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Trent Toone, Deseret News
Grant Romney Clawson with portrait of President Thomas S. Monson.

MURRAY, Utah — Grant Romney Clawson is the most famous Mormon artist no one has ever heard of.

For the past 42 years, his brush has created hundreds of precious paintings depicting the Lord Jesus Christ, the prophets, scriptural scenes and other gospel artwork. His works hang in LDS temples and church-owned buildings around the globe.

"I am like a guy who is famous in a way because my paintings are all over the world, but no one knows my name," said Clawson, a self-described perfectionist. "I believe I was born to do this. I feel like the most blessed guy who ever lived. What a privilege to paint portraits for the prophets. It's beyond my imagination. I thank my Heavenly Father every day."

Sitting in his home studio on his favorite 50-something-year-old wooden dining chair (one leg held together by a pair of C-clamps), the longtime freelance artist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently completed his portrait of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson. He devoted approximately 325 hours to perfecting the prophet's likeness on canvas.

The painting will hang in the council room of the Salt Lake Temple next to its 14 predecessors, all but one painted by the 82-year-old Clawson.

"Brigham Young was already there," said Clawson, who is President Young's great-grandson.

Not too bad for a guy who taught himself to paint.

Clawson was first interested in art at a young age, but almost gave up when a fifth-grade school teacher accused him of tracing an assignment he had worked on at home.

"I was very distraught," Clawson said. "I wanted to be recognized as an artist at school."

The heartbroken lad was sitting outside the school reflecting on what had happened when he had a spiritual experience. He said his mind was opened to see a day in the future when he would paint for the temples of the Lord. "From that day forward, I knew what I was supposed to do," Clawson said.

Years later, after serving in the army as a cook in Korea, Clawson had a 16-year stint with KSL-TV. He started as a floor manager and worked up to production manager. He takes credit for discovering Dick Nourse, KSL's longtime award-winning television news anchorman.

"My brother was my boss. I told him, you need to see this guy," Clawson said of Nourse.

But Clawson's heart wasn't in television; it was in art.

In 1957, he began painting on the side and entered as many art contests as he could find. The more he painted, the less interest he had in a television career.

One day he was walking through the Salt Lake Temple and saw a 1964 Harry Anderson painting of the Lord Jesus Christ ordaining the apostles. He describes the experience as "an awakening."

In the late 1960s, through a series of events, Clawson was given the opportunity by Elder Mark E. Petersen to paint an enlarged version of Harry Anderson's "John the Baptist Baptizing Jesus." After months of work, it was accepted, and Clawson was commissioned to produce several more enlarged paintings, which now hang along the wall at the North Visitors Center at Temple Square.

The paintings are admired by people from around the globe, like Yair Koshet, a recent Temple Square visitor from the Middle East.

"They are very beautiful," Koshet said. "It's a wonderful idea to tell the story with vivid images. Having lived there, the landscape and scenery is also very accurate."

Clawson also painted the 66-by-14-foot mural titled "Go Ye Therefore" that resides in the lobby of the Church Office Building.

If you look closely at his paintings, you will find the faces of Clawson's family members. Take the face of a sibling, son or daughter, add a beard, long hair and ancient clothing, and you have another subject in a scriptural depiction.

"It's the greatest compliment to be in one of his paintings," said Megan Clawson Doezie, Clawson's youngest daughter and art agent. "He has a way of making everyone feel important. It's fun to go to the visitors center and see the faces in the paintings."

While Clawson has produced several original paintings, both religious and nonreligious, much of his church-commissioned work has involved painting enlarged murals of Anderson's smaller originals. Each time, Clawson added his personal touch to small details.

When Anderson saw the size of the mega-canvas in the Church Office Building, he said if he ever had to paint something that big, he would faint.

"He was just trying to make me feel good," Clawson said. "He was a master artist. I learned a great deal from him. He has been a big part of my life."

Clawson has drawn inspiration through the years from daily reading in his Book of Mormon. The influence of the Holy Ghost has also played a role in his numerous paintings.

"I have only missed about 20 days (reading) in more than 20 years," he said.

His other daily chore is to record his hours, details and thoughts in his spiral-bound journal. He has filled 38 such volumes since 1968.

Clawson and his wife, Irma, are the parents of six children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. They are all big fans of grandpa, but so far no artists have emerged to take up the brush. They have, however, already started to stake their claims on his artwork.

"Rather than watch the family tear each other apart after he is deceased, they say, 'You want it, take it,' " Doezie said.

In addition to LDS art, Clawson has also painted for the western art market. He has even done portraits of some of his grandchildren. For more on Clawson's art, visit grantromneyclawson.com.

Clawson doesn't know how many more projects he will do for the church, but he has enjoyed associating with church leaders and seeing others enjoy his many pieces of artwork over the years. He credits his wife, family and friends for their support.

Perhaps now people will know his name.