At the risk of beating a topic into the ground, I have one more observation on Minerva Teichert. Last week I again found myself in Provo on a quick trip and ended up with two close college friends to entertain and an hour to kill. So I took them to see Pageants in Paint. They both enjoyed the exhibit, and while we waited for Abby, who was contemplating the duo of paintings Squaws and Braves (which have been posthumously euphemistically renamed), Kristin and I sat in front of the Book of Mormon frieze and chatted about the exhibition.
We decided, among other things, that Teichert deserves her own crayon. I’ll write to Crayola and try to negotiate the deal. But I want my own personal Minerva Red next time I sit down to color.
I love how she uses it. It’s outside of her typical palette – it’s the one warm note in most of her otherwise understated compositions. It’s pure, relatively undiluted, and it serves as the perfect accent note. It’s a little bit orange, and wouldn’t match well in most wardrobes. As you walk through Pageants in Paint, try to spot it. There is usually one central figure in each composition who has something subtle – a kerchief, a cloak, a flower – in the telltale Minerva Red. The Lamanite daughters dancing in the Book of Mormon frieze have it playfully dancing along with them as streams of vibrant flowers. Some of the compositions with large crowds of people will clothe the central figure in glorious Minerva Red robes to let you know who you’re supposed to look at. It’s not a very sneaky compositional tool, and there’s nothing particularly brilliant about the way she uses it, but its religious underpinnings are quite profound. And this is why it brings a smile to my face.
Though we’re not a people with any sort of established artistic tradition, and as a religion rather incohesive in many respects, there is an almost universal understanding of the significance of red among LDS believers. Red is the Atonement. Red is the promised return in majesty of our Lord Jesus Christ. Red is blood, is sin, is washed away in the paradoxically red blood of the Lamb. It is central to anything else that we teach; it is the point, to which all other doctrines and programs are merely appendages. And thus it is in art – it draws our eye, makes us look, serves as a didactic coach in a shamelessly blatant manner. “Look-” it says in a composition. “Look,” said the angel to Nephi. “Look,” commanded the Lord to Moses. Look to the source. Look to God, and live.
On my way out of Pageants in Paint, I caught, out of the corner of my eye, that somewhat sentimental sweetheart of the Mormon Art Pavilion. Carl Bloch probably didn’t know that he’d be assimilated into LDS visual culture, but a few wealthy donors and a sentimental loyalty peculiar to Utah art patrons brought him to Provo, and there he now resides.
One of the more universal of the populist art sentiments in the LDS world has to do with this painting, “Christ Healing at the Pool of Bethesda.” Christ heals, physically, but He also heals the wounds that are not so easily seen. and by his use of that brilliant telltale red, Bloch points this out to us.
It’s a simple principle, artistically, one easily mimicked. But, like most small and simple things, has profound spiritual import.