Guest Post by Kaitlyn Hirst
Dear Elder Pratt,
You have been called to serve in the Paris France Art Mission.
What?! Have you ever heard of such a mission?
As the Saints settled in the Rocky Mountain West, they no longer had access to the cultural benefits of the major cities on the East Coast and the artistic influences of these urban centers. The Utah Saints yearned to establish rich cultural traditions of their own, but they lacked the influence of highly-trained artists. Recognizing the dilemma, artists John Hafen and Lorus Pratt approached the First Presidency of the Church. Seeking Church sponsorship to receive advanced artistic training in Europe—particularly Paris—they vowed to return to Utah to employ their talents in painting murals for LDS churches and temples.
President George Q. Cannon accepted this proposal, and shortly thereafter Hafen, Pratt, and fellow artist John B. Fairbanks left for Paris. Edwin Evans and Herman Haag joined them a few months later. They received rigorous training at the Académie Julian in Paris under the tutelage of strict instructors in a harshly competitive environment. The training was challenging, as were the meager circumstances of their cost-saving living conditions. Nonetheless, they excelled—each in their respective artistic endeavors, and their accomplishments were on par with many of their European counterparts. While in Paris, all five Utah missionaries felt a particular affinity for the new techniques of French Impressionism and mastered the loose brushwork and natural effects of light characteristic of this style. After returning to Utah, they painted murals in the Salt Lake Temple and the Church Administration Building, and they shared their gifts with their communities, Universities, public schools, and Church entities outside of Utah, including the Cardston Alberta temple.
Today the BYU Museum of Art owns several works painted by these art missionaries, such as Edwin Evans