The 151 artists selected for the 11th International Art Competition — operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — all are members of the same faith.
But because they reside in 26 countries, their works are diverse and go beyond the images one might expect from church art. Blue lego bricks arranged to spell “glory” in Arabic; tiny pieces of reclaimed wood, painted and assembled to tell the story of the creation; a pioneer dress made from pages of scripture.
"They are poetic works,” said Salt Lake City sculptor Jean Richardson, one of five competition judges, "that have the potential to strengthen your own testimony.”
In all, 947 works were submitted for the contest, held every three years and displayed in the Church History Museum, 45 N. West Temple, in downtown Salt Lake City. The pieces range from traditional oil paintings and sculptures to more contemporary mediums such as lithographs and cut paper, said curator Laura Hurtado.
The exhibit officially opens Thursday and continues through Oct. 7. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
A ceremony honoring artists whose works were purchased for the permanent collection or earned awards of merit will be held Thursday as part of the exhibit’s official opening. The ceremony will be held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square at 6 p.m., followed by a public reception from 7 to 9 p.m.
This year’s theme, “Meditations on Belief," draws on a verse from Psalm 77, said Hurtado. “I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.”
The miracles of Jesus Christ, she said, as well as temples as places of holiness are perennial themes.
For the first time, though, pieces using Lego blocks and Styrofoam were submitted and selected for the show. A pixelated image of the Earth, using painted keyboard letters, is another one-of-a-kind artwork. It looks similar in perspective to the photographs first captured by astronauts traveling to the moon.
On theme that emerged this year involved women seeking revelation, expressing gratitude or manifesting faith.
Salt Lake City’s Paige Crosland Anderson’s oil painting, titled “Fitting Fragments," is an example. The painting, which looks like a pioneer quilt, is a meditation on how “one truth leads to a dozen questions, how pulling one theological strand sometimes unravels another," she said. "These sometimes uncomfortable spaces, where each truth doesn’t quite match up with the next, are where I have experienced the most growth as a seeker and disciple.”
For her mixed media sculpture, Utah artist Jacqui Larsen pays tribute to the Latter-day Saint Primary songs she sang while growing up in Syracuse, N.Y. She used the cover and inside pages from the decades-old “Children Sing,” songbook to construct the work.
“My belief in the Savior,” she said, “came primarily from the music and lyrics."
Utah artist J. Kirk Richards, who also served as a judge, said that the most common way to express one’s testimony is verbally in a church meeting. But for those who are not wordsmiths or are timid, art can provide a visual testimony.
“Art is the way they choose to express their faith,” he said, adding that people who visit the exhibit should read the artist statements and contemplate how they relate to their beliefs. “They will leave with a new perspective on their own faith."