President Henry B. Eyring Gives Preview Tour of His Art Exhibition At Church History Museum
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utahns know President Henry B. Eyring as a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They likely don’t realize he’s also a prolific artist. A collection of his watercolors is now on display and the focus is on remembering.
President Henry B. Eyring took KSL TV on a personal tour of the exhibition in the Church History Museum.
“These are all family. My son, my sweetheart – this is my wife when she was a little girl…”
We walked from the portraits to a painting of baseball players.
“This is childhood for me. I was a little boy in New Jersey and actually went once to the ballpark. One time and Joe DiMaggio hit one out into center field. The one time I was there!”
The paintings are deeply personal moments in his life. I asked him if some were actually romantic memories.
“Always times where I was somewhere with Kathy, not that I did it on scene, but I tried to do it from photographs later to capture time, so all of these are… this is England, you can tell that’s Scotland. Kathy and I went from the top of Scotland down on a drive, I have forgotten why we were there… these are the Cotswolds where everyone wants to go.”
“I hurt my back surfing, and, so, I had no way I can keep surfing, I had to do something. So, what I did is I went into town and got some watercolors. I did my first watercolors sitting in the van while they were at the sandy beach.”
The exhibition also includes his sketchbooks, some are journals with drawings and some are watercolors that he did as ‘thank you’ notes during his Church assignments.
“When I was going to take conferences, I would always take onto the plane my watercolor set and then on the way back, I would try to do a scene for the people that I had stayed with in their home. And then I sent it as a ‘thank you’ card, but there are a whole bunch of them that we had asked, ‘can we borrow it back?’ (for the show), thank you notes that I sent. And so that’s the only time that I really carried a set with me.”
And a video that captures the artistic process… “I can’t do it unless I have something I care about and so, I pray. I can’t do a picture just to do a nice picture.”
President Eyring may have started painting just a few decades ago, but he is prolific.
The Church History Museum curator, Laura Hurtado, looked through a thousand watercolors to create this exhibition and found a recurring theme.
“The seven themes in the show were themes that we saw, so we tried to make sense of the thousand or so by creating categories within. I talked to him, because I felt like in the process of remembering, what you gain from that is a gratitude for those moments. And I posed that question to him, I said, ‘It feels so grateful, that gratitude is the theme and he said, ‘Oh, no, no, it’s much deeper than that, it’s love.’”
Besides his family, his faith brings President Eyring to tears.
“This, of course, was just my thought of what it might have looked like with the prophet Joseph coming out of the grove.”
We walked up to another area in the gallery and President Eyring became emotional, “Oh, Kathy, oh boy. And we have two daughters. We had five children, three boys, and then along came two little girls. And I had to learn to be a whole other kind of father, because they’re different.”
He shared very tender moments of nostalgia with us, especially about his wife.
“And there’s sweet Kathy. And it’s not a great painting, but, boy, it gets me, you know, because it’s the way they really looked.”
And we came to another one.
“This is a little hard for me. That’s Kathy. Her parents had a cabin at Tahoe. And when she was a little girl, they had a green row boat. And she would go out on Lake Tahoe…”
President Eyring loves the transparency of watercolors and the light that comes through the brush strokes and the image.
“Light is a big part of why, it’s the feelings you get are almost always about light and watercolor, what you do is transparent, and therefore, if you, if you put some dark near it, it brings in white light pops out. And you can do something with watercolor. These paintings are not a message so much as a memory. They are a way to take me or the people I love back to a time that was a sweet time.”
Like one, of a sailing vessel, carrying his great-grandfather and his sister to America and a new faith.
“I went to the trouble of getting from history the exact rigging of a boat that my great-grandfather and his sister, as orphans, sailed out of Bremerhaven to the United States, not knowing why they felt the need to come to America. Of course, it was because they found the church, but I painted this for a family home evening one night. If you want what are we talking about here? So I said family education. I painted it so there is a little break in the clouds and the two of those little orphans are on the deck. And the lesson I taught is the Lord is watching over you no matter how lonely you may feel.”
Henry Eyring believes in the importance of looking back and preserving those memories. He says with them, the joy returns.
A Visual Journal: The Artwork of Henry B. Eyring opens Friday and will run through January 21, at the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake.