As I started preparing family lessons using the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s new Come, Follow Me manual, I was struck by the quantity of art. In addition to photos and screenshots from Church-produced videos, the manual includes 78 reproductions of paintings or stained-glass windows. Many lessons – particularly in the first half of the year – include two or three paintings. But as I started going through the art, noting the artists, I saw a pattern: Brent Borup, Del Parson, Walter Rane, Dana Mario Wood, Walter Rane, Tom Holdman, Greg K. Olsen, Robert T. Barrett, Jorge Cocco, Simon Dewey. They’re all men. It’s not until the 20th painting that we get to a woman artist: Liz Lemon Swindle’s Against the Wind, showing the Savior lifting Peter out of the water in Matthew 14.
Out of 76 paintings for which I could identify the artist and the artist’s gender, only 9 were by women artists – that’s just under 12 percent.* What’s more, 5 of those 9 were by just one artist, Liz Lemon Swindle. Even though Walter Rane has 12 paintings and Del Parson has 6, those only make up a quarter of all the paintings by men, leaving room for a wide array of lesser known artists to be featured.
Why does this matter? We want to be involved in organizations where we can see ourselves (or see what we’d like to be). In India, adolescent girls who saw women in politics had higher educational aspirations for themselves. When women in Peru and Mexico saw female role models in software-coding jobs, they were much more likely to apply for those jobs. When schoolgirls in Uganda saw a movie in which a Ugandan girl overcame challenges to succeed as a chess master, their grades improved. If girls see women artists, it’s not a stretch to believe that they’ll feel empowered to contribute their art. And who’s to say that it might not extend even to other contributions. The current structure of the Church precludes equal representation in key areas: Women can’t see themselves as the prophet or as apostles. So why not seek equal (or more than equal) representation in areas where we can?
Is it difficult to find women gospel artists? No. In addition to the women featured in the manual – Liz Lemon Swindle, Sandra Rast, Kamille Corry, Sandy Freckleton Gagon, and Annie Henrie – I asked for suggestions for women who do gospel-related art from friends on Facebook and got more than a few within a couple of hours. Here are some who have created clearly representational New Testament related art (i.e., the kind of art that we see in the manual): Rose Datoc Dall, Meagan Getz, Emily McPhie, Lynne Millar, Jenedy Paige, Kathleen Peterson, Katherine Ricks, Minerva Teichert, Elspeth Young. I’m sure there are many more.
Achieving representation takes a little bit of effort. But women represent roughly half the world population and they’re making beautiful, relevant art, so it seems like in the next manual, perhaps we can do better than 12 percent and let our sisters see themselves in the manuals in one more way. We can also show our sisters that they can worship through art and have that worship recognized just like that of their male counterparts.
* One painting is unattributed, at the end of the lesson for December 23-29. And one is “Peter Delivered from Prison,” by A.L. Noakes, about whom I was unable to find additional information.