Arnold Friberg, a renowned artist who died in Salt Lake City Thursday at age 96, will have his legacy preserved in a museum that will house more than a hundred of his most famous works, including his original of "The Prayer at Valley Forge."
True to the artist's desires, the Utah Cultural Arts Foundation will purchase all of the artwork Friberg possessed at the time of his death for the planned Arnold Friberg Museum of Art. The museum will be at a Utah location that is yet to be determined.
The purchase agreement was signed at Friberg's home on June 21, the same night he fell and broke his hip. His death came Thursday as he recovered from hip replacement at a Salt Lake rehab center.
"We've been working on this for five or six years," said Leon Burrows, chairman of the Utah Cultural Arts Foundation. "I have designs on how he wants to hang the paintings and what he wanted the museum to look like — ideas created by his own hand. He's really been involved with the idea for years and years now."
Burrows has copies of the many sketches Friberg created, detailing how he wanted some of his most famous works displayed.
"He had an unbelievable mind for staging, lighting and arrangement," Burrows said. "It wasn't typical museum lighting he had planned for his paintings, either. He had most everything — all the little details worked out."
The collection will not only include the painting of George Washington in prayer, but also works such as "The Light of Christ," his depiction of Queen Elizabeth II, and pieces celebrating the Canadian Mounties. Also, a major highlight of Friberg's career, his paintings for Cecil B. DeMille's epic film "The Ten Commandments," will eventually be on display, since the foundation will own all of them. The museum also will showcase many pieces that have never been seen by the public.
Burrows said he anticipates the entire collection being cataloged and purchased by this October; however, there are so many pieces that it may take longer.
Although Friberg kept many of his original works, his paintings owned by private individuals are not part of the collection that will be in the foundation's possession. Despite this, Burrows said, board members will work at obtaining as many of Friberg's works as possible and financially feasible, if the owners are willing to sell.
The collection purchased for the future museum does not include Friberg's famous heroic depictions of stories from the Book of Mormon, which are owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As a Utah resident and LDS Church member, Friberg's works are widely recognized and appreciated both internationally and locally.
"Arnold was a very prominent Utah artist who has not been recognized enough, so recently there was an attempt being made to recognize his incredible contribution to the arts," said Marcus Vincent, the director and curator for the Woodbury Art Museum at Utah Valley University.
That attempt to honor Friberg is embodied in a sculpture of him, created by Edward Fraughton and commissioned by the university in conjunction with Gov. Gary Herbert.
The sculpture was to be unveiled Thursday — the day of his death — so for now, those plans are at a standstill.
"We thought he would recover, but I'm just not sure where things will go from here," Vincent said. "There will probably still be an unveiling ceremony, but now we just don't know when, and he won't be able to be a part of it. We'll all miss him very much."
Friberg not only played a significant role in Utah's art community, but was also passionate about issues that affected his work.
From 1972-79, when the construction of I-215 put his house and studio in jeopardy, he fought a tough battle against the state of Utah. Eventually, he pushed the state into moving the highway enough to save his studio, and to get a new spot for his home.
"Utah is proud to call Arnold Friberg its adopted son," said Herbert in a released statement. "His work is instantly recognizable and has inspired countless people, whether it is through his religious illustrations or his patriotic pieces. On the wall directly across from the desk in my office hangs Arnold's famous 'The Prayer at Valley Forge,' from which I draw inspiration daily. The resolve demonstrated in the clasped hands of George Washington as he kneels in prayer is breathtaking, and Arnold captured it deftly."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also has a copy of "The Prayer at Valley Forge" hanging in his office and recognizes its legacy as a painting that encourages people from all walks of life to face their own battles.
"I have long adored the work of this great man and feel so fortunate to have shared an association and friendship with him," Hatch said in a statement. "This wonderful artist will be missed by many, but his legacy will live on through the beauty he left behind on canvases throughout the world."46 comments on this story
The painting of George Washington has not only hung in the state Capitol, but copies of it have hung above fireplaces in homes across the United States as an enduring symbol of faith and patriotism, Hatch said.
"All the suffering that went on there, that speaks to the heart," Friberg said in a Deseret News interview in 2008. "The painting is only a man with his horse, but there is deeper meaning in it, and people get it right now."
That deeper meaning is what Friberg infused into many lives, bringing his artwork to people beyond the artistic elite. His work was accessible to a wide audience while he was alive, and with the anticipation of the new museum, the same may be true after his death.