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Kris Millgate
Leon Parson paints in his home studio. The wildlife artist and BYU-Idaho art department faculty member painted the murals in the new Rexburg temple.

REXBURG, Idaho — His daughter's first moose is mounted by the gas stove. The 20-foot begonia his mother tended in his youth creeps up the staircase. Three antelope line the wall by the door, and a pile of fishing rods clings to a corner nook.

Every other inch of open space is filled with stacks of photos, illustrations and prints.

This is Leon Parson's studio. It's where he stashes the outdoors inside and floods the room with natural light via skylights. It's where he turns the way of the wild into a work of art.

"I remember just as a little guy, I saw a deer and it just did something inside me," he says. "It touched me."

Two years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints commissioned Parson, a faculty member in the BYU-Idaho art department, for what are by far the largest murals he's ever painted. Eight walls in the soon-to-be dedicated Rexburg temple are graced with the divine inspiration of Parson's hand — towering 10 feet tall and 27 feet long.

"It is what I paint," Parson said. "It is mountains with aspens, pines, wildlife, river bottoms and cottonwoods."

He considers hunting "field research," and he habitually packs a camera on every trip. Most of his hunts take place in Idaho's Snake River Valley, and his favorite painting is a compilation of several hunts. It's part of a series called "No tellum ridge bucks."

"I had the idea for this painting for seven years. I wanted two big bucks sneaking away," Parson said. "The rocks in the painting are, in reality, probably 20 miles apart. The rock in the middle is where one of my sons took his first buck."

He takes thousands of photos and uses them for reference in his studio when he picks up a paintbrush.

"A hunter has a different understanding of an animal," Parson said. "He doesn't see it in a park or in a compound enclosure. He's out trying to think like that animal would think, so when I paint, my paintings are really from hunting-related experiences. Where I've been there hunting, field researching, and then took photographs."

For the Rexburg murals, Parson increased his photo reference from a few thousand to more than 30,000. One scene alone comes from a collection of 5,000 snapshots.

"Every now and again you take one photo that makes you say, 'Wow! That can work,' but that has probably only happened twice that I can think of," Parson said.

Open-house tours for the Rexburg temple conclude Saturday. Ticket availability for the final three days is limited. Request tickets online through the calendar link in "News and Events" at lds.org.

Parson also will be painting murals for the under-construction Twin Falls Idaho temple. He also has illustrated covers for magazines like Outdoor Life.

Parson is already back in the field looking for his next wild inspiration.

"If I get really stressed or under too much pressure or bogged down, I just go out somewhere, climb a mountain, find some deer to look at and I feel better," Parson said. "It's an odd thing. I can't explain it other than that. It's in my heart."


On the Web: leonparson.com