Back in 2007 Pam and I accompanied by our daughter Heather and her husband Brian Nielsen and with some friends took a two week tour of China. One of the highlights was visiting the Great Wall of China. While there I took out a small traveling paint box and painted a couple of small oil sketches. The Chinese folks were very friendly and don't particularly believe in the concept of "personal space" (probably because there are a billion of them there), and they gathered around to watch the magic. It is not a great painting which is what a great wall deserves, but then it is only a wall, after all...(well, maybe a little more than that).
A while ago, I was driving up Wapiti Valley, a beautiful stretch of meadows and dramatic rocks in the middle of the Absaroka Mountain range, in between Yellowstone Park and Cody, Wyoming. Clouds were hovering over Jim Mountain and the lighting was dramatic. I pulled over, set up my easel, paints, canvas and started doing the kind of image capture that I like best: Plein air, or painting on location. I noted the surroundings seemed untouched by modern life, and started imagining myself as an Indian scout, perhaps a Ute, watching as some Crow braves and their families crossed through territory that was claimed and fought over by Crows, Utes, the Cheyenne and other Shoshone tribes (the paint work is quick in plein air painting, but the mind still wanders!). As I painted, I noticed a crowd of tourists had gathered near me, watching me paint, and out of their hushed voices I picked up on a few speaking Korean. I just couldn’t resist, and I turned and began speaking Korean to the young men. They started yelling in excitement, and couldn’t believe that, in the wild, wild west, they found a cowboy that painted AND spoke Korean! We had a fun photo shoot then, entertaining each other and the remaining tourists with our posing antics. Back in the studio, as I went through my archives to research before painting in the Indian travois and figures, I smiled at the unexpected friendship and entertainment that added to the fun of that painting session. I still think of it every time I see this piece! It is currently on display at the Hopkinson Gallery in downtown Provo, Utah. Masters of the Absarokas, Oil on canvas, Original, 22x28, price $5000.
In 1852 in Jylland, Denmark, two Mormon Missionaries were visiting door to door and not finding anyone willing to listen to their message. One Elder was willing to quit and call it a day and the other reminded him of the dream he had had the night before that when they came to a house with a hen and a brood of white chicks in the front yard that the family would accept the gospel and that they needed to continue their efforts.
They continued walking and after some time they came to the home of the Christensen family and there was the hen and her chicks in the yard.
The Elder said, "This is the place, this is proof that if we will go to our Heavenly Father in earnestness He will help us overcome our trials and troubles."
Annie Catherine Christensen Olsen was 11 at the time and wrote, "My father was the first to embrace the Gospel and it wasn't long after until the rest of the family were baptized. My father never touched liquor or tabacco [he had been a heavy drinker] after he joined the Church.
This painting is a representation of that experience. Our friend Janice Hecht is the great-great grand daughter of Annie.Read More
Finishing the Painting "Pusch Ridge-Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson.
Coming to a river wide and deep from the melting snow and only days away from their destination the settlers have to cross. Plowing and planting have to be done and in this beautiful 30 x 40 painting I've depicted one of those myriad crossings that took place. The industry and never give up attitude that our grandparents and great grandparents exhibited fills me with awe. The Absaroka Range near my home is the star of this painting.
I came across a photo of a painting I did 41 years ago and it delighted me. A friend in Salt Lake City, David Bennion, owns this painting. The tires in those days were always needing repairs, it was just part of the trip. I like the painting and the idea and maybe it's a subject matter I should revisit. An old Model T and a bunch of rocks with sunlight and shadow. Who wouldn't want to paint that!
Side note: Is the wife thinking, "I hope this lunkhead gets this thing fixed because I don't want to walk back to town"? Or the girlfriend: "A flat tire? Last time he ran out of gas! I've heard that line before!"
Each year there is a exciting kind of fun preparing for Christmas. Years ago when my children were all in the home we went to the mountains and with bundled little ones and a sleigh trudged through deep snow to find the right tree. Now, we still go through a lot of effort to make our home look magical for our children's children and as of this summer our great grandchildren.
A few years ago Bjorn Bauerfeind from Leipzig, Germany asked me to do this painting of Mormon Missionaries painting the "Plan of Salvation" on the Berlin Wall. Bjorn grew up in East Germany and when the wall came down his folks drove him into West Berlin where he came to serve a mission for the LDS Church in Oregon. He presently serves as a counselor in the Stake Presidency in Leipzig, is a business man and he and Asnath, his wife have five children. They are an interesting family and have a great story.
Painting on location, Red Mountain, Mesa Arizona
...So then I went back a couple of more times to paint this subject once again. Spring brought out the Swallows who were getting lunch while I was painting.
I came across this card of a painting I did a long time ago. I painted the rocks on location south of Byron, Wyoming. I met my model when we were both young men. I was scouting good painting ideas at a Mountain Man Rendezvous in the Big Horn Mountains. There were quite a few tipis but one was one in particular looked very authentic. There was a paint pony with and Indian saddle. That is where I met 19 year old Mike Terry from South Carolina. He said his parents both had Indian blood in them and that made him have a desire to articulate his heritage in a real way.
Just finished this cool little 6x8 painting of Coon Creek which flows into the Shoshone River just over the bluff from my home in Byron. I think most of us kids played in Coon Creek as we were growing up. With this kind of snow we learned how to track rabbits and deer and if we saw big dog tracks we knew it had to be a wolf.
I've made friends with a few people that live over at Crow Agency.Many of them have been helpful as I've painted the 19th century Native American life style by posing as models, by charging around on horseback while I shoot photos of them in action. It has been a pleasure to watch them have fun especially when they are re-enacting the Custer Battle. Their ancestors were allies of George Custer and the U.S. Army back in 1876. They enjoy riding against Custer now. I even joined in on a two day ride where I was a Cheyenne Warrior on horseback and we attacked the calvary on horseback. Maybe I'll share that experience sometime.
Did I ever mention how much I like to paint rock formations, cliffs and mountains? Well, I do. A while ago I went out north of Byron, Wyoming near the cemetery on what we used to call Union Hill (When we were kids, Steve, Marv and I would take our bikes to the top of the hill and coast, getting close to 60 mph and would see if we could take the last curve without using our breaks). Anyway, some time ago I set up my portable easel and painted the rock formations you see here. This painting sat around my studio for quite a while and then...I started to envision these young braves on horseback. The coming storm almost obscures Eagle Rock. There is a lot to paint around here (Byron) and almost everywhere I go memories and thoughts will take me back to what was before I was.
Pamela and I both have great-grandparents who pulled handcarts. Her great grandfather was John Cozzens from Wales and mine was Henry Florence from England. I went there a few years ago and pulled a handcart into Martin's Cove and spent a few hours painting some sketches.
I drove north out of Byron toward Bridger Montana to this area of interesting rocks and trees and started this 24x36 inch painting in the field. It's called Plein Aire painting. Some purists like to start and finish out on location. Sometimes that happens, but I brought this one back to my studio to finish it up.
What happens is that the light changes on you after about an hour to an hour and a half, so you might as well pull out another canvas and paint or pack up and go back to the studio and work there.
I'll post a video of the experience soon.
Here you will see the progress of a 48 x 60 painting representing the young prophet Joseph Smith baptizing Oliver Cowdry as the restoration of the Church of Christ began to unfold. This painting is scheduled to hang in the LDS Church Museum when it opens in October. As you can imagine I'm quite excited to be able to do this painting.
Years ago, along with my daughter Heather Hopkinson Nielsen and three of my granddaughters, Chloe, Lily and Lavender, we waded into these clear waters at the Susquehanna River in northern Pennsylvania at the place where I think Joseph and Oliver were visited by the resurrected John the Baptist and commanded to baptize each other with the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood which John had bestowed upon them. This experience happened to them as they were finishing the translation of The Book of Mormon.
As I finish the painting I place it in the frame. Doing so helps me to determine if I need to do more. I believe it works well as a beautiful painting and, in a small way, it helps to depict the emotions and many feelings the Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) had as they left their homes.
They knew that their neighbors were willing to kill them if they didn't leave. Some, including their Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum, had already been killed. And yet, they overcame their fear, anger, sorrow with a desire to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and they faced the future with faith and hope and generally a joyful and positive attitude. I am personally grateful to those people which included some of our own (Pam and myself) ancestors who were willing to sacrifice so much so they could practice their religion.
Take the opportunity to visit Nauvoo. The LDS Church has turned about 30 of the buildings built in the 1840s into a "living museum" and the LDS Missionaries there tell the stories of the people who lived in Nauvoo at that time. John Browning was a Mormon and his gunshop is set up just as it was when he built some of his famous weapons. You have to visit the Family History Center and let them show you your ancestors who lived there. At its peak Nauvoo was the home to about 18,000 people, the second largest city in Illinois at the time. I believe if you were born and raised in the West there is a good chance one or more of your ancestors lived there in the .1840s
At this point in the painting, I'm feeling pretty good about how it is coming along.