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Nativity scenes depicted by LDS artists

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 1:58 a.m. MDT

"For God So Loved the World" is a piece of art by Simon Dewey. (Matt Crossley, Altus Fine Art) "For God So Loved the World" is a piece of art by Simon Dewey. (Matt Crossley, Altus Fine Art)

While the holiday season is a busy time of year, it can also be a good time to slow down and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.

The birth of the Savior Jesus Christ took place more than 2,000 years ago and is the most significant event in the history of mankind. Although it is easy to get caught up in the shopping, baking, decorating and many other Christmas activities, focusing attention on Christ is a priority for many people.

One way to focus on the Savior this season is through art. Numerous Latter-day Saint artists have depicted his birth by painting scenes of the Nativity.

"For God So Loved the World" by Simon Dewey

This painting was created in 2002 using acrylic paint on canvas. Simon Dewey wanted to make the piece appealing to children, so he included animals that might have been found at the manger.

"Love's Pure Light" is a piece of art by Annie Henrie. (Annie Henrie) "Love's Pure Light" is a piece of art by Annie Henrie. (Annie Henrie)

According to Altus Fine Art's website, Dewey used the same model he uses for Christ to paint Joseph.

"By having the model of Joseph represent the father of baby Jesus, I felt that I was able to capture the concern and hope that Joseph must have felt in the manger," Dewey said.

"Love's Pure Light" by Annie Henrie

This past November, independent fine art professional Annie Henrie painted "Love's Pure Light," capturing the beauty of Mary holding baby Jesus with angels watching over them. She used mixed medias such as acrylic and oil paint, charcoal pencil and gold leaf to create her piece.

"Nativity" is a piece of art by Brian Kershisnik. (Provided by Brian Kershisnik) "Nativity" is a piece of art by Brian Kershisnik. (Provided by Brian Kershisnik)

Henrie mentioned she has done many paintings revolving around this topic.

"I have done several variations on that theme, mostly because I think it is one of the sweetest moments of awe and love, initially for the love of the Savior, and also that sweet pure love of a mother and her new baby," Henrie said.

Symbolism in this painting, as well as in Henrie's other pieces, can be found dealing with the angels and halos over Mary and baby Jesus' heads.

"Usually with these paintings I have angels watching over, reflecting the angels described in the scriptures and also those angels that are the people in our lives who save us at crucial moments. I also usually have Mary and baby Jesus with indications of halos symbolizing the holiness of the moment," said Henrie.

"Angels of Christmas" is a piece of art by Greg Olsen (Mark Olsen, Olsen Art) "Angels of Christmas" is a piece of art by Greg Olsen (Mark Olsen, Olsen Art)

Henrie wants her artwork to inspire others.

"I hope that these depictions will help remind others to notice and cherish the small sacred moments of love and tenderness in their lives. I also hope that we may grow in our love and awe towards the Savior, and to notice the angels that are among us," Henrie said.

"Nativity" by Brian Kershisnik

A concourse of angels attend the newborn baby Jesus in this unique piece by contemporary figurative artist Brian Kershisnik. It was completed in 2006 with the use of oil paints and stamps cut out of different patterns on canvas.

Kershisnik has done many paintings with angels in the corners, but wanted angels to be the main focus in this painting. The message of the angles is a powerful one. Kershisnik described this message at the Church History Museum during a Christmas open house in December 2011.

"Behold the Lamb of God" is a piece of art by Walter Rane (Peter Rane) "Behold the Lamb of God" is a piece of art by Walter Rane (Peter Rane)

"In my imagination, I picture Jesus being born and everyone wanting to see. Eventually it is crowded because everyone is eager to see him," Kershisnik said. "Once the angels have seen him, I'm sure they were anxious to tell the shepherds and the rest of the world the news of the Savior's birth."

The birth of Jesus Christ is something Kershisnik is certain we were all anticipating as angels.

"We all wanted this to happen and we all needed this to happen, so we all would have had an interest to see him," Kershisnik said. "Maybe we did see him. Maybe we got to be in the crowd of angels because we depended on his work."

"Holy Infant So Tender" is a piece of art by J. Kirk Richards (Deseret Book) "Holy Infant So Tender" is a piece of art by J. Kirk Richards (Deseret Book)

"Angels of Christmas" by Greg Olsen

In 1993, Greg Olsen painted the Nativity in a different perspective by using children setting up a Nativity scene in their home. He used oil paint on canvas to create his artwork.

Olsen mentioned on his website that he has "always been fascinated by paintings that create mood, emotion and atmosphere." He hopes his paintings will resonate and remind us what is truly important in our own lives.

To describe the story of his art piece, Olsen created a poem:

Nativity figures from their box are retrieved,

Near a crackling fire on a Christmas Eve.

"Silent Night" is a piece of art by Liz Lemon Swindle. (Ruben Memmott, Foundation Arts) "Silent Night" is a piece of art by Liz Lemon Swindle. (Ruben Memmott, Foundation Arts)

Each is unwrapped with excited haste,

Then slowly, carefully, thoughtfully placed.

The scenes come to life when viewed by a child,

The babe seems to stir, and the mother just smiled.

Safeguarded here and kept far from danger,

The baby is kissed and laid in a manger.

The night is for children,

and their spirits can lift us,

They are the magic, the guardians,

the "Angels of Christmas."

"Behold the Lamb of God" by Walter Rane

For his painting "Behold the Lamb of God," Walter Rane used oil paint and painted on a board instead of canvas. It was completed around 10 years ago.

"The Light of the World" is a piece of art by Jay Bryant Ward. (Provided by Jay Bryant Ward) "The Light of the World" is a piece of art by Jay Bryant Ward. (Provided by Jay Bryant Ward)

Rane wanted to create a deep feeling of family intimacy through this painting. He made the painting as realistic as possible in terms of how the scene might have looked after the birth of baby Jesus.

Compared to other Nativity paintings, Rane said his differs by the way he depicts Mary.

"Mary isn't sitting there glowing like you see in other paintings," Rane said. "Mary's experience here on Earth was just like any other human's, so I feel this painting elevates her even more to know she went through an actual human experience of giving birth."

"Holy Infant So Tender" by J. Kirk Richards

Artist J. Kirk Richards used many mixed medias in his piece "Holy Infant So Tender" as well as in his other pieces found in his recently released book, "The Nativity." Some of them include acrylic paint, gold leaf, oil paint and even the texture of paper towels for the shepherd's clothing.

Even though the scenery and clothing is not historically accurate, Richards focused more on his own personal interpretation of the story.

"The textural, warm, soft feeling is what I imagine when I think about the Nativity. Many people have felt those feelings for centuries in remembering Christ's birth, so I hope this painting adds onto the feelings we already feel."

"Silent Night" by Liz Lemon Swindle

In 2007, Liz Lemon Swindle produced her painting "Silent Night," which was created with oil paints on a linen canvas. She has produced other pieces that revolve around the Nativity, as well.

In this particular painting, Swindle wanted the manger to reflect the actual place Jesus was born in, a cave. She also wanted to include animals but not have them be the main focus.

After going to Africa and having a reality check, this particular painting has special meaning to Swindle.

"I have always been intrigued by the Nativity, but that trip made me realize how important it is for us to get our perspectives in order," said Swindle.

"Silent Night" focuses more on Joseph, as he is the one holding baby Jesus. Swindle talked about how hard it must have been for Joseph when he found out Mary was pregnant. He had to step out of his comfort zone and try to gain respect from his community.

Having personal experiences of her own, Swindle has seen what it is like for a man to step into the role of a father for the first time.

"For a man who has never been a father before and come to love children that weren't in the beginning his, that's special," Swindle said. "In a way, Joseph had to take the role of not only being a somewhat step-father to Jesus, but also take on the role with Mary of being parents of the greatest human being who ever lived. It makes me wonder how much comprehension they actually had of their roles.

"The Light of the World" by Jay Bryant Ward

Jay Bryant Ward depicts the Nativity in his painting "The Light of the World." It was painted in 2010 using oil paint on linen.

On Altus Fine Art's website, Ward describes his painting in more detail.

"From the moment of His humble birth into this world, Christ was the light that shines forth in darkness — inviting all to come to the light and truth of the Gospel. For centuries prophets had prophesied of His coming, and He would later, during His ministry, declare, "I am the Light of the World." But on that first day, the day of His birth, Mary and Joseph looked at their newborn son with wonder and marveled at the circumstances surrounding His birth," said Ward.

Kylie Lewis is an intern for the Deseret News where she writes for Mormon Times and does other feature articles. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho, receiving a bachelor's degree in communications.

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