Additional Resource

Artwork in New Idaho Temple Depicts Local Geography

Artists John Hafen and Lorus Pratt, among others, in 1890 were asked by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve “art missions” in France, a training that inspired the young artists to return and create murals and other décor in Church temples and other buildings. The work of these pioneering artists set a precedent for future temples, for the quality of design, and particularly for the use of colorful murals as an inspirational addition to the temple interiors.

In the Church’s most recently opened temple — in Rexburg, Idaho — skilled artists and designers have provided distinctive interior features on canvas, in glass and in fabric.

Leon Parson, Rexburg native and a member of the art faculty at BYU-Idaho, was selected to create the murals for the newly constructed temple, while Utahan Tom Holdman constructed the nearly 700 art-glass windows.

For Holdman, a contributor to several other temples, the Rexburg Temple provided a unique challenge. Implementing a wheat motif symbolizing the agricultural economy of the community, Holdman used glass from several parts of the United States and from Europe. Each window required as many as 350 pieces of cut glass to create the intricate designs.

Parson, a renowned wildlife painter and illustrator, tackled the monumental task of painting eight panels, 10 feet high and 27 feet long, as murals for two rooms in the temple. The scope of the project required construction of a special “studio” — a metal farm equipment shed renovated to serve as a painting location — and two years of work (six days a week and often as much as 14 hours a day).

Composition of the murals includes local landscapes and wildlife, from the River Bottoms to the glorious Teton Mountains. The technique employed, expanding a 2” x 3” space to 2’ x 3’, required “considerably larger brushes,” according to Parson. Transferring detail from the smaller space to the larger canvas necessitated “exaggeration of color and intensity, as much of the detail disappears in the distance,” the artist explained.

Detail in the murals subtly depicts the geographic surroundings in Rexburg. Parson studied more than 25,000 photos to create the compositions, paintings that have locals acknowledging the familiar surroundings. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘I feel at home when I see these paintings’; that’s because I painted home; it’s home to me,” Parson added.

The local geography sets the overall tone for the temple interiors. A landscape by Linda Curley Christensen illustrates the remarkable coloring of the Rexburg sunsets and serves as a backdrop for the green, gold and purple color scheme employed in the furnishings. Local artists Gerald Griffin and Jim Wilcox contributed original paintings, as did artists Valoy Eaton and Michael Coleman.

Of particular note in the interior is the stonework of Idaho Travertine. Local stonemasons describe their contributions as “a labor of heart and soul,” an opportunity to use their well-honed skills in their own, local temple.

The words of Elder J. Golden Kimball at the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893 seem an appropriate summary of the Rexburg Temple community as well: “Every stone in it (the temple) is a sermon to me. It tells of suffering, it tells of sacrifice, it preaches — every rock in it, preaches a discourse. Everything about the Temple speaks of the things of God and gives evidence of the faith of the people who built it.”

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