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'Eight Faces of Moses' display honors Arnold Friberg's memory, talents

Published: Friday, July 18 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Artist Arnold Friberg in his home in Holladay in 2008.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News Archive

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SALT LAKE CITY — The late American painter and Utah resident Arnold Friberg was remembered by friends and art enthusiasts earlier this week at an event downtown.

Friberg's "Eight Faces of Moses" paintings, which were on display at the Zion Summit Condominiums on Tuesday and Wednesday, allowed strangers and old friends to come together and view some of the artist's unique work.

The eight individual paintings were created for Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 epic film "The Ten Commandments." Friberg designed these "Faces of Moses" to be makeup templates for Charlton Heston, who played Moses in the film. Although the paintings have been around for over half a century, the artwork was unsigned.

RR Auction in Boston, which authenticated the works, will auction the paintings as a set this weekend.

"The people who have seen the paintings are pretty knocked out by them, because you can see the quality of his art," said Bobby Livingston, executive vice presiden at RR Auction. "Typically in Hollywood, the makeup artist would be given drawings, quick pen and ink, charcoal — an idea of the aging process. But Friberg obviously took all this time to paint these, and there's incredible detail."

Friberg spent a large portion of his life in Utah and died in Salt Lake on July 1, 2010. He is famous for his religious and historical paintings, including "The Prayer at Valley Forge." Friberg's paintings of various scenes from the Book of Mormon are well-known among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"When I first saw these (paintings), I didn't know what they were, but I knew that they were gorgeous; some of the finest things I'd ever seen," Livingston said. "There's a lot of curiosity because so many people around (Utah) knew Arnold Friberg. He was such a big deal."

Livingston and RR Auction worked with art curator and Salt Lake resident Lawrence Jeppson earlier this year to authenticate the paintings. Jeppson, who began appraising Friberg's artwork roughly 15 years ago, considers Friberg a dear friend.

While Friberg was indeed celebrated for his remarkable talent, Jeppson remembers Friberg largely for his amiable nature and contagious personality.

"Once you met Arnold, you became a friend," Jeppson said. "He never quit telling stories. He was very outgoing."

Jeppson described Friberg as someone beloved by the Salt Lake community, and referred to him as "an open door." Because of their close friendship, Jeppson was acutely aware of details in Friberg's life.

"DeMille heard about him (Friberg) and sent a note to him at the University of Utah; he didn't have any better address," Jeppson said. "Arnold went to Hollywood for a month to consult. DeMille had been looking for a costume designer and he had reviewed artists, he said, from all over the world, and hadn't found one that he felt filled the bill. Arnold went down for a month to consult, and DeMille was impressed. DeMille said, 'Arnold, I want you to come back and be my staff artist.' "

According to Jeppson, Friberg was initially reluctant to take the job and was not seeking fame or a "Hollywood lifestyle." Eventually, according to Jeppson, it was LDS Church President David O. McKay who convinced Friberg to move to California and work on "The Ten Commandments." Friberg remained in Hollywood for the next four years.

"The relationship between Friberg and DeMille became virtually a father-son relationship; they were just that close," Jeppson said.

Bidding for the paintings will take place in Boston, over the phone or through invaluable.com on Saturday, July 19, at 1 p.m. EST. The estimated worth of the collection is between $600,000 and $800,000.

Email: kguderian@deseretnews.com

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