Mormon Artist Minerva Teichert: Her Disappointments in Later Life

Prologue:  Mormon artist Minerva Teichert was born in 1888 in southern Idaho; studied art in Chicago and New York; and with her husband eventually moved to Cokeville, Wyoming.  During her lifetime, Minerva was a prolific muralist/artist, largely illustrating Mormon-based themes.

Minerva Teichert Self-Portrait

Minerva Teichert Self-Portrait

by Peter R. Gardner (BYU|Magazine, Winter 2008)

[As Teichert aged, she] increasing felt it was her responsibility to tell the Book of Mormon story in images.  So after finishing a mural in the Manti Temple, she set out on what she expected to be her masterwork–42 paintings of the Book of Mormon stories, rendered large enough and simple enough to be “read” at a glance.

Finishing the paintings in 1952, the 64-year-old Teichert was aflame with enthusiasm for how the works might accompany the Book of Mormon text or be used as slides by missionaries around the world or be sold as a book of paintings.

"Look to Your Children" Book of Mormon Illustration by Minerval Teichert

“Look to Your Children” Book of Mormon Illustration by Minerval Teichert

What happened was something she never had anticipated–nobody wanted them.  Many praised her efforts, but nobody would purchase the paintings, though Teichert would try for the remainder of her life to find a buyer.

Half a century later, Marian Eastwood Wardle, a granddaughter and curator, describes two major factors that contributed to her grandmother’s declining influence in Mormon art.  First, in 1948, was the death of Alice Merrill Horne, Teichert’s best critic and counselor on the art market.  Then there were changing tastes.  Murals had long since gone out of favor, and the Church commissioned others, such as Arnold Friberg, to paint the Book of Mormon.

Other dreams were fading too.  Though Teichert had long desired to teach at BYU or another university, she had never been offered a post, presumably because in all training she had not acquired the requisite degrees.  Thus she had no true students; no one to whom she could pass the mantle she felt.

Though discouraged, Teichert wasn’t one to mope.  She kept painting, eventually finding a new agent.  Though the market for her religious work had run dry, her agent found interest in her western-themed [cowboys, Indians, and pioneers] works outside of Utah.

"Herding the Cattle Across the River" by Minerva Teichert

“Herding the Cattle Across the River” by Minerva Teichert

In the Spring of 1970, Teichert fell and broke her hip, possibly after suffering a stroke.  She would never paint again.  She died in 1976 in a Provo nursing home.

Within months of her death, Minerva Teichert would be rediscovered by the Mormon community.  The thawing of awareness began quietly, when, just four months after her passing, a handful of her Book of Mormon paintings were used to illustrate a package of Ensign stories.  That trickle of interest soon became a flood, when she was profiled in the Ensign two months later.  The article called art “sophisticated in technique and style, yet simple and direct in content and impact.”

Epilogue:  On my LDS Mission in the 1960s, we distributed a lot of Book of Mormons.  Unfortunately they were illustrated with the flashy, homoerotic works of Arnold Friberg.  (And not the wonderful illustrations of Minerva Teichert.)  I wonder who or what committee made this decision?  Friberg’s illustrations certainly presented the Church with an interesting image.

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