“Alive and Real, and of Immense Stature”: Arnold Friberg’s Book of Mormon Paintings

If many of us smile when the art of Arnold Friberg is mentioned, it’s because we’re no doubt thinking of a certain commonality among his artworks: His characters, whether they be teenagers newly called to military duty, or seasoned warriors in the prime of life, or aged prophets, or young women exiting the waters of baptism – or even chickens – share a certain, how shall we say it? robustness of form. Sometimes because that’s the first thing we’ve conditioned ourselves to see, it’s also all we see.

I’ve recently run across a report made by Friberg himself in 1952, just before those iconic Book of Mormon paintings were debuted, one each month, in the 1953 issues of The Children’s Friend, which help me appreciate a little more about them than the fine musculature of the human – or chicken – form.

Friberg understood that he was an illustrator in the service of the text, not acting in this case as a capital-A Artist. That is, his duty was “to suggest to the reader some of the rich experiences that might be his through reading the particular story or book that is being illustrated.”

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