Minerva Teichert’s “Pageants in Paint” on View at BYU MOA

PROVO, Utah – When Minerva Teichert attended art school in Chicago and New York in the early 1900s, mural paintings and theatrical pageants were dynamic components of American popular culture. Teichert embraced these popular art forms and used the visual language they provided to tell the stories of her religious heritage and the American West.

“Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint,” a new exhibition at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art presented by Zions Bank, will examine how the American mural and pageantry movements influenced Teichert’s artistic production through 47 of her large-scale narrative murals. Some of the works in the exhibition come from private collections and have not been seen publicly for many years.

Indian Basket and Pottery Makers, circa 1935, oil on canvas. Private collection.

The exhibition, which will be on view from Friday, July 27, 2007 through Monday, May 26, 2008, also will explore how Teichert’s personal dramatic flair contributed to the theatrical characteristics of her murals of religious and western subjects.

“This is a new approach to looking at Minerva Teichert’s work,” says Marian Wardle, curator of American art at the Museum of Art. “I hope visitors don’t get the idea that this is the only way to look at her work because her work can be examined and interpreted in many different ways. But the influence of mural painting and pageantry is one important element that I think will cause people to look at her paintings in a different light. I hope it will help viewers understand where Teichert was coming from and the culture of the time, because, among other things, her paintings are cultural artifacts of her day.”

The aesthetics of pageants and murals are nearly identical. Both were meant to be seen from a distance by large numbers of people for educational purposes. Both convey their messages by highlighting human form and action through the absence of detail. Both spread figures across a simple backdrop – usually a landscape – within a shallow space. And both use the same compositional devices to achieve their aesthetic goals: dramatic tableaux, processions, and theatrical poses and gestures. Each of these elements will be explored in the exhibition.

During Teichert’s studies at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League of New York, she became captivated by the educational potential of large murals in public buildings and their capacity to be seen by great numbers of people from a distance. It was during her studies in New York that noted American realist painter Robert Henri challenged her to paint the “great Mormon story.” This admonition led Teichert to paint many theatrical depictions of Mormon pioneers, the West and Book of Mormon scenes.

Drama, theater and the cinema played a significant role in Teichert’s life. From an early age Teichert participated in dramatic readings and family plays in her home. Wardle says Teichert was a movie buff who regularly attended the weekend movies shown in the Cokeville, Wyoming, Amusement Hall and occasionally made the 30-mile journey to Montpelier, Idaho, to see a show.

Later in life, Teichert studied drama and dance in Chicago along with her visual art studies. During her art instruction in New York, she performed rope tricks and Native American dances to help pay her tuition. As an adult, Teichert directed plays and served for a short time on the committee for a pageant commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Mormon pioneers’ arrival in Utah.

These personal experiences and the popularity of pageants at the time led Teichert to think of her murals as theatrical productions. Before she began work in 1945 on an elaborate mural depicting Bible and Book of Mormon prophesies of the gathering of Israel, she viewed the 1944 version of the movie “Kismet,” an MGM picture set in the Middle East, to see “the camels and warm scenes” of the movie, which inspired her sketches or “notes” for the painting. The result, “Return of Captive Israel,” depicts a theatrical procession of innumerable figures dramatically parading across the canvas.

Her 1947 commission to paint the World Room in the Manti Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resulted in a procession of richly clad people – kings and merchants – pleased with their own abundance and ignorant to the misfortunes of the beggars at their feet.

“An abundance of uncaring people was her conception of the lone and dreary world,” Wardle says. “But the profusion of human figures in her Manti Temple mural is more than philosophical. It also involves the stylistic conventions of mural painting and pageantry, where human forms create the story. In Teichert’s words, her Manti Temple mural is a ‘pageantry of nations.'”

“Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint” will open Friday, July 27, 2007 and will be on view through Monday, May 26, 2008 in the Marian Adelaide Morris Cannon Gallery on the museum’s main level. This exhibition is presented by Zions Bank and is sponsored in part by Classical 89 KBYU FM and the State of Utah Office of Museum Services. Initial research for the exhibition was funded by the Brigham Young University Women’s Research Institute. Admission to the exhibition is free of charge.

Exhibition Tours: Free tours of “Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint” will be conducted during regular museum hours; however, tours must be scheduled at least one week in advance. Call 801/422-1140 to schedule a tour.

Monday Night Program: Free family-oriented tours of the exhibition will be offered each Monday night throughout the exhibition. These tours are specifically formatted for families and BYU Family Home Evening groups. During the tour visitors will help in the re-creation of theatrical elements of Teichert’s murals, such as tableaux and processions. For more information or to schedule a tour, call the Museum Education Department at 801/422-1140.

Publication: The Museum of Art has published a book in conjunction with this exhibition. “Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint,” written by Marian Wardle, curator of American art at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art, is lavishly illustrated with 47 full-page color plates and more then 100 black and white figures. Expanding on themes explored in the exhibition, Wardle probes the connection between Teichert’s works and her distinctive personality, and at the same time ties Teichert’s works to the political culture of her time. The book also includes an extensive chronology of the artist’s life, and, published for the first time, a brief autobiography of the artist written in 1937. This publication has been made possible through the generous support of Zions Bank and will be available in September 2007.

Lecture Series: The Museum of Art will host a lecture series in conjunction with this exhibition. The lectures will focus on historical perspectives of Teichert’s life, the early 20th century theatrical conventions that influenced her style and how modern-day pageants relate to her work. All lectures will be presented in the Museum of Art Auditorium on the lower level of the museum at 7 p.m. Two lectures will be presented in 2007 with additional lectures scheduled for 2008. All lectures are free of charge. The lectures this fall will include:

  • an overview of the exhibition by Marian Wardle, curator of American art at the BYU Museum of Art, on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007.
  • a discussion and demonstration of the theatrical poses and gestures that influenced Teichert’s work by Judith Tourney, theater consultant and part-time faculty member of BYU Theatre and Media Arts Department, on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007.

Symposium: The Museum of Art will present a symposium related to the exhibition titled “Pageants and Processions: Image and Idiom as Spectacle” on March 7 and 8, 2008. For more information about the symposium, visit the museum’s Web site.