Jason Olsen, Deseret News Archive
Virginia Ashdown has observed them hanging next to one another for almost nine years.
There’s chiseled Ammon and his outstretched sword, unconquerable Captain Moroni and the husky 2,060 sons of Helaman, among others.
As a hostess in the Book of Mormon gallery room at the LDS Church’s Conference Center, Ashdown takes pleasure in seeing visitors experience the late Arnold Friberg’s 12 large-scale Book of Mormon paintings.
“It’s fun to see the families with little kids come through. They love to tell the stories of each painting. The boys love Ammon and the Stripling Warriors,” Ashdown said. “There is a reverence and an awe.”
Friberg’s classic collection of Book of Mormon paintings have captivated and stirred the imaginations of countless people for more than half a century. Yet few know the story behind the paintings.
Who came up with the idea for the paintings and how did Friberg become involved?
How did Friberg bring brush and color to these powerful scriptural events that hadn’t been painted before? He had never seen Nephi or the Liahona. He didn’t sail with Nephi and his family to the Promised Land or witness Abinadi’s last stand before King Noah and the wicked priests.
How did he decide which stories and characters to depict? And what about the clothing, beards and weapons?
“Art, like mortality, consists in drawing the line somewhere,” Friberg quoted G.K. Chesterton in his book, “Classic Scenes from the Book of Mormon.”
And so Friberg did.
Here is a glimpse into the life of the artist and some of the details behind his masterful Book of Mormon paintings, which continue to inspire millions of Latter-day Saints all over the world.
First, a few facts about Friberg.
He was born in 1913 in Winnetka, Ill., to a Swedish father and Norwegian mother, both of whom immigrated through Ellis Island.
The Friberg family moved from Chicago to Phoenix in 1921 and converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Arnold was baptized the following year at age 8.
After high school, Friberg studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, then moved to New York City, where he studied under Harvey Dunn at Grand Central School of Art alongside Norman Rockwell.
After serving as a U.S. Army infantryman in World War II, Friberg married his first wife, Hedve Baxter, and sought work in San Francisco. The couple moved to Utah around 1949.
In 1953, Friberg moved to Hollywood to be the chief artist-designer of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.”
Friberg is probably most renowned for his 1975 masterpiece, “Prayer at Valley Forge,” which depicts George Washington kneeling in the snow beside his horse.
His legacy includes trips to Buckingham Palace to produce portraits of Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II. He also took pleasure in painting subjects from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the American West.
He died in 2010 at the age of 96.
Adele Cannon Howells
A misconception has persisted that the LDS Church leaders commissioned Friberg's Book of Mormon paintings.
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