The Book of Mormon Paintings of Arnold Friberg
Arnold Friberg’s paintings are so much a part of our lives, we are all but convinced that we have seen Abinadi before the court of King Noah, his priests with wicked leers sitting amidst lounging jaguars. In his painting of an aged Mormon under a bent tree, stretching out his arm toward a decimated Nephite nation, we can almost hear the words, “O ye fair ones, how could ye have departed from the ways of the Lord!” No artist has gone so far to define for us the feel and look of the Book of Mormon events as Friberg. We see it in our mind’s eye in great part because he did.
Born December 21, 1913, in Winnetka, Illinois, he started drawing cartoons at age seven and by thirteen was an apprentice to a sign painter. “Right away I was in business,” he said, ” I’d be what you call today an independent contractor.”
After graduating from high school, he attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and then in 1940 moved to New York City where he worked in the publishing world, studying with Norman Rockwell under Harvey Dunn.
His subjects over the years followed many themes: intercollegiate football, the “Saloon,” railroads and wagon trains, mountain men and miners, American Indians, canoes and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. His picture of George Washington kneeling in heartfelt prayer at a snowy Valley Forge hangs in many homes.
In 1950 he moved to Salt Lake City to teach at the University of Utah where he began his series of paintings on the Book of Mormon.
Though he said that he loved to paint horses, what he is best loved for among Latter-day Saints is ability to capture the feel and color of epic moments. Perhaps this is why after seeing Friberg’s religious works, Cecil B. DeMille commissioned the artist to help plan the visual look of his new production, “The Ten Commandments.” Friberg worked in Hollywood for more than three years, and his paintings became the visual basis for the movie’s scenes, characters and costumes. His work also earned him an Academy Award nomination.
Friberg is now 87 and living in Utah, but his paintings are ageless, inscribed upon our souls like the words of the scripture he illustrated.
Robert Davis of the Church Museum of History and Art said:
“This splendid series of paintings, loved by Latter-day Saints around the world, brings to life the events and epic history contained in the Book of Mormon. The series was commissioned in the early 1950s by Adele Cannon Howells, President of the Primary Organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to commemorate fifty years of publishing The Children’s Friend. Arnold Friberg selected the stories, and as the paintings were completed they were reproduced serially in the magazine beginning with The Finger of the Lord in January 1953. Filled with realism, power, and drama, the images immediately communicated to children and adults alike. Reproductions have illustrated millions of copies of the Book of Mormon, printed in dozens of different languages. Arnold Friberg explained that he portrayed the events as if ‘they really happened to real people who have names and jobs and grandchildren. . . . Through my paintings I bear witness to the truth as I understand it.'”
We hope Meridian readers will enjoy this gallery of beloved images brought to us through the courtesy of Ronald Read and other staff at the Church Museum of History and Art. They are on display at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. All of the following photographs are used by permission of the Friberg Gallery in the Conference Center and the Museum of Church History and Art.
Art Title: Book of Mormon Illustrations
Artist: Arnold Friberg, 1913
Medium: Oil on canvas, 1952-1955
The President of the Primary Association, with the cooperation of the General Sunday School Presidency, commissioned Latter-day Saint artist Arnold Friberg to paint a series of highly detailed illustrations of the Book of Mormon. These painting were first publically produced in The Children’s Friend magazine (now The Friend) starting in January 1953 with the painting titled The Finger of the Lord. These popular illustrations became the best known images of Lehi, Nephi, Ammon, Abinadi, King Noah, Captain Moroni, Helaman, and Samuel the Lamanite. Over the next fifty years, many Book of Mormon images created by Latter-day Saints worldwide were derived from this series of paintings.
The Jaredites, who left the Old World at the time of the Tower of Babel, are the earliest peoples whose story is told in the Book of Mormon. After eight barges were constructed as the Lord commanded, the leader of the group, the brother of Jared, presented sixteen stones before the Lord and asked in faith that they become lights for the journey. He was surprised to see the finger of the Lord.
The Book of Mormon begins with the sacred history of the family of Lehi, who left Jerusalem shortly before its destruction about 600 B.C. Although they had been promised a choice land for their inheritance, traveling to this land was to be an act of faith. Early in the journey the Lord provided a ball of curious workmanship called the Liahona to direct their travels.
Lehi’s family stopped for several years at a place they called Bountiful. While there they constructed a ship under the direction of his son Nephi, from a pattern shown him by the Lord. After a difficult voyage, the group landed safely in a place they called the Aland of our first inheritance.
About 450 years after Lehi’s family had settled in their promised land, a prophet named Abinadi came among a group of Nephites ruled over by the wicked king Noah. God sent Abinadi to prophesy destruction unless the king and his peoples repented. Instead King Noah had Abinadi burned. The only person in the king’s court to heed Abinadi’s message was a young priest named Alma. He fled, gathered converts, and eventually became a great leader and prophet.
The century before the birth of Christ, times became increasingly perilous for those who continued to heed the teachings of the prophets. Opposing them was a group who sought to overthrow the government. A prophet-leader known as Captain Moroni rallied the people with a banner called the Title of Liberty, made of Moroni’s rent coat, upon which he had written, AIn memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our wives, and our children. Many made a covenant to defend these principles by throwing their own cloaks at Moroni’s feet.
Ammon was a great missionary who experienced success among the unrighteous. Their conversion was so complete that they covenanted to never again take up weapons. But as a war for survival became intense, these people were about to break their covenant. Helaman urged them to keep their vow. Instead, 2,000 sons who had not made this covenant offered to fight. These young men lacked war experience, yet they fought with courage, and none were killed. They explained that their miraculous success came because Athey had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.”
In the years immediately proceeding the birth of Christ, God sent a Lamanite prophet, Samuel, to call the Nephites to repentance. Samuel stood on the wall of the city of Zarahemla to deliver his message. The Nephites tried to kill him but Samuel was miraculously protected until he delivered his message. Samuel’s prophecies about the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ, as well as his warnings to the Nephite people, were so important that Jesus Christ himself later instructed that the teachings be included within the Nephite record.
The fulfillment of the signs of the birth and death of Jesus Christ, as prophesied by Samuel the Lamanite, occurred during times of great wickedness. At the time of Christ’s death, destructions were poured out upon the wicked portion of the Book of Mormon peoples. Afterward Jesus Christ appeared to the more righteous who remained. He ministered, taught, and blessed the people, and organized his church among them. Several generations of peace and righteousness followed before unrighteousness once again overtook the Nephites.
Early in his mission among the most feared enemies of his own people, Ammon became a servant of the Lamanite king. He was sent to guard the king’s flocks. His powerful and faithful discharge of this responsibility became the means of gaining influence with the king and eventually converting a whole people to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God had commanded Nephi to build a ship to carry his father’s family to a Promised Land. His brothers not only refused to help him, but mocked his efforts. Nephi was told by God to “stretch forth thine hand. . . . I will shock them . . . that they may know that I am the Lord their God.” After this his brothers followed Nephi’s lead in constructing the ship.
The final great battle of the once righteous and mighty Nephite nation occurred at Cumorah. The prophet-general leader of the Nephites, Mormon, was wounded and left for dead. Here, Mormon’s son Moroni tenderly raises his father as Mormon laments, “O ye fair ones, how could ye have rejected that Jesus, who stood with open arms to receive you! . . . But behold ye are fallen, and I mourn your loss.”
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.