled words were detected. This relaxing, but informative and complete biography of Minerva Teichert is a fresh approach and hopefully indicative of future BYU publications. Credit should be given to Scott Anderson and Zions Bank for their vision and financial commitment to this monumental project. Whether you enjoy regional history, are a Mormonophile, or appreciate some of the finest paintings created in the spirit of the west, Pageants in Paint will not disappoint.
Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint by Marian Wardle is available in hardback and paperback. The book is currently available at the Brigham Young University Musuem of Art bookstore, or can be ordered by phone at (801) 422-8214.
This article is from the February 2008 Edition of 15 Bytes.
Tom Alder, a Salt Lake City native, left a 30-year mortgage banking career in 2009 to open Alderwood Fine Art, specializing in early Utah art. He held an MA in Art History, taught at the University of Utah, and served on various boards in the cultural community. He died in 2018.