Notes from the Viewing of Arnold Friberg

The Viewing of Arnold Friberg, July 9, 2010, Salt Lake City, Utah.

I attended the viewing for Arnold Friberg on July 9, 2010. I felt obligated as an admirer of his work, as a Mormon, and because I'm a wanna-be artist. When I found out that his viewing would be at the LDS Conference Center in the "Arnold Friberg Room," where many of his originals were housed, I was determined to attend.

The "Arnold Friberg Room" houses the original twelve Book of Mormon paintings that were commissioned by the LDS Church in the 1950s. I had seen them many times in the Books of Mormon that I have owned over the years, and even more often when I gave them out as an LDS missionary in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I had also collected several cheap prints of his Book of Mormon paintings in the months before my mission. At that time I had aspirations at that time of becoming an Arnold Friberg-like artist. Sadly that has not come to pass.

I had never seen the original Book of Mormon paintings before, although I have been to the Conference Center before. At at his viewing I had a chance to take in their actual size, texture, and color, and came away very impressed. He did not work small; their size was as majestic as their subject matter. In my mind, many of the characters of the Book of Mormon are exactly as Friberg envisioned them: Lehi, Nephi, Laman, King Noah, Abinadi, and Captain Moroni.

I also had the chance to view the original of Friberg's painting of George Washington in "The Prayer at Valley Forge." I consider this to be the definitive image of George Washington. The painting portrays not only the likeness of Washington (and his horse), but also his character, and in whom he placed his faith and trust. That trust was placed in The Almighty, of course. Once again, the prints I'd seen of it did not do justice to its size, color, and texture. The original is awe-inspiring and reminds the viewer of the debt owed to the Founding Fathers of this country.

Arnold Friberg was what you might call a "concept artist" for Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 film, "The Ten Commandments." A couple "concept paintings" were on display, and I particularly enjoyed Friberg's portrait of Charlton Heston as "Moses, Prince of Egypt." Another interesting item was Charlton Heston's "Levite Robe" costume, placed on a display mannequin.

Also set up as temporary displays were other religious works, such as "Shepherds in the Fields," western paintings, works of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (of which he was an honorary member), and a print of his portrait of Prince Charles I of Wales and his horse, Centennial. Portrait drawings of family members (children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren I presumed) were arranged near the center of the room.

Finally, Arnold Friberg himself rested near the eastern wall. Laid in his open coffin, dressed in a dark red jacket, with a short and neatly trimmed mustache, he looked quite peaceful.

I was extremely impressed at the physical evidence of Arnold Friberg's life: the things he left behind, the record of his work on this earth, his legacy. In this way, artists seem especially blessed to be able to leave tangible evidence of their sojourn on this earth.

I think I picked the best time to view the evidence of Arnold Friberg's mortal existence. Mormons who did not come missed out on paying their respects to one of their brothers to whom they are indebted for his visualization of characters who make up "the cornerstone of our religion." Those not of the Mormon faith who did not come, missed out on the chance to appreciate the artwork of a modern master.


CLICK to view a collection of Arnold Friberg’s artwork