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Murals by Minerva

New BYU exhibition sheds light on early 20th-century artist

Published: Sunday, Oct. 7 2007 12:35 a.m. MDT

"Moving South" (o/c, 60 by 100 inches, 1949).

PROVO — If in the past you disliked Minerva Teichert's paintings because they were too loosely rendered, with the paint too thinly applied, you need to visit the Museum of Art at Brigham Young University and give the "Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint" exhibit a chance to win you over.

This lavish display of 47 large-scale Teichert paintings examines how the early 20th-century American mural and pageantry movements influenced her work; and how the artist's love of drama impacted every painting she created.

By experiencing her art in this context, you will see her technique and style of painting in a new light.

"This is a new approach to looking at Minerva Teichert's work," said Marian Wardle, curator of American art at the MOA and a granddaughter of the artist. "I hope it helps viewers understand where Teichert was coming from and the culture of the time, because, among other things, her paintings are cultural artifacts of her day."

Exhibition resource materials state that when Teichert (1888-1976) attended art school in Chicago and New York in the early 1900s, mural paintings and theatrical pageants were dynamic components of American popular culture. The artist embraced these popular art forms and used the visual language they provided to tell the stories of her religious heritage (the Book of Mormon paintings) and the American West.

"The aesthetics of pageants and murals are nearly identical," says the exhibition material. "Both were meant to be seen from a distance by large numbers of people for educational purposes. Both convey their messages by highlighting human form and action through the absence of detail. Both spread figures across a simple backdrop — usually a landscape — within a shallow space. And both use the same compositional devices to achieve their aesthetic goals: dramatic tableaux, processions, and theatrical poses and gestures." (Each of these last three elements is defined and explored in the exhibit.)

In "The Book of Mormon Paintings of Minerva Teichert," authors John W. Welch and Doris R. Dant explain Teichert's painting techniques: "Teichert preferred soft, welcoming tones, using creams, browns, yellows and greens to create a warm and inviting relationship with the viewer. Her colors tend to reflect the real colors of the world, rather than the garish brashness of many modern illustrators. The one exception that she always indulged herself in, however, involved the color red. Her trademark was the red accent, and she liked to say that her heaven would always contain a little bit of red."

Teichert also incorporated a bold brush style which she learned under the tutelage of noted New York realist Robert Henri. She also applied her paint thinly, imitating Italian Renaissance muralists who employed the fresco technique (applying paint into wet plaster). Teichert also utilized the decorative borders of muralists to her finished pieces to help them fit more harmoniously in their architectural settings.

Her Western paintings — especially "Indian Basket and Pottery Makers" and "Weavers" — are a joy to study. But it's her Book of Mormon pieces that make clear her belief in the importance of narrative efficiency: Teichert firmly believed that the mural was the highest form of art. She believed it educated the public and that the message of the piece should be easily understood, even by those who could not read. Each painting or oil study tells its story with drama and vision.

In the last gallery room of the exhibit, you get to see how Teichert wanted her Book of Mormon paintings to be seen. It is quite impressive; her approach is reminiscent of a storyboard used by filmmakers.

Teichert takes artistic license with many of the Book of Mormon stories, but her angle always makes perfect sense. The drama presented in each is exactly what you believe would have happened. She also stressed the role of women in this series, something that is totally refreshing.

The panel that is truest to the muralist ideals is the long, horizontal painting of the Stripling Warriors: a series of boys standing in a long line. At the right, several mothers are kissing and bidding their sons farewell. At the left, Nephites are distributing swords and armor. It is a powerful work and visually stunning.

As with all of the MOA exhibits, walking through the show is a delight. Not only are we graced with Teichert's paintings, we are enlightened by strategically placed information cards, detailing all the influences and ideas of the artist.

"Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint" is on display through next May, but that just means you can, and should, see it several times before it leaves.

If you go

What: "Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint"

Where: BYU Museum of Art, 404 N. Campus Drive, Brigham Young University, Provo

When: Through May 26, 2008

Gallery hours: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.;

Saturday, noon-5 p.m.;

Sunday, closed

How much: Free

Phone: 422-8251

Web: www.byu.edu/moa

Also: Tours conducted during regular museum hours must be scheduled one week in advance (422-1140); podcast tours and other exhibition-related materials available on the special-exhibition Web site: www.PageantsinPaint.byu.edu


E-mail: gag@desnews.com

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