In the Doctrine & Covenants the Lord says that all things are spiritual.LDS western artist Clark Kelly Price takes that passage to heart as he says: "The Lord tells us to pray always; everything is spiritual to him."
Price added, "I ask the Lord every day to help me paint the best that I can."
Several dozen western artists are Mormons, and Santaquin, Utah, resident Jim Norton, a former president of the Cowboy Artists of America, says that wherever he goes he is asked the question, "Why are there so many artists that come out of Utah?" His answer: "I think it is because of the culture. There are a ton of western artists that come from Utah."
Price, who holds a bachelor of arts degree from Brigham Young University, now resides in Star Valley, Wyo. He is a member of the prestigious Cowboy Artists of America, which counts only about two dozen artists.
Cowboys are his favorite subject to paint — perhaps his personal experience working on ranches as a teenager has given him an appreciation and feel for the cowboy life.
He tells of one experience out on the range: "I remember sleeping out with my stake president when he was 72 years old." Price described having just a small bedroll and using their saddles for pillows.
He said, "There are so many things we talked about around the campfire. It was an experience I'll never forget. He told me things you just don't get in church."
Not that he advocates any new church meeting procedures, but his experiences have shaped his paintings. He is well known for his portrayals of cowboys in everyday life. "Some yesteryear," he said, "and some today."
Making a living from art is the goal of every artist. Both Norton and Price have been fortunate to do so for some 30 years. Another LDS western artist who has found success in painting is Gary Carter. He was inducted into CAA in 1982, one month after his conversion to the church.
Since that time he has served as bishop in West Yellowstone, Mont., and currently is the gospel doctrine teacher. He is taking some time off from painting due to an injury. "I got in a horse wreck," he said. It was during a trail ride in June with other CAA members including Norton and Oreland Joe, a Native American member from New Mexico who also broke his wrist on the trail ride. Said Carter, "We gave him a priesthood blessing."
Carter said he needs to slow down a little as he has been involved the past few years with a re-enactment of Custer's last stand from the American Indian viewpoint. "I'm getting too old to ride bareback," he said, noting also that he has been adopted into the Crow tribe and his Indian name is Eagle Man.
Jim Wilcox is an LDS painter who runs two art galleries in Jackson, Wyo. "It is my second church," he joked about his work. Having served in a stake presidency, he observes, "I am so in awe of the beautiful world God created. It is so obvious that he took great care to make the world feel good, smell good and look good."
His paintings run more to landscapes, and his 7-foot-wide depiction of the backside of Mount Timpanogos hangs in the new BYU alumni building. He is a prolific painter turning out 60 to 70 paintings a year. He has made a living from painting now going back nearly 40 years. But referring to God's creations again and the great variety of people he has created, Wilcox remarked, "If I lived in New York, I would be a portrait painter."
Both Wilcox and Price are known for their LDS art; they have created many Book of Mormon prints, church history subjects and even some paintings in temples. Norton says his fame is more outside Utah and he is well-known for his "figurations." But in the future, he says, "I will do Mormon pioneers."
Western art collector Gary Swensen, who lives in Salt Lake City, marvels at how many artists are LDS and he has accumulated more than 150 paintings and sculptures. He said, "I got interested in this about 25 years ago." He jotted down 30 names of LDS western artists and said he has met most of them.
Many of the artists agree that the gospel instills an element that helps them see nature and the western life in it's purest sense.
"The Lord is very much aware of art," Price said. "He wants all people to develop their talents to build up the kingdom."
Price tells of listening to late President Spencer W. Kimball speak one time, saying there are paintings that have never been painted and these things need to be done. "I have tried ever since then," Price said, "to do artwork that is meaningful." He added, "And once in a while I have hit the nail on the head."
He believes talents are a gift from God and should be used in serving him. "The Lord is the greatest artist of all."
Price and his wife are serving as ward missionaries and have received letters about his art from all over the world. "One lady called from outside the U.S." he said, "and it affected her so greatly she couldn't even explain it."
Such rewards are common in his life and he is grateful than he can use his talent to enrich the lives of others.
"I look upon western art as a spiritual thing. It carries thoughts and messages and values of what has made America great."
E-mail: [email protected]