A Mormon Image: Temple Murals and Art Missionaries

December 12, 2003 | 11 comments
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While many members don’t realize it, there is actually a fairly strong tradition of impressionistic painting among Mormon artistists. The origins of the tradition go back to the decision of the Church to send some budding young LDS artists to Paris as “Art Missionaries” in the late 19th century. This painting, a study for the mural in the Garden Room of the Salt Lake Temple, is an example of this impressionist tradition.

As the completion of the Salt Lake Temple approached, the leaders of the Church began looking for artists to paint the murals. John Hafen (1856-1910), the painter of this picture, and some colleagues were called “on missions” to go to Paris to study art. At the time, impressionism was the hottest thing in the French art world, and it is what the Mormons picked up. The use of light and color in this painting shows the influence of Hafen’s exposure to impressionism in Paris.

Hafen found it difficult to make a living as an artist in Utah. Heber J. Grant, who was a successful finacier in addition to being an Apostle, felt it was very important that Hafen continue to produce art. He made a deal. Hafen would work full time as a painter and attempt to sell his paintings. Any that he could not sell, then-Elder Grant agreed to buy.

Interestingly, after an absence of several decades, I understand that there are plans to once again include painted murals in the ordinance rooms of new temples. For me, at least, it is exciting to see a revival of what is a peculiarlly Mormon use of art.

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11 Responses to A Mormon Image: Temple Murals and Art Missionaries

  1. Kaimi on December 12, 2003 at 2:44 pm

    Thanks for the image, Nate. I like impressionists. Their stuff is so pretty. :)

    My art professor in college once said that there are two types of students in the Survey of Art class — the ones who get stuck on the impressionists, and the ones who don’t get stuck, and who, once they see modern art, think that impressionism is just so much immaterial fluff. I guess I’m one of the former.

  2. Clark Goble on December 12, 2003 at 5:49 pm

    Lee Greene Richards did a lot of the murals in the Cardston Temple. (One of the cooler temples due to the interior woodwork) His make use of expressionism as well.

    http://www.shs.nebo.edu/Museum/richards.html

  3. cooper on March 9, 2004 at 12:59 pm

    The murals are beautiful. John Hafen was, like most artists in their day, underappreciated. The murals and artwork in the temple have always inspired my thoughts and actions while there. I missed the murals in modern temples. Our new temple in Redlands is replete with murals. One is of the surrounding area, pre-industrialization and modern society. The others are clouds and sky. They are beautiful. We also have a natural skylight built in that IMO brings in too much light during the day. The colors of the murals appear washed out. It’s not something you really notice until you attend in the evening sessions. In the evenings the colors come alive and you get the full value of the artists work.

    I am very glad murals are returning to the temples.

  4. Margaret E. Campbell Bates on April 25, 2004 at 8:43 pm

    I am the great niece of Herman Haag, who went with John Hafen to Paris as one of the Art Missionaries. I would like to have a biography of him, as I am presenting the lesson at the upcoming Daughters of the Utah Pioneers on May 15. Would you have anything of that sort, or anyone who comes on this bulletin board, please respond. Thank you.

  5. Margaret E. Campbell Bates on April 25, 2004 at 8:43 pm

    I am the great niece of Herman Haag, who went with John Hafen to Paris as one of the Art Missionaries. I would like to have a biography of him, as I am presenting the lesson at the upcoming Daughters of the Utah Pioneers on May 15. Would you have anything of that sort, or anyone who comes on this bulletin board, please respond. Thank you.

  6. Margaret E. Campbell Bates on April 25, 2004 at 8:44 pm

    I am the great niece of Herman Haag, who went with John Hafen to Paris as one of the Art Missionaries. I would like to have a biography of him, as I am presenting the lesson at the upcoming Daughters of the Utah Pioneers on May 15. Would you have anything of that sort, or anyone who comes on this bulletin board, please respond. Thank you.

  7. Margaret E. Campbell Bates on April 25, 2004 at 8:44 pm

    I am the great niece of Herman Haag, who went with John Hafen to Paris as one of the Art Missionaries. I would like to have a biography of him, as I am presenting the lesson at the upcoming Daughters of the Utah Pioneers on May 15. Would you have anything of that sort, or anyone who comes on this bulletin board, please respond. Thank you.

  8. Jason on March 10, 2005 at 1:26 am

    Dear Professional Artists,

    I am a Berkshire Park student and we’re doing a career project where we have to pick a career and interview a professional. As you know you are a great artists so i was just wondering if you could answer some questions?

    1. How much money do you make everyday.A month?a Year?

    2. Does it get really frustrating if you mess up your piece?

    3. How many hours do you spend at work everyday?

    4. What items do you have to use to make paintings and all the beautiful art?

    5. If you are fired, are you still considered a professional artist?

    Thank you for your time.

    A student, Jaosn

  9. Sheri Lynn on March 10, 2005 at 1:51 am

    Jason, my mother is a professional artist, and I worked as a journalist in the art field for a few years. Artists’ salaries are highly variable. Some must have a “day job” and others become wealthy. I’ve interviewed fabulous artists at both ends of the income spectrium. I think that business sense, not talent, accounts for the differences in income. My mother’s business is a supplement to my father’s income as an engineer. Some years she makes money, some years she loses–and then their taxes benefit.

    Experienced professional artists seldom “mess up” a piece, though they will produce some paintings they dislike for one reason or another. They usually solve the problem by selling the pieces as fast as they can. There’s someone for almost any painting. Most of the artists I’ve interviewed border on workaholics. Some must be virtually dragged from their work by the necessity of eating, drinking, socializing, and sleeping. Some just develop a routine. Few work only sporadically. Artists work in a variety of media. My mother buys canvas once or twice a year in bulk, and stretches her own canvases; others buy canvas pre-stretched from places like Hobby Lobby. There are airbrush artists who work with toxic paints who must wear respirators to protect their lungs and earplugs to protect their hearing from noisy compressors. There are acrylic and watercolor artists who like the fact that these paints dry very rapidly. Oil artists are more patient, and don’t mind if a single painting takes quite awhile to finish. A pastel artist I knew who did beautiful portraits had to quit because of lung damage from the pastels she used.

    Artists who work for others always run the risk of being fired, of course, but they still consider themselves professionals and will seek other work, as would just about anyone else. I think the majority of artists are self-employed or are in specialty subprofessions, such as advertising. Most branches of art are suffering from the popularity of digital art. That is the kind I do, but as a hobby.

    I interviewed an airbrush artist named Doug Stewart who did airbrushing for movies such as the Alien movies, Batman, and so forth. They were literally halfway through a movie once when all the airbrush artists were fired. The people in charge of the film had decided to change tracks and go with digital special effects instead of makeup appliances and airbrushed monster props.

    Hope this helps.

    To do art for a temple would be an incredible experience.

  10. David Rodger on March 10, 2005 at 3:02 am

    I think Margaret E. Campbell Bates has been cloned.

  11. Margaret E. Campbell Bates on February 9, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    Well, maybe I was “cloned” — but I didn’t feel a thing! Ha!

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