A blockbuster exhibit featuring arts and crafts by LDS Church members from around the world has opened just in time for General Conference visitors to enjoy.

The show has been in planning stages for well over a year. Call for entries was first announced in January 1990, giving artists plenty of time to create and submit work for the Museum of Church History and Art's "2nd International Art Competition: Themes from the Scriptures."Museum director Glen M. Leonard emphasized from the start that works of art "must reflect a theme, value, story or image inspired by something in one of the four standard works of scripture in the LDS Church.

According to Robert O. Davis, primary curator for the show, more than 800 artists from 42 countries submitted slides and photographs of their work. He said that reducing the entries to a workable 210-piece exhibit proved to be a challenge since jurors tried to keep the exhibition broad. As a result, a little over one-third of the 210 entries are from outside the United States.

Jurying the paintings, drawings, photographs and sculpture were Davis, the exhibit's designer Paul L. Anderson and Dave Ericson of Gallery 56. Textiles, ceramics, needlework, folk arts and other crafts were juried by Richard Oman and Marjorie Conder of the museum and Carol Edison of the Utah Arts Council.

In addition to helping with the jurying, Davis developed the exhibit's story line. He said that the exhibit fills four main galleries. The West Gallery focuses on scenes from the Old and New Testaments; the North Gallery, themes from the Book of Mormon; and the East Gallery, themes from the Doctrine and Covenants, pioneer scenes, contemporary issues and the application of scriptures in current lifestyle.

Davis added that the Central Gallery contains a "stunning array of ambitious, large-size and colorful entries."

This unique exhibition is a potpourri of media. There are drawings, lithography, etchings, monoprints, block prints, serigraphy and calligraphy; oils, acrylics, watercolors, gouache; sculpture (wood, clay, papier mache, bronze); needlepoint, embroidery, crochet, counted cross-stich, knitting, quilting; glazed tile, collages, stained glass - and much more.

Certainly this multiplicity of media and styles could easily result in a disjointed exhibit. But this is not the case.

Fortunately, the theme - scriptures - weaves through the exhibit like a common thread, tying together all elements of the show. Also adding to the exhibit's continuity are the labels written or edited by Davis and Conder.

An anonymous donor contributed more than $50,000 for this exhibition. This generous gift resulted in 27 cash prizes and 32 purchase awards. Represented in the winners' bracket were LDS artists from at least nine countries.

Awards of distinction ($1,500 and purchase awards) went to C. Dean Draper of Fresno, Calif.; Roger W. Otis of Fairport, N.Y.; and Jose R. Riveros of Santiago, Chile.

Ten artists were selected for awards of merit ($400 and purchase awards): Erick Duarte (Guatemala), Sally Clinton Poet (California); Howard Post (Arizona); Lourdes D. Samson (Philippines); Fanga Tukuafu (Tonga); and Utah artists Brian L. Bates, Warren Luch, A.D. Shaw, Bruce H. Smith and Elaine Thatcher.

Awards of merit ($400) were captured by LaMona M. Brown (Missouri), Ruth Dubrez (Colorado), Mark Graham (New York), David Linn (California), Ingetraut Riemer (Germany), Jacinta R. Freire Rosales (Chile), Sven Spersberg (Sweden), Helga Steffel (Germany), Linda Stevens (California) and Utahns Shauna Clinger, Marva E. Dalebout, Stanley Green, Gary Kapp and Doug Soelberg.

Nineteen others had their works purchased by the museum.

Judging is still taking place, because the public is invited to cast ballots for the "People's Choice Award." The winner will be announced before the exhibit closes on Labor Day (Sept. 2).

Viewers may have a difficult time selecting their favorite artwork, since there are so many visually riveting entries in the show.

When walking through the West Gallery, I was strongly attracted to Douglas Taylor's clay "Alpha to Omega," LaMona M. Brown's needlepoint on the creation, Lyn Daugherty's quilted clothing and Ingetraut Riemer's porcelain sculpture "The Last Supper" - to name a few.

Two of the most dramatic oil paintings in the North Gallery are Scott Snow's "Better for One Man to Perish" and Steven Lloyd Neal's "Limhi and His People Escape to Zarahemla." And viewers will be delighted with "David," a rattan basketry piece by Midori Takeuchi of Japan.

In the East Gallery, Larry C. Winborg's mixed media "Prayerful Sisters" reflects superb draftsmanship; other eye-catchers are Mirta Veiga Richards' oil "Images of Love in Patchwork," Sheri Lynn Boyer Doty's "Small Things" and Glen Edwards' oil painting titled "A Teacher."

The Central Gallery is filled with so many top-notch, award-winning works that space doesn't allow me to list all of them. But some of them are paintings "Down into the Water" by A.D. Shaw, "Alma and Amulek in Prison" by Gary Kapp, "Wisdom and Woman Receiving" by Shauna Clinger and "Jacob and Leah by Bruce H. Smith. Also impressive are Emma Allebes' quilt "To All Worthy Male Members" and Roger W. Otis maplewood sculpture of Queen Esther.

Many of the works not purchased by the museum are available for sale. The museum will provide potential buyers with the selling price of the work as well as the artist's address and phone number.

The exhibition officially opened Friday, March 29, following an awards ceremony in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Presenting the awards was Elder Loren C. Dunn, a member of the LDS Church's First Quorum of the Seventy and assistant executive director in the Church Historical Department.

This four-gallery international art exhibition is free and open to the public. Museum hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends and most holidays. The museum is located at 45 N. West Temple. For information on exhibits, films, tours and programs, call 240-3310.