A reverent, serene ambience is part of the temple experience for Latter-day Saints who attend services in these sacred buildings. Creating that special atmosphere is the work of an army of decorators, artists, artisans, craftsmen and specialists.
Henry Carsten, of Murray, is one of the foot soldiers, and his work has taken him to more than 70 temples more, most likely, than many of the church's general authorities. On his list of all 126 operating temples, a yellow line marking those in which he has worked runs through the great majority.
Carsten is a wall-covering specialist, and that takes him to temples that are being refurbished as well as those under construction. His assignments include hanging murals that can present some tricky challenges.
When Carsten was a boy growing up in Tyler, Texas, his father and grandfather were both painters and paper hangers.
"When I was just 8 or 9 as soon as I was big enough to work, they taught me," said Carsten, whose travel itinerary keeps him hopping from one city to another and one country to another in a dizzying schedule. Recently, he has been in Mexico City for work on the temple there. He is employed by Professional Painting Inc., and its work includes many projects besides temple decoration.
Carsten recently was involved in mounting murals in the Senate and House domes of the refurbished Utah Capitol. A book describing the extensive makeover features several photos of him hard at work, although he was only there for a few days, he said. His work also includes many LDS Church visitors centers, and public buildings such as a State of Montana building in Ulm, Mont., which boasts a large wildlife mural that he installed.
"I've been to Tokyo four times," he said, "Taiwan three times, Mexico City three times, Provo, Ogden, Twin Falls, Bountiful, Frankfurt ..."
Eventually, he runs out of breath and just lets the listener's imagination rove the world to complete the list.
"I love the Frankfurt Temple," he said. "There's something about it."
But picking a favorite isn't easy when you've contributed to the beauty of so many.
Some life events propelled Carsten into his current career, beginning with the "apprenticeship" he served with his father, who "always expected me to do my best." That was good training, he said, for work in the temples, where church leaders "expect near-perfect work," he said. "I strive to do the very best I can."
Five years after marrying his wife, Deanna, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Carsten joined the LDS Church.
In 1984, Carsten said, he visited the Dallas Texas Temple open house and dedication.
"I saw some things that needed attention," he said.
Because he was acquainted with the area president and Gilmer Stake officials, he was able to volunteer to address his concerns.
"They hadn't set up a room for orientations, and there was no place for the copy machine," he recalls.
After completing some work in the Oakland California Temple in 1989, Carsten was invited to Utah to work. He made the relocation in 1990.
As he travels from one temple to another, Carsten thinks often of President Gordon B. Hinckley, who died Jan. 27, 2008. The late leader's devotion to temple-building may have made him one of those who have seen the insides of as many or more of the church's most sacred buildings as Carsten has.
Carsten said he has a unique tool box "an old suitcase from Deseret Industries." But he seldom has to use it.
Long before Carsten and others who share responsibility for the finishing touches on a temple begin their work, careful planning has been done by the church interior decorators.
"They try to vary the decor in each temple," Carsten said. "They try to suit it to the area it is in."
For instance, in an African temple, the wallpaper features African trees. The Dallas Texas Temple is Western in design and colors.
Temple artists get inspiration from many sources, Carsten said. In preparation for the San Antonio Texas Temple, a muralist floated a nearby river to get the feel for the area in which his work would appear.
"But they have to be careful not to duplicate local scenery exactly," Carsten noted, "or people will be trying to identify specific spots, instead of keeping their minds on more important things."
As work went forward on the Tokyo Japan Temple, the wallpaper that had been ordered had a defect. Carsten was asked to help find a replacement, and without any conscious effort, "I was impressed to select a paper that exactly matched the furniture chosen for the temple without ever having seen the furniture." Such incidences, he believes, are not just happenstance. They come under the heading of "inspiration."
In another case, he was perplexed about how to hang a mural in the St. George Temple visitors center. The 66-by-8-foot mural was in three pieces and had to be placed 10 feet off the floor.
"I went to bed and woke up the next morning knowing exactly how to do it," he said.
Carsten has continued to use the technique at other sites, but he keeps the details "close to the chest," as any good craftsman would, he said. Long years of experience helped when he faced a challenge in the Manhattan New York Temple, which has a mural that goes up a wall and continues onto the ceiling.
Paintings for the Nauvoo Illinois Temple were completed at Brigham Young University, and Carsten visited the artists in Provo to preview what the hanging might entail. Three "mock-up" rooms had been prepared at the BYU studio, so he had a very good feel for how the work would go when he actually got to Nauvoo. Again, a picture of him at work appeared in a book detailing the construction of the Nauvoo Temple.
Being noted in slick, photo-heavy publications is nice, but the real reward for Carsten and the many others who put their best efforts into temple decor comes from the comments they hear from temple patrons who take note of the ambience and express gratitude for it, he said.
Carsten is 68. When will he retire?"When they put me 6 feet under," he said. "As long as I'm healthy, I'll keep working."
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