Prints of paintings of Christ and other people from the scriptures and Church history are displayed in Latter-day Saint meetinghouses, visitors’ centers, and temples throughout the world and are used in Church magazines and manuals. Many of these artworks were created in the 1950s and 1960s by American illustrators Arnold Friberg, Harry Anderson, Tom Lovell, and Ken Riley. While the religious works of these illustrators are familiar, less known are the career paths these artists took and the other works of art they created. This article aims to acquaint the reader with the lives of these illustrators and the circumstances surrounding their artwork commissioned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Friberg, Anderson, Lovell, and Riley earned their reputations in the heyday of the national magazines Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, McCalls, Liberty, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies’ Home Journal. These artists are a product of the golden age of illustration, a period from the 1880s to the 1930s1 which saw unprecedented growth in commercial art. Many talented artists in America were attracted to the field of illustration, and they competed for the chance to paint a page or cover for nationally distributed magazines.
Whether the magazines featured factual articles, romantic stories, adventurous yarns, or murder mysteries, the illustrator was expected to interpret the text and work within limitations and deadlines.2 The variety and sheer volume of paintings in these magazines advanced the artists’ careers. “If you are doing representational paintings, like I am today, I can’t think of a better training ground than illustration,” says Ken Riley. “Illustration is a stepping stone for a lot of artists who have gone on to gallery work.”3 Indeed, Friberg, Anderson, Lovell, and Riley did move on to portrait, mural, and gallery work. As the gap between art and illustration has recently narrowed, appreciation for the contribution of these artists has increased.
The Golden Age of Illustration
As late as the nineteenth century, fine art could be seen only by the wealthy or those who frequented museums. In the United States, because travel to the museums and galleries of Europe was too often financially prohibitive, an increasing audience clamored for reproductions of fine art. Although European owners were usually amenable to prints being made of their private collections, poor printing processes made such willingness a moot point. Replicating an accurate, printed version of an original drawing or painting without blurry lines and muddied colors was impossible. In the nineteenth century, the invention of high-speed rotary-plate presses and a high-quality halftone engraving process soon changed the impossible to the conceivable.4
European corporate executives saw potential revenue in reproducing art for a rising middle-class society; their counterparts in America saw that potential and more. The Americans envisioned great profit in nationally distributed books and magazines that combined art with narratives and short stories. These entrepreneurs believed that by sending illustrated magazines through the mail, it would not be long before housewives, breadwinners, and children were scurrying to be the first to read monthly or weekly publications.
Many American artists were invited to submit portfolios to the emerging American art patron, the magazine editor. Some artists scoffed at the invitation to illuminate a short story with a painting, refusing to pollute their talent by associating with a literary product of questionable worth. The thought of subjecting the creativity of their paintbrushes to the dictates of an editor seemed unrewarding. These artists could not imagine that becoming a pictorial storyteller would be anything but a step down, a prostitution of God-given talents.
Not all artists, however, held this view. Howard Pyle, often referred to as the “Father of American Illustration,” embraced the book and magazine world. Pyle pioneered new ways to depict the dramatic, the heroic, the adventurous, and the American. Pyle later opened American art schools dedicated to building a contingent of American illustrators that was unrivaled by European counterparts.5 Among his highly talented students, none was more impressive or teachable than Harvey Thomas Dunn (1884–1952).6
Dunn illustrated stories for the Saturday Evening Post.7 During World War I, he worked as a graphic reporter on the front lines. At the war’s end, Dunn began teaching at the Grand Central School of Art in New York City. Only students whose portfolios passed his critical review were invited to enroll in his class. Arnold Friberg and Ken Riley were among the chosen.8
Under Dunn’s demanding tutelage, America’s new artists learned to set the stage for a reader to imagine a story. They were told again and again that an illustrator had the potential to shape America’s self-image, and, in order to shape the American Dream, they had to be good—very good.9 “Paint the epic; not the incidental,” Dunn admonished. “Any picture that needs a caption is a weak picture. . . . In making a picture, you should excite interest, not educate. Let the colleges do that.”10
Although not all teachers at the Grand Central School of Art agreed with Dunn’s philosophy, gifted students caught the vision. To them, Dunn was the catalyst for igniting their aspirations. Under his guidance, this hand-picked cohort of students illustrated American icons. They became the pictorial storytellers that sustained the vision established in the Golden Age of Illustration through the 1940s and 1950s. To their readership, magazine covers revealed the ideal life: the soda fountain, the doctor’s office, and the classroom. Norman Rockwell, a student of Dunn, created vignettes of daily life that made images of sleigh rides to Grandma’s house and stockings hung for Santa Claus into American icons. Such illustrations became more popular in America than so-called fine art. This popularity led artists to vie for opportunities to illustrate even poorly written short stories in a nationally distributed magazine. But meeting deadlines, satisfying editors, and discarding originals for the published form was difficult. Illustrator Paul Calle recalled the difficulty of working for a magazine: “One week you were doing the great moments in surgery, the next it was people of the Bible. Our job was not merely to take the script and follow it exactly; it was to create interest in the scene, to go beyond the written word.”11
Ken Riley felt that illustration brought the best artists in America together. “We prided ourselves on being able to make a good picture of anything,” he said.12 For the men and women who succeeded, it was a wonderful time, a golden age in which the American artist was born.
But, as with any era, this golden age passed. Photography eventually replaced much illustration, and television viewing pushed aside magazines. During this transitional time, illustrators scurried to find alternative markets, including those more closely associated with fine arts. Those who perpetuated the standard came to the attention of Latter-day Saint leaders.
Arnold Friberg, the son of Sven Peter Friberg of Sweden and Ingeborg Solberg of Norway, was born on December 12, 1913, at Winnetka, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Due to his father’s deteriorating health, the family moved to warmer climes when Friberg was three years old. They settled in Phoenix, where his father was employed as a blue-collar worker.13 When Friberg was seven years old, his father was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by a fellow carpenter.14 Friberg’s parents were baptized, and one year later so was Arnold.
Art captured Friberg’s young fancy. “I knew from the age of four what I was going to do,” he mused. His father encouraged his budding talent. “Every day I would draw an original cartoon. They were crude, but . . . they weren’t copied,” Friberg recalled. He became so proficient at cartooning that, on his eighth birthday, his father took him to meet “Uncle Billy” Spear, editor of the Arizona Republican, where Mr. Friberg worked. Spear told young Arnold to come back the next Saturday.15 Dwight B. Heard, owner and publisher of the newspaper, also took an interest in the young artist.16
By age ten, Friberg was convinced that he needed to enroll in an art course. He enrolled in a cartooning correspondence course offered through the Washington School of Cartooning.17 “Every penny counted” to the Friberg family, and neighbors told Arnold’s parents, “You’re wasting your money. A boy 10 years old isn’t ready to study on a professional level!” Friberg’s parents ignored the comments.18
By age thirteen, Arnold had “turned pro” and was working for a sign painter. At fourteen, he enrolled in the Federal Schools of Minneapolis, a correspondence school for commercial artists.19 Before the year ended, he was self-employed, painting signs and displays for theaters, real-estate entrepreneurs, and the manager of the local wrestling arena. By age fifteen, he had been hired by Safeway grocery store to paint signs, and a local vaudeville production had employed him to do “chalk talk” acts on stage. Friberg liked “chalk talk.” On stage he drew legendary characters to the delight of cheering crowds.20
Crowds also cheered Arnold’s athletic prowess on the football field and in the boxing arena, but their plaudits did not turn his artistic bent toward self-portraits. “I’m not keen on painting things of my own life and times,” he said, preferring “things of great antiquity.”21 In recognition of his talent, Friberg received three national art awards before high school graduation.
After graduation, Friberg received unusual advice from his bishop, who generally counseled young men to serve missions: “Forego the mission. Go to art school instead, for you will do more good through developing your talent than you could do in two years of door-to-door tracting.”22 Following that advice “with alacrity,” Friberg entered the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.23 After an intensive year of training in which he worked part time for printers, he returned to Arizona and touted himself as a commercial artist. Although the grim years of the Great Depression gripped Phoenix, Friberg never looked to the government for “make work” projects. Yet he gave up his lucrative business in 1934 for a chance to enroll once again in design, lettering, fashion drawing, and illustration at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He then remained in Chicago, doing a variety of commercial art.24 Of these options, it was illustration that captured his fancy. “I learned more from the great illustrators than from any painter,” he claimed.25
In spite of the rigorous training, it was not until 1937 that Friberg received his first “big break.” The Northwest Paper Company, a manufacturer of fine printing paper, commissioned him to create a pictorial symbol for the Northwest Mounted Police. From his first illustration of the “Mounties” to his last, his depictions of athletic uniformed men became collector’s items and helped make Friberg the only American invited to be an honorary member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. His series of three hundred paintings over a thirty-eight-year commission is recognized as the longest-running series of illustrations in advertising history.26
With this ongoing art commission in his portfolio, Friberg was numbered among the young illustrators who could approach the major national magazines. It was no surprise that an invitation came in 1940 for him to attend the Grand Central School of Art and study under the tutelage of Harvey Dunn. Friberg did not hesitate to accept the invitation.
Although class work was demanding and Dunn uncompromising, Friberg excelled until World War II. He had not anticipated that anything could divert him from Dunn’s tutoring, but the war dampened his aspirations and ended the honeymoon period of his education. For a time, he considered serving in the air corps, which was actively seeking illustrators to depict young men looking skyward—the ultimate symbol of patriotism. He was offered a captain’s commission if he would paint recruiting posters, but he refused the commission because he “couldn’t rationalize wearing a uniform in a cushy desk job in the states” when his peers were fighting in deadly combat.27
Friberg saw war action in the Philippines and in Europe with the U.S. Army’s 86th Infantry Division. For three and a half years, he scouted and patrolled along enemy lines. When not seeking out the enemy, he drew maps and training aids for his division. The work was intense, dangerous, and demanding, and in 1946, when his troop ship docked in the San Francisco harbor, Friberg was ready for discharge. He longed to return to illustration to depict the good, the wholesome, and the American Dream.
But he soon realized that the war had altered his artistic style. Before the war, Friberg explained, “to me a mountain was a shape and a tone . . . [but] through the army training and the actual combat, earth started to become a real thing. . . . It became a physical thing—something that would stop a bullet.”28 The epic power and physical substance of his new illustrations landed him work and the necessary funds to set up a studio in San Francisco.
Although designing packages, fashion illustrations, and a calendar series featuring the American West kept him busy, a young woman named Hedve Baxter captured his attention. In 1946 they were married in San Francisco. Two years later, the young couple visited Salt Lake City, where Friberg formed an acquaintance with Avard Fairbanks, then dean of the newly created College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah. Their acquaintance grew to friendship when doctors recommended that Hedve’s health would improve in drier climes, and Fairbanks expressed excitement over having Friberg, a national “big-league” illustrator, consider Salt Lake City home. Fairbanks invited Friberg, who had never completed an academic degree, to teach practical courses in commercial art and illustration at the University of Utah.29
Although Friberg accepted the invitation, he believed his real reason for coming to Salt Lake City in 1950 was to be commissioned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to do epic religious paintings. He viewed himself as spending a lifetime painting Bible scenes, the pioneer trek, and sacred moments in Church history. He imagined “a good forty paintings of the life of Joseph Smith. How I could bring that guy to life! Through strong pictures, I could build Joseph into an American hero,” he said.30 But Friberg was disappointed to discover that illustration was not a high priority to Church leaders.
His first Church commission was a commemorative painting for the hundredth anniversary of Richard Ballantyne’s first Sunday School in the Salt Lake Valley. Neighborhood children dressed in nineteenth-century costumes were photographed, sketches were made, and oil studies were completed before he painted the scene on canvas.31
Additional opportunities to create book dust jackets and billboards did little to forward his career, and these jobs were time consuming. Hoping to steer his career toward religious themes, Friberg sought divine help. He felt that God answered him and provided the gifts necessary to advance his career and his art: “The first vision of a picture always comes—‘Boom!’ I never have but one concept of a picture, but I have to do research because I don’t see it all in clarity,” said Friberg. “The idea selects the artist it wants.” As to why he has been so blessed, he unequivocally stated, “What I do I am driven to do. I follow the dictates of a looming and unseen force. . . . I try to become like a musical instrument, intruding no sound of its own but bringing forth such tones as are played upon it by a master’s hand.”32
Among those who recognized the powerful spirit and vision of Friberg’s art was Adele Cannon Howells (1902–1951), general president of the Primary from 1943 to 1951.33 On her deathbed, she arranged for the sale of personal property to pay Friberg twelve thousand dollars for twelve illustrations depicting Book of Mormon scenes to appear in the Children’s Friend. Friberg recalls, “It was a startling task to undertake, for the Book of Mormon had never been illustrated before, at least on any professional level. There were no precedents as there are for the Bible. Imagine illustrating the Bible or the Book of Mormon in twelve pictures!”34
Sister Howells anticipated that children seeing the Friberg reprinted paintings would find in them scriptural heroes. Friberg shared her vision but also added his own. He believed that children were drawn to paintings of fully developed characters, not the “Dick and Jane” of art or what he called a “kiddie” style. He was convinced that children deserved to see the “power and majesty of the word of God.”35
Although the contractual arrangement was between Sister Howells and Friberg only, a misconception persists that the Book of Mormon paintings were commissioned by Church priesthood leaders. Sister Howells not only conceived of the idea, she had the tenacity to face murmured opposition and sell personal property to pay for the paintings. Unfortunately, she did not live long enough to see one sketch drawn.
Friberg turned to Church leaders for historical and doctrinal suggestions. He had questions about antiquity and archeological findings as well as about hair length and clothing but was surprised to find that opinions varied from leader to leader. And with that variation grew a personal frustration in attempting to paint another’s visual interpretation of scripture when he had thoughts of his own.36 Adding to the dilemma was a strong suggestion that he paint great sermons, such as those given by Alma and King Benjamin. Realizing that the Book of Mormon is much more than a record of sermons, Friberg countered the suggestion with a conviction that a sermon, although inspiring to listeners, does not provide the drama needed to create an intriguing scene.37
He wanted to paint heroes that appeared legendary in stature. “This idea that mankind is wretched and little is wrong,” he stated. “The muscularity in my paintings is only an expression of the spirit within. When I paint Nephi, I’m painting the interior, the greatness, the largeness of spirit. Who knows what he looked like? I’m painting a man who looks like he could actually do what Nephi did.”38 This artistic philosophy too often left him feeling ostracized. “It sounds egotistical to say I’m the only guy that can do a particular type of picture. But it’s true, and I feel a burden that separates me from people,” Friberg said.39
Although he failed to meet the deadline for the Children’s Friend fiftieth anniversary, his paintings proved worth the wait. After eight of his paintings had appeared in the Friend,40 they were recognized for their artistic value by the National Lithographic Society.
That recognition led Herman Stolpe, a Swedish art publisher on a tour of the United States, to alter his plans and come to Salt Lake City to meet Friberg in the mid-1950s. “He spoke good English and I spoke a little bad Swedish,” recalled Friberg.41 But it was obvious that Stolpe was interested in Friberg’s art. Stolpe graciously accepted eight prints of the Book of Mormon illustrations. At the same time, Paramount Pictures producer and director Cecil B. DeMille was searching for an artist to create biblical characters, costume designs, and scenes for his upcoming motion picture The Ten Commandments. He had written to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art inquiring about a Bible artist in America. Museum personnel responded with one name, Arnold Friberg, but did not know where he was living. Frustrated with not finding an American, DeMille called on his friend Stolpe: “Perhaps you could help me by looking around Europe for such an artist.” Stolpe assured him that he would. But after an unfruitful European search, he sent DeMille the eight Book of Mormon illustrations with a handwritten note: “The man you’re looking for is in Salt Lake City.”42
DeMille readily grasped the relationship between the Book of Mormon and Old Testament scenes and saw in the eight reprints the power and majesty of Friberg’s artistic talent. He was especially drawn to the painting The Brother of Jared Sees the Finger of God.43 The surprise captured on the face of the brother of Jared was riveting to DeMille. He sent an immediate offer to Friberg to come to Hollywood and be the artist for The Ten Commandments. Surprisingly, Friberg did not receive the offer well. He had not met the deadlines for completing the Book of Mormon illustrations and felt inadequate to meet future demands. His inclination was to reject the offer, but President David O. McKay’s advice changed his mind: “The Ten Commandments [project] can’t wait. They’re making it. The Book of Mormon can wait. Do the Ten Commandments.”44
In 1953, Friberg moved to Hollywood. As the chief artist-designer of The Ten Commandments, he readily conceived of biblical characters and scenes as well as costumes for actors Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Yvonne De Carlo, and Vincent Price. His designs were so innovative that he was nominated for an Academy Award. Although the award went to another, his fame was not diminished. Fifteen monumental paintings of scenes from the motion picture were exhibited on every inhabited continent and seen by rich and poor alike. DeMille estimated that more people saw the Friberg paintings than “most of the great masterpieces of ages past.” DeMille called Friberg “an inspiration” for “his profound reverence and knowledge, as well as his superb artistry.” He went on to say that, among the living creators of religious art, “one stands out for his virility and warmth, dramatic understanding, and truth. That man is Arnold Friberg.”45 Norman Rockwell agreed, calling Friberg the “Phidias of Religious Art!”46 The Royal Society of Arts in London named Friberg a lifetime fellow.
Friberg returned to Salt Lake City in 1957 to complete the last four Book of Mormon paintings—Samuel the Lamanite on the Wall, Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty, Christ Appearing to the Nephites, and Moroni Bids Farewell to a Nation—all of which were duly published in the Children’s Friend.47 In 1963 he painted Christ Appearing to the Nephites (renamed The Risen Lord). This painting, depicting a bare-chested Christ, was not well received by Church leaders and led to such conflicting discussions that Friberg began to look elsewhere to contribute in the world of art.48 He accepted a 1969 commission from General Motors to paint a series of college football highlights spanning one hundred years. In the bicentennial year 1975, to honor General George Washington, he painted what many consider his masterpiece, The Prayer at Valley Forge.49 Of that painting, one gallery owner said, “I saw grown men standing in front of it with tears in their eyes. I was glad to have the darn thing out of the gallery. I was going broke! Nobody came and looked at anything else.”50 For thirty years, Friberg was also a preeminent painter of Western subjects.51
In his later years, Friberg became discouraged. He fought to save his house and studio from a highway expansion and lost. Then came Hedve’s debilitating illness that forced her into a nursing home; she died in 1986. “A darkness came into the pictures,” Friberg admits.52 It took time to recover his artistic vision. The Night When Christ Was Born and The Prayer in the Grove attest to his victory over discouragement.
Happier times came with his marriage to Heidi Wales. The couple had a formal Mounted Police wedding in Canada. At their wedding banquet, a letter from the Queen’s palace in London was read announcing that Her Majesty “would be pleased to pose for a large equestrian portrait to be painted by A. Friberg.”53 Friberg spent several weeks working at Buckingham Palace and at Windsor Castle on the royal equestrian portrait.54
Commenting on his body of work, Friberg said, “I feel good about my pictures, for they speak directly to people’s hearts. . . . That’s why I’ve been stubborn, and work longer than I should have. Because all that is left is your work. Nobody’s ever going to know what you could have done if you’d had a little more time.”55 Regarding the future, Friberg has a “driving wish to paint many more pictures, especially of a religious nature, and trusts that the Lord will grant him the strength and the years on earth to do them.”56
Harry Anderson was born in 1906 in Chicago. Although his mother was a Lutheran, he attended a Congregational church in his youth. By the time he enrolled as a math major at the University of Illinois, he had stopped attending religious meetings. His interest was academics, and he worked washing dishes, waiting tables, mowing lawns, and selling hosiery to support his studies.
During his sophomore year, Anderson enrolled in a still-life painting class, hoping to complete his curriculum with an elective course. To his surprise, Anderson discovered that he had a talent for drawing. In contrast, few accolades were coming his way in calculus.57
Anderson entered the freshman class at the Syracuse School of Art in 1927.58 Like most artists, he studied anatomy and the works of masters such as Rodin and Michelangelo. In his junior and senior years, color theory and painting were emphasized. He loved color theory and honed his talent with colors to such precision that he surpassed the ability of his university instructors. Fellow students were calling him “artist.” Tom Lovell, who shared his private studio in the dormitory attic, claimed he “learned more from Anderson than from his teachers.”59 Lovell urged Anderson to quit school and work in New York with him, but Anderson was determined to graduate; he earned a bachelor of fine arts with distinction in 1931. After graduation, he and Lovell went to New York and set up a studio near other hopeful and gifted illustrators in McDougall’s Alley.60
Unfortunately, Anderson’s big plans of commissions from the “slick” magazines waned as the Great Depression hit the print industry. Unable to secure commissions, he sought employment with the Mirror Candy Company on Times Square, selling candy from seven in the evening to the wee hours of the morning. His earnings of ten dollars a week did not meet his expenses. Promotion to night manager and an increase of two dollars a week did little to alleviate his precarious circumstances. Scrounging through trash cans for pop bottles that would bring a few pennies helped somewhat.
In April 1932, Anderson received his big break. An editor at Collier’s magazine offered him a commission to illustrate a short story of a French soldier returning to his girlfriend. With that two-tone commission in his portfolio, he confidently ventured toward other publishers. “Nothing succeeds like success” became his philosophy. Magazine art directors William Cheesman (art director at Collier’s) and Frank Eltonhead (editor at Ladies’ Home Journal) became his mentors. These men showed him the tricks of the trade—matching a picture to a story, tilting the head to intrigue a reader, and using a brush stroke to suggest that excitement awaited the reader on the next page.61
But after two years of working for New York–based magazines, Anderson left the Big Apple. Chicago beckoned with offers from Montgomery Ward for farm produce illustrations for their spring and summer catalogs. With fresh confidence, he joined an art agency in Chicago’s Palmolive Building and began illustrating everything from seed envelopes to Cream of Wheat boxes.62
A commission from the Woman’s Home Companion propelled Anderson in a new direction. The Companion wanted illustrations for a story that featured a beautiful young woman. Perhaps not by chance, Harry saw a receptionist working on the thirty-sixth floor of the Palmolive Building who fit the description. He arranged for Ruth Huebel, an employee of Esquire magazine, to pose for the painting. They were married a year later, in 1940.
The following year, Anderson accepted a position with the famed art studio of Haddon Sundblom. With this position came more work than he had imagined. Major corporations wanted him to illustrate billboard ads and full-page color images for magazine stories. Anderson’s illustrations and covers became regular features of Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, Woman’s Home Companion, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping.
With his talent in such high demand, he felt the need to optimize his painting technique to ensure quality and yet preserve time, so he developed a strict artistic routine.
From the concept of an illustration to its completion, every step in his routine was meticulously followed. It began with doodles and moved to a few sketches in casein. Next came the “squaring” of the sketch to facilitate proportional reproduction onto canvas. He then placed the old sketches aside and cleared “a place for himself before his easel.”63 Next he reached for a brand-new brush and began. Ruth seldom came into his studio because Anderson was convinced that he could not focus on the easel when his wife was looking over his shoulder. From the commencement of the painting to the end, Anderson stood. His routine was followed day after day and year after year.64 “The test of one’s courage often may be the way he faces the grind of daily routine,” said Ruth. “I have seen Harry endure a sometimes brutally monotonous existence. I have marveled at his dedication and faithfulness to his work in a lonely studio, year after year.”65
However lonely Anderson may have been, the routine paid big dividends. Within a year of their marriage, the Andersons were living the illustrator’s American Dream. Although Anderson was deluged with art commissions, stomach cramps interfered with the completion of his illustrations. Doctors were consulted but were unable to diagnose the problem. For two years, he ate only strained baby food while waiting for a diagnosis. At long last came the answer: an allergic reaction to the turpentine in his oil-based paints.66
Wanting to remain competitive in the illustrative world, Anderson switched to water-based paints and looked to heaven for answers. The Seventh-day Adventist Church provided some spiritual answers. He accepted their theological doctrines and made a firm resolve to face life anew. This resolve was difficult, especially since he was a habitual smoker and a social drinker, and the Adventists shunned smoking and drinking. And then there were his lucrative beer illustrations. To Ruth, it was one thing to change personal habits and quite another to threaten their livelihood.67 While the Andersons were contemplating their options, Dr. Glenn Millard, a local Seventh-day Adventist pastor, suggested the possibility of Anderson’s working for the church. Anderson agreed.
In 1945, Anderson painted What Happened to Your Hand? for an Adventist children’s book. Although editors viewed his illustration of Christ in a modern-day setting as nearly blasphemous, its broad appeal directly led to his 1946 move to the headquarters of the Adventist publications in the Takoma Park–Washington, D.C., area. His illustrations soon appeared in many religious textbooks, storybooks, and periodicals but were not limited to these outlets.
Anderson felt free to seek outside commissions, and he split his career between commercial illustrations at premium wages and paintings for the Seventh-day Adventists at prices well below their value.68 Anderson favored opportunities to paint Jesus Christ. “I paint Christ the way I like Him, not to please other people,” said Anderson: “The Bible says He would not stand out in a crowd, but it also suggests He was not ugly. I know He was a carpenter, that He did a lot of walking, so I see Him as strong, both physically and emotionally. I try to show that.”69 He later added that he also liked to represent Christ as loving.70 He was successful in visualizing a strong but loving Jesus for a rising generation.
But through it all he was frustrated. His working environment was stifling because he worked on the top floor of a non-air-conditioned office building. Perspiration dripped down his arms, spoiling his work. When he complained, fans were installed. But the fans blew his sketches around. Failing to find a solution, Anderson began spending more time away from the office. In so doing, he developed a research interest and a passion for “do-it-yourself” projects. From cutting leather to sewing costumes to making furniture, he was becoming versatile but losing focus. After seven years in Washington, Anderson realized that he was slipping backwards in his art. Just as he was beginning to voice his concern, he received a telephone call from his college roommate, Tom Lovell, who suggested that Anderson return to work in New York and live near him in Danberry, Connecticut. The idea intrigued Anderson, especially when he learned that many artists, including Ken Riley and John Scott, were Lovell’s neighbors.71
In August 1951, the Andersons moved into a home on a five-acre lot in Connecticut. The Andersons were enthusiastically welcomed to the neighborhood. Although he was offered hospitality and rounds of golf, Anderson was true to his artistic routine and remained slightly aloof. In the 1960s, he was commissioned by Esso Oil Company to paint images for the series “Great Moments in American History” and “Great Moments in Early American Motoring.” In 1962, after being awarded the Adolph and Clara Obrig prize in watercolors by the National Academy of Design in New York City,72 an opportunity came that he had not expected.
Anderson received a visit from his friend Wendell Ashton, director of LDS Church public communications, along with J. Willard Marriott, head of a multimillion-dollar business, and Hobart Lewis, editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest. They offered him the opportunity to paint “key points in [Christ’s] work for man, climaxing in His second coming” for the Mormon Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.73
Anderson accepted the commission to paint with oils even though he had not painted with that medium since the early 1940s.74 Stomach cramps or not, he agreed to paint a 5′ × 12′ mural of Jesus Christ ordaining his Apostles. Ruth noticed something unusual in his rigid artistic routine during this painting: he was “very moved” and would “get up at night to work on it.”75 Church leaders and millions of visitors to the Mormon Pavilion were also moved by this painting.76
Latter-day Saint leaders liked the artistic style, and they liked the artist. Anderson saw in Latter-day Saint tenets similarities with his own Seventh-day Adventist creed—a belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ, the importance of good family living, and an abhorrence for alcohol and tobacco.77 Thus he was not opposed to accepting additional Latter-day Saint commissions. Among his commissioned paintings for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were Christ Ordains His Apostles, The Ascension of Christ, Nathan Eldon Tanner, The Second Coming, Isaiah Prophesying, Christ Giving Commission to Disciples, Christ in Gethsemane, The Sermon on the Mount, The Resurrected Christ Appearing to Mary, Christ with Children, Triumphal Entry, Joseph Smith, The Crucifixion, and The Resurrected Christ Appearing to the Disciples. Anderson painted fourteen scenes from the life of Jesus Christ and six from the Old Testament for the LDS Church. The Church also acquired nineteen additional paintings from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, all with biblical themes.78
However, when Church leaders desired paintings of the Restoration and the Book of Mormon, Anderson refused the Latter-day Saint commission. “He was a very committed, true, and honorable Seventh Day Adventist,” said Jay Todd, former managing editor of the Ensign. “He had his own sense of commitment and declined to paint Book of Mormon and Restoration scenes. As long as the Church commissioned biblical work, something that he deeply believed in, he accepted the commissions and was willing to acquiesce to Church leaders on visual interpretation.”79 For example, when Anderson was counseled to paint angels with no wings, he complied but never missed an occasion to attempt to convert Church leaders to the correctness of his personal biblical interpretation. Artist Bill Whittaker remembers being amused at the doctrinal bantering Anderson enjoyed with Gordon B. Hinckley.80 Artist Walter Rane explains, “Anderson was not just doing work as a job. He had to believe in it.”81
When Anderson turned down Latter-day Saint Restoration commissions, Church leaders asked him for names of artists who could paint the desired scenes. Anderson suggested only one man: his neighbor Tom Lovell.
Harry Anderson became recognized as one of the country’s leading artists. “How did you get to be famous?” young artists asked. “[By] concentrating on my job, applying the principles of art as I know them, and keeping on until the job is finished,” said Anderson. “I’ve always tried to do my best. In my paintings I am giving of myself. It all boils down to simple, hard work.”82
Anderson had no favorite paintings in his portfolio. He believed that artistic images more than five years old did not represent his advancing talent. With that conviction came an uneasiness about past paintings: “Almost every job I’ve sent out I’ve wished I had it back, for it was not as I wanted it—but I ran out of time in meeting a deadline,” recalled Anderson.83 The painting that always intrigued him the most was the one on his easel.
Anderson never became caught up in the fame that surrounded his work. He chose to live a quiet, modest life in New England and rarely traveled. He and Ruth had to be coaxed to visit Salt Lake City to see how his paintings were displayed, which they finally did in 1975. Although they were pleased with the display and grateful for the kind words of President Spencer W. Kimball, they were equally grateful to return home. News of his paintings being reproduced and sent around the globe was nice to hear but did not divert him from the easel. When Anderson learned of chapels and temples displaying reproductions of his work, he was pleased but not unduly proud. Likewise, he was self-conscious about being inducted into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame and the New York Art Directors Club in 1994. Soon after the induction, he suffered a debilitating stroke. He died two years later at age ninety.
Tom Lovell was born in New York City in 1909. Soon after his birth, his family moved to the countryside of Nutley, New Jersey. In that quiet setting, his childhood was described as “a happy time,” especially in the woods just past his father’s barn.84
When Tom was nine, he expressed an interest in Native Americans. His mother, wanting to encourage his interest, took him to the New York Museum of Natural History. In the museum, he drew sketches of weapons and artifacts, a first glimmer of his artistic bent. Although he was initially pleased with his sketches, they were easily replaced with an interest in athletics by age ten. He imagined personal athletic prowess, if not fame, on the ballfield, but an acute case of polio at age thirteen changed his dream.85 He turned to reading and once again discovered a compelling interest in Native Americans. So empathetic did he become with the mistreatment of the American Indians by government officials that he spoke on the topic as valedictorian at his high school graduation in 1926.86
After graduation, Lovell was employed as a deck hand for the U.S. Shipping Board on the flagship U.S.S. Leviathan. He was next employed as a timekeeper at the W. J. D. Lynch Construction Company. Finding only a modicum of happiness in these positions, Lovell entered the College of Fine Arts at Syracuse University in 1927.
Feeling confident about his artistic renderings, he contacted magazine editors during his freshman year seeking potential patrons. Although rejections came all too fast, editors at Hersey Publication were encouraging. They hired Lovell to draw dramatic illustrations for “shoot-em-up” westerns, unsolved mysteries, and horror stories of menacing gangsters. By his junior year, he was illustrating for the “pulp” magazines Shadow and Wild West Weekly and earning sixty dollars for a cover and six dollars for a drawing.87 By his senior year, Good Story Publications had hired him on a regular basis and expected ten drawings each month. University faculty, knowing that Lovell was the only senior doing professional work, gave him permission to work on his jobs during studio sessions.
Lovell had his eye on the slick magazines. Although the blood and thunder action of the “pulps” had intrigued him in college, illustrating short stories in the slicks was a greater challenge. While most starting illustrators feared the task of illustrating a sedate story, the challenge of creating a picture for a story of no consequence intrigued Lovell. Although he hoped to illustrate manuscripts written by noted authors such as Edna Ferber, Paul Gallico, Sinclair Lewis, or Louis Bromfield, any manuscript would do.
His first appointment with editors of This Week magazine earned him a commission. His appointment with editors at Redbook had the same result. In time, editors from American, Colliers, Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, and National Geographic were competing for his talents.88 He drew and painted everything from beautiful women to sailing ships and, unlike most beginning illustrators, made good money during the Depression.
With money in his pocket and prospects for future work, Lovell asked former classmate Gloyd “Pinkie” Simmons to marry him. They were married in 1934 and settled into a small apartment in Montclair, New Jersey, near his parents.89 They remodeled his father’s barn into an art studio and weathered the Depression.
During the recovery years, Tom and Pinkie developed an “art/manuscript system.” Pinkie read the manuscripts and noted highlights in the stories that warranted an illustration. Tom often agreed with her intuitive reading. He believed that illustration, “like all great art, . . . can have mood, design and artistic brushwork. Turn them upside down: figures, animals and trees are no longer evident as such. Instead you see excellence of design and placement. Upside down the painting becomes design, pure and simple, or, to put it another way, rhythm and opposition.” As for modern art, he minced few words: “In that land of make believe, every man is a king.”90
Meanwhile, the kings of illustration were banding together in an artists’ colony at Westport, Connecticut. In 1940 the Lovells joined Harold Von Schmidt, J. C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, Bob Harris, John Falter, Dick Lyon, Graves Gladney, and Emery Clarke in Connecticut. The professional and social stimulus of these respected peers advanced Lovell’s own reputation and opportunities. But World War II brought a halt to the camaraderie in his neighborhood.
Although Lovell was older than the recommended draft age, he wanted to join the Marine Corps as a combat artist. A less-than-perfect left eye and a slightly bent back, a remnant of the polio of his youth, nearly prevented his enlistment. But after assuring the enlistment board that he would paint good pictures as a Marine, he was accepted and commissioned a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He was assigned to be an artist for Leatherneck Magazine and Marine Corps Gazette at the Marine barracks in Washington, D.C.91 He painted magazine illustrations, Marine recruiting posters, and a series of large paintings on Marine Corps history.
When the war ended, Lovell returned to civilian status and assumed that he could easily resume his career. However, illustrating for magazines had become more competitive, and younger illustrators had captured the market. “Each time a new player enters the field, the game gets tougher,” said Lovell. In his early days, everything Lovell and his peers created was novel. He joked, “The first time a cavalcade of Indians was painted going left to right, it was virgin territory.”92 But after the war he walked the streets of New York City as if he were unknown.
In the process of looking for work, he learned much about rejection, but, more importantly, he developed a strong determination to succeed and created a painting routine to ensure his success. To meet the competition head-on, he determined that “to get a painting going, I’ll act it out and get the feel of it.”93 He visited libraries and museums to research clothing, weapons, lifestyle, and artifacts. He soon found that few details in research were worth discarding and that he wanted his illustrations to vividly leap from the canvas to reveal epics of legendary proportion.
To do so, he honed his talents. He began by rendering small thumbnail charcoal drawings. He then progressed to miniature oils or pastel sketches and then to larger charcoal drawings. Before anything was drawn on canvas, he made a full-sized drawing that lacked only the details of the principal figures. He next looked for models.94 Family members, friends, and even passersby were recruited to pose. If models could not be found, Lovell would improvise. Using the mirror in his studio, he would roll up a pant leg, flex a muscle, make a fist or a grimacing face to complete an illustration.
His first drawings of characters on canvas often were of an undraped figure. He was a firm believer that “clothing covers too much,”95 that the bend of a joint, the bulge of a muscle, or the curvature of the back made all the difference in a really good painting. Then came the clothing and details.
Just as Lovell’s artistic style was reaching maturity, the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company offered him his first career break since the war. The president of the company had seen one of his Marine posters and wanted him to paint Colonel Henry Knox and his Revolutionary patriots moving artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to the Atlantic seaboard.96 The painting was well received. With that painting in his portfolio, he once again established himself as a top illustrator.
National Geographic and Life magazines were beginning to ask for his talents, but amid their tugs came a most unusual commission. Friend, fellow classmate, and neighbor Harry Anderson needed a hand with art for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Confident in Anderson’s recommendation, Church leaders invited Lovell to paint scenes of the Restoration.
Lovell was uncomfortable with the proffered commission. Through the years, he had listened to anti-Mormon sentiment and had formed a negative opinion of the Church. However, he was in need of work. Magazine work was not steady. Slick magazines’ dismissal of the illustrator in favor of the photographer had more than dented his pocketbook. Acceptance of the commission would provide him with needed funds, but how would such acceptance weigh on his conscience? Finally, he was swayed to accept the commission by the assurance of Latter-day Saint leaders that his acceptance would not suggest that he embraced Latter-day Saint tenets.97
Throughout his commission, Lovell was guarded in his personal expressions of faith and friendship.98 He insisted on a strictly professional relationship with Church leaders. Although he assured leaders that he would do his best to paint several Restoration and Book of Mormon scenes, he was not interested in doctrinal discussions. To him the commissioned art was a means to an end, not an occasion to discuss his belief system. Therefore, it was not surprising that, when other opportunities for work were presented to Lovell, he negotiated to end his professional relationship with the Church. An amicable conclusion was reached. It was Lovell who suggested that artist Ken Riley paint the remaining commissions.99
Tom Lovell’s path turned in 1968 to the Southwest. A commission from the Abell-Hanger Foundation of Midland, Texas, to paint the historic Permian Basin brought a major shift to his art.100 He had come full circle by returning to his childhood fascination with the Native Americans. Although he was applauded for his depictions of clothing, weapons, and events that shaped the American West, it was his characters leaping from historical epochs that won him plaudits. As artist Bob Lougheed exclaimed, “Tom Lovell handles figures better than anyone else who has ever painted the West.”101
Lovell became a regular exhibitor at the annual shows of western artists held in Arizona, Texas, and Oklahoma. In the 1970s he was elected to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, was awarded the Prix de West Gold Medal, and garnered the silver medal in the Cowboy Artists of America. With so many accolades coming from the West, Tom and Pinkie moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1977. Of his western residency, he said, “I am simply a tenant of the land and for me the place is richer for the recollection of former times. I hope some of that richness is transmitted in my work.”102 All agreed it was. When some encouraged him to stretch farther, he countered, “I’m not the kind of guy who wants to make the world over.” He insisted at age seventy-two, “I am painting for Tom Lovell. I’ve never thought of giving it up.” When asked how he would like to be remembered, he said, “I would like my grandson just to remember me as a man who painted a lot of good pictures.”103 Lovell and his daughter, Deborah, died in an automobile accident on June 29, 1997, in Santa Fe.
Kenneth P. Riley, the only child of Elwin A. and Marie Pauling Riley, was born on September 21, 1919, in rural Waverly, Missouri. By 1926 he and his parents were living in the railroad community of Parsons, Kansas, where his father sold cars at a local Chevrolet dealership. Although his father worked long hours, there was never much money for extras. The weekly edition of the Saturday Evening Post was one of the family’s few extravagances.
However, such extravagance ended during the Great Depression when bank credit for purchasing automobiles dried up and so did his father’s job. To ease the family’s economic struggle, Ken found employment with sign painter Ray Scroggins and with Eddie Lain and His Orchestra. Playing the drums at high school dances was fun, but drumming at sleazy bars soon left him tired of alcohol and distraught over drug-broken friends. Yet it seemed that his life would follow this unfortunate path.104
However, an art teacher named Olive Rees recognized Riley’s artistic talent and encouraged him to try watercolors. She even suggested that he apply for a show card painter position at the town’s Orpheum Theater. His application led to a lofty seat behind the movie screen, where he copied romantic love scenes as they showed on screen. His charismatic paintings of Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable were placed on a tripod in front of the Orpheum. They were so true to life that the Tri-State Fair hired Riley to draw bucking broncos on storefront windows to advertise their forthcoming events.
Eventually, Riley discarded his romantic scenes and drawings of rodeo broncos for a pre-med program at Parsons Junior College. Olive Rees again turned him to art. In fall semester 1938, she paid his tuition to the Kansas City Art Institute of Missouri. He accepted her generous gift and his parents’ small stipend and entered the three-year art program. While serving as class president at the institute, Riley met freshman MarCyne Johnson of Topeka, Kansas. Although romance blossomed, a scholarship to the Art Students League propelled him to New York City in 1941.105 Under the tutelage of Frank Vincent DuMond (1866–1951) at the League and Harvey Dunn at the Grand Central School of Art, Riley learned divergent approaches and emotional philosophies to art. Overwhelmed by criticism and conflicting theories, Riley left art school after just one year, later saying, “I couldn’t have painted a picture even if I tried.”106
Although Ken and MarCyne discussed postponing their marriage because of the war, they dismissed their worries and were married on December 12, 1941. They made their home in a small flat in Greenwich Village. MarCyne worked as a bank secretary to earn money for household expenses so that Ken could continue his study of art. Although he sold a few action drawings to pulp magazines, it did not appear that an art career would be his. In May 1942, Riley left New York and shortly thereafter enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. To his surprise, it was in the Guard that he honed his artistic skills, remembering Dunn’s admonition, “Choose a picture and think of it from all angles, then choose the most barren, most brutal way of saying it. Say it strongly and simply.”107 When he had perfected his images, he was transferred to the Coast Guard Public Relations office in Seattle. In Seattle reporters from the United and Associated Presses selected his drawings to illustrate their commentaries on the war. They saw in his work a gamut of emotions that portrayed thanksgiving for life and the brutality of death.
Due to the popularity of his sketches, Riley assumed that he would sit out the war in Seattle. But this was not to be. He was assigned to be a combat artist aboard the invasion transport U.S.S. Arthur Middleton, bound for the South Pacific. His drawings depicting boredom aboard ship and fatigue in the battlefield captured the interest of leaders in the Coast Guard Headquarters at Washington, D.C. His works were exhibited at the National Gallery of Art. His scenes of human vulnerability, convulsing waves, and sinking ships captured the realism of war and the prestigious opportunity to design a commemorative stamp for the Coast Guard.108
The climactic moment for Specialist Second Class Riley was winning the grand award at the Seventh Annual Outdoor Air Fair sponsored by the Washington Times Herald for his painting For Thine Is the Kingdom. “Gosh!” was his response to the notoriety. The headline of his hometown newspaper, Parsons’ (Kansas) Sun, expressed it better: “Ken Riley Now Famed Painter.”109 Among those who took special interest in his art was David Finlay, director of the National Gallery. He commissioned Riley to sketch seven drawings to accompany The War Letters of Morton Eustis.
After the war, Riley returned to civilian life with confidence that he could make a living with his art. He and MarCyne moved to the quiet countryside of Ridgeway, Connecticut. To support his family, he drew explosive adventure comics for publisher Joe Simon at night.110 During the daylight hours, he worked on his portfolio, painting American life—a mother and child, a boy and a girl, a son returning from the war.
Riley’s first commission from Bantam Books moved him from pulp artist to respected illustrator. Confident that additional opportunities would be forthcoming from major magazines, he and MarCyne moved closer to the New York publishing houses. After settling in a flat in a high-rise apartment house in Peter Cooper Village, Riley made an appointment with Frank Kilker, art editor of the Saturday Evening Post. “I vividly recall walking down this long, tunnel-like hallway and meeting Kilker, who asked me to spread my work out on a big round table. He scrutinized it for what seemed like an eternity . . . then looked up and said, ‘Well, I like this. You’ll be hearing from me.’”111
Within a month, the first story came in the mail. This assignment was followed by other stories that arrived regularly for the next decade. He attributes his success to the art editors at the Post, who taught him how to stop the reader from aimlessly thumbing through a magazine. Although he pleased the editors, not everyone liked his work. For example, Riley recalled an angry reader who wrote of Riley’s illustration of tree stumps in Oregon. “Not a beaver, nor saw, nor ax would result in the projections . . . pictured. . . . It really made no difference, since the stumps were on a par with the picture . . . and it stunk too!” Although depressed by the comment, Riley determined to “do his best to get the details correct but he would not be subservient to them.”112
To him, all of the so-called “facts” were an interpretation that would eventually be reinterpreted by the viewer. He refused to give up creating what he called “viable works of art.” He said, “I don’t tie myself to an object. I want to be able to enlarge or diminish—to play with the colors and shapes on my own terms. I do a lot of reading and looking in museums with the goal of absorbing what is there. Then I let it come out, not as ethnological re-creation but as an aesthetic statement.”113
By the early 1950s, Riley had received a commission from Life magazine to do a historical series on the presidents of the United States and the Civil War.114 Attempting to meet their scholarly standard forced him to reconcile his desire to make a work aesthetically pleasing and the commission to be historically honest. The same confrontation occurred when he accepted a commission with National Geographic. The Geographic required submission of meticulous line drawings before a painting could be rendered. While Riley waited for the go-ahead, art critics at the British Museum checked his drawings for accuracy. Although he was initially miffed by the overbearing scrutiny, such careful review awakened in him an interest in historical painting that proved central to his later paintings of the American West.
Secure in his trade by 1953, he and his family moved to the artist colony of Westport, Connecticut. In the small suburb of Danberry, they built a home and designed a studio. Riley found that he had little need to go into the city unless he was delivering a painting, but he did not feel isolated from the world of illustration with neighbors such as Tom Lovell and Harry Anderson.115
He felt so at home with these friends that he shared with them his mounting frustration over the contrast between his vibrant original paintings and poor reproductions. Color, light, and values faded; subtle accents appeared muddied in the reproductions. He knew his color palette was wrong and asked for their advice. Anderson and Lovell were quick to encourage and slow to criticize.
It was not a surprise that Anderson and Lovell suggested Ken Riley be the one to complete the ever-growing opportunities presented by Latter-day Saint Church leaders in the 1960s.116 Initially, “Riley refused the commission. It was not until he experienced a life-changing event that he was willing to work for the Church,” recalls Evelyn Marshall.117 Riley did not say just what that event was. Riley painted the life of Joseph Smith—The First Vision, Joseph Smith Receiving the Plates from the Angel Moroni, Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and Joseph Smith Commanded to Lay Out the City of Zion.118
According to Vern Swanson, Director of the Springville [Utah] Museum of Art, “Riley sensed the importance of this commission for the Church, and wanted to do his best. He found that he liked working with the Latter-day Saints and appreciated doing something important for the religion. Using the term advisedly, he was a professional, a hireling—not one seeking to learn the truthfulness of Joseph’s prophetic calling.”119
After completing his work for the Church, Riley accepted an invitation to teach advanced art students illustration and painting at Brigham Young University in an eight-week seminar during summer 1968. Of this teaching experience, he recalled, “I spent the summer at Brigham Young University and enjoyed the atmosphere of the campus. I have great memories of the students and faculty there.”120 Student Gary Kapp recalled, “I took a summer class from him. He was a great guy and gave me lots of time—instruction really.”121 Riley and his wife so enjoyed their stay in the West that they “decided, well, this is ridiculous, to be living in the East.”122
In 1972, Riley moved his family to Tombstone, Arizona.123 The daily life of the Plains Indians and the Apache Wars consumed his interest. He meticulously copied Apache etchings found on nearby canyon walls. After three years of copying etchings and living the life of an “artist cowboy” in Tombstone, Riley viewed his transition into western painting complete.
But residing in the small, remote town had lost its appeal, so he and his wife moved to Tucson. To his amazement, his career soared in Tucson. In 1976 he exhibited at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame; in 1983 he was awarded the Silver Medal at the Cowboy Artists of America for his artistic rendition Visit of Lewis and Clark; in 1984 the National Western and Wildlife Society selected him as the Artist of the Year; and in 1993 he was honored with the Eiteljorg Museum Award. His paintings are on permanent exhibition in the Phoenix Art Museum, the West Print Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum, the White House, and the Custer Museum. In 2003 he was the “featured artist at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame. Over a hundred paintings from his current work to the magazine days, and military renderings” were displayed.124 Ken Riley continues to work in Tucson, Arizona.
Art Critics Question the Value of Illustration
We have found that Latter-day Saints express little interest in the success these illustrators experienced outside of their Church commissions. About the artwork, members’ comments are generally positive, but it is not unusual to hear statements such as, “I have seen that painting in three chapels in Mesa alone. It must have passed through Church Correlation.” Although the momentary humor in such expression suggests Church members are ready for something new, it also suggests that these artists continue to shape the Latter-day Saint visual image of holy prophets and the Savior.125 Artist Bill Whittaker says that Friberg, Anderson, Lovell, and Riley “set and maintained the standard.”126 David Erickson, a gallery owner in Salt Lake City, believes, “They set such a tone there is no room for the new guys.”127 Several struggling Latter-day Saint artists agree.
Art critics, however, are cautious in praise of the religious paintings of these four artists. While their work is subject to the criticism heaped on illustration generally, its religious nature attracts additional derision. The artists are given due credit as skillful illustrators, competent in color, line, and composition. Yet, critics will claim, these ends were met by producing works that are superficial, inauthentic, and unsophisticated. They say the works lack depth, artistic individuality, and style, sacrificed in the attempt to create art that is widely accessible.128 In one academic slide library, Anderson’s religious works and those of his contemporary Warner Sallman are even filed under the label “Kitsch”—the ultimate artistic insult.129
“The painter who illustrates is suspect,” explains art educator Marshall Arisman. “All painters know that the word ‘illustration’ is the kiss of death.”130 Such an attitude toward illustrators would be amusing if it had not taken root in the art community. Twentieth-century fine artists snubbed illustrators by claiming illustrators gave more allegiance to commercialism than to the higher principles of art. Such statements as “The illustrator is no more than a hireling—a hired gun of the marketplace” were commonplace. Critics believed that illustrators had flooded the market with marginal work that was sloppy in execution and failed in design. “Where is their contribution to the world of art?” critics asked.131 Barry Moser, a well-known artist and academician at Rhode Island School of Design, Princeton University, and Vasser College, recalls, “Like most fine art students in the 1960s, my beginnings were overshadowed by the powerful figures of the then-dominant and fashionable Academy, Abstract Expressionism—Frank Kline, Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, Jackson Pollack. But not Norman Rockwell; his work was not worthy of my serious attention. He was merely an ‘illustrator.’”132
Rockwell and other illustrators are derided by most art critics, and so it was a shock when the Guggenheim, one of the premier art museums in the United States, featured an exhibition of Rockwell’s work in 2001. The resulting barrage of stinging criticism included this from Corcoran Gallery director David Levy: “I have great problems with Rockwell. There are aspects of his work that are wonderful and aspects that are off-putting. There are aspects of Rockwell legitimately worth disliking, but I could say that about [other significant artists] as well.”133 Surprisingly, Ned Rifkin, director of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, took a neutral stance upon seeing illustrations on the walls of the Guggenheim: “Whether Norman Rockwell is an artist or a great artist is immaterial to me. He is a Force.” Critics were jolted to near silence by the words of New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl: “Rockwell is terrific. It’s become too tedious to pretend he isn’t.” Rockwell would have been pleased with Schjeldahl’s praise. Rockwell’s son, Peter, observed, “People were always saying to him, ‘I don’t know anything about art, but I like your work.’” Rockwell often lamented, “I wish sometime someone would come up to me and say, ‘I know a lot about art and I like your work.’”134
“It is time to call a truce in the cultural war between high art and popular art,” stated an article about the reawakening interest in Rockwell. Guggenheim curator Robert Rosenblum concurred: “There are no battles to be fought anymore.”135 His call to resolve the conflict between fine artist and illustrator seemed reasonable to some. After all, the critics’ distinction between the two disciplines was becoming a blurred issue.136 The day when hierarchical nonsense elevated the painter to a position of moral superiority was waning. Heated discussions that centered on the value of art for the printed page or the gallery wall were few. Alice Carter, professor at San Jose State University, said, “I’m pretty tired of the illustration/fine art debate. . . . I think that it’s good to remember that the division between painting and illustration is a late nineteenth century construct, a result of an explosion in print media that required so many images that artists had to devote themselves to either gallery painting or illustration work and couldn’t handle a dual career.”137
When illustrators and artists began to mend past wounds, the art critics scrambled to find a controversy that would capture the interest of both disciplines. The moral high road that dominated yesterday’s art and the lack of such a road today has captured the critics’ fancy for the present. To grasp “how contemporary art is packaged for the marketplace . . . is also to grasp the sorry moral condition of art today and how this is shriveling art, making it less and less a meaningful endeavor.” Critics now write longingly of the era when art was under the banner of beauty and order: “Art was a rich and meaningful embellishment of life, embracing—not desecrating—its ideals, its aspirations and its values.” They lament that few embellishments on churches, public buildings, fountains, or plazas by today’s artists remind us of religious longings, values, or aspirations.138
As this new controversy about the value of modern art takes hold, some critics look to artists in the twentieth century who painted the memorable, the moral, and the sacred—those who were ignored since they were mere illustrators.139 Friberg, Anderson, Lovell, and Riley, illustrators who knew all too well the sting of the critics’ pen, are enjoying an enviable place in art criticism today.
In the 1950s and 1960s, while art critics were panning the religious illustrations of Friberg, Anderson, Lovell, and Riley, budding young Latter-day Saint artists were appreciating that art. James Christensen, Robert Barrett, and Gary Kapp seemed to intuitively grasp the impact, devotion, and greatness of the work of those four. “I was around thirteen or fourteen years old when Friberg’s Book of Mormon paintings came out in the Children’s Friend,” recalls Gary Kapp. “I remember spending hours looking at them. Arnold Friberg is the reason I became an artist.”140
Kapp and others of today’s Church artists have paid the price to become successful artists, “to expand their vision of what can be done” to teach “things to the heart that the eyes and ears can never understand.”141 Yet today’s artists remain in the shadow of Friberg, Anderson, Lovell, and Riley. “It’s hard to throw the ghost of Friberg off, especially when I paint the same scenes,” said Walter Rane.142 Artist Perry Stewart said Anderson “was the greatest realistic artist of the century. Even to this day, his is the most credible work that we see.”143 Gary Kapp added, “I thought Anderson’s face of Christ was very compelling. It is still the best face of Christ I have ever seen.”144 Ralph Barksdale, a graduate from the Art Center in Pasadena and a prominent artist in the West, said, “I don’t think that there is, or was ever any greater illustrator than Anderson. . . . As for Lovell, his work was solid ‘Chicago-ish,’ no nonsense painting . . . [and] Riley [had] competent composition.”145 To artist Del Parson, these painters were “fantastic artists.”146
Perhaps Murray Tinkelman, professor and senior adviser of the Master of Arts program at Syracuse University, said it best: “They [Friberg, Anderson, Lovell, and Riley] remain the giants. Many people have ‘poo-poohed’ religious art, especially in the twentieth century. These men were passionate artists! It was never just a job to them.”147 The contributions of Arnold Friberg, Harry Anderson, Tom Lovell, and Ken Riley to the visual art of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remain unsurpassed.