June 2006
Page 5    
Alder's Accounts: Urban, Suburban & Rural Myths About Utah Art
2 Murals, 2 Stories: Henri Moser's Ninth Ward Mural
by Tom Alder

One of the truly unique early Utah artists was Henri Moser, a classically-trained artist who settled in Logan, Utah and was credited with painting 1,197 works in his lifetime. After his formal training in Utah schools and studies in Paris, Moser returned to Utah to paint and teach. Moser, who turned his back on his classical training and became a fauvist, was proficient in artworks of all sizes. A wild-colored greeting card, painted on panel board and currently at Williams Fine Art, captures the conjuring of his palette even though the work measures only 4" X 6".

Moser felt at home whether the work was small or large, as in the case of his mural, painted for his Logan Ninth Ward chapel that measured some five feet by fourteen feet. The Ninth Ward building was erected in 1914 and was later reconstructed and remodeled. Moser, who lived a short distance away from the chapel and who attended his Mormon services there, painted an original mural for the front of the chapel at the request of the bishop of that ward, Tom Perry, father of current Mormon apostle, Elder L. Tom Perry. Moser enthusiastically devoted himself to creating the mural and spent numerous weeks on scaffolding, producing the thematic and evocative panorama of a pioneer wagon train crossing the country in route to the Salt Lake Valley.

Moser produced this large artwork in time for the re-dedication of the Ninth Ward building in 1930. Positioned at the promontory and central to the theme of the painting, stood two pioneers and a Native American scout, looking toward their destination. Wagons, oxen, and other pioneers dotted the landscape with mountains framing the horizon. Within a decade, however, Moser replaced the mural with another. There are two stories as to why.

Some nine years after Moser completed the first mural, the bishop's son, Tom Perry, Jr. came home from school one day, and showed his father a picture of what appeared to be the Ward’s mural in his U.S. history textbook. The depiction in the book was very similar to the mural, although Moser's version included additional figures. Young Tom was thrilled to see a local artist's artwork featured in a book (believed to be Charles Beard's History of the United States of America). Bishop Perry showed the picture to Moser who agreed that it was very similar and either the bishop asked Moser to repaint a new, original mural, or he, Moser, suggested he produce another artwork. The mural was repainted and contained the date, "1930" and "No. 850" in the lower left-hand corner (interview L.Tom Perry).

The new mural portrayed an entirely different scene of three historic Mormon sites: the Sacred Grove, the Hill Cumorah, and the Susquehanna River, each holding significant importance to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Sacred Grove was the site of the First Vision where, according to Mormon belief, God the Father and Jesus Christ visited and conversed with Joseph Smith, founder and first prophet of the Mormon Church. In Mormon history, golden plates, from which Joseph Smith translated ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics into The Book of Mormon, were presented by an angel (Moroni) at a location upon a hill in upstate New York called Cumorah. The Susquehanna River, located in upstate Pennsylvania served as the site where divine authorities (priesthoods) were restored through Joseph Smith. In the mural, all three sites were composed to appear as if they were located in the same place. According to Ted Perry, another son of Bishop Perry, the bishop suggested the new theme (interview conducted in September, 2005). No figures were present in the later mural, and it is not evident that the newer mural covered the original, although Mr. Perry, who remembered Moser painting the murals from scaffolding, suggested that he did cover the original canvas that remains attached to the front wall of the Ninth Ward chapel.

The Moser family offers a different version of the origin of the second mural. They have suggested that Moser painted the new mural because some members of that congregation were not comfortable with a pioneer scene that included a Native American dressed in only a loincloth, and therefore requested that Moser paint some kind of clothing over the Indian's torso. Evidence in Moser's own hand supports this second story. On the back of a photo of the original mural, Moser wrote these comments: "I studied hard for six months in Texas and Mexico to draw these long horn oxens. Saw three bull fights in old Mexico and made some sketches of their bulls. This fourteen feet mural was painted by me for the Ninth Ward chapel as a donation. It hung there for five years. Then, several criticisms arose and it was removed, and duplicated by another I made which consisted of the Sacred Grove, the Hill Cumorah, and the Suskana [sic] which was a desire of Bishop Tom Parry [sic] then in as father of the ward. The old Indian scout with only a britchcloth [sic] about his loins became very obnoctious [sic] for the mellow minded."

Although the two versions of the mural story seem to conflict with each other, it is possible that both are accurate. Ted and Tom Perry, both recalling accounts as young men, may have remembered the "official" version as given by their father, Bishop Perry. Moser then, perhaps, had his own thoughts and memory about the nature of the request, and thus mentioned his account on the reverse of the photograph of the mural.

In an interview conducted earlier this year, Elder L. Tom Perry also gave an explanation as to why murals are typically no longer provided in LDS Chapels. "Now, the reason we don't have pictures or murals in our chapels any longer is that the chapels were made to be places of worship. When we have an art exhibit in front, then everyone is becoming an expert on art and has their own opinions. But the main reason is that we wanted them to be houses of worship and not have the decorative pictures in front. That has been a standing policy of the Church for a number of years now." (interview 3/20/06).

Whatever the exact truth, both murals were well composed and captured the full "wild beast" palette that was a trademark of Moser, and the latter mural is still the crowning artwork of the Ninth Ward. Something any Mormon congregation would be happy to have.

Tom Alder is currently working on a Masters Thesis on Henri Moser. If you have information on this artist or regarding this mural contact him at

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
To Challenge and Delight: Karen Horne's Roman Holiday
by Shawn Rossiter

Rome. Florence. Venice. These cities have been producing fabulous art for centuries. And for just as long they have been places of pilgrimage for artists, professional and amateurs alike. There may be more paintings and photographs of these three cities than of any other three in the world. Which, of course, means there are probably more hackneyed images of this tourist triumvirate than of any other in the world.

In Roman Holiday, Karen Horne's current exhibit of pastels and oils from a recent trip to the cities mentioned, you will find little of the hackneyed. Or the touristy for that matter. Horne eschews the normal tourist (and Sunday painter) sites and concentrates on a subject that has been of interest to her for some years – cafés. Actually, I imagine the subject, or better, subjects of interest to her have been light, composition and form, but cafés have been her vehicle for expressing these interests. The works in this exhibition -- at Horne Fine Art through the end of June -- are part of a larger body of café scenes that will be on exhibit at the Springville Museum of Art in the fall. And while there are certain things about these café scenes -- a waiter's outfit or the umber color of a restaurant’s walls -- which identify them as uniquely Italian, the beauty of them is that the artistic elements in the works make the foreign locales of only secondary interest.

Horne went to Italy this past November with a large group organized by the Springville Museum of Art. This was not Horne's first time to Italy. She spent a summer there in the eighties as part of her M.F.A. training (and returned again in the early 90's). The works in Roman Holiday evoke Horne's formal training, not just because they take us back to Italy, but more importantly because they reveal much about the influence of her education at Yale and then Indiana University and how it has matured into her own individual style. As many good artists mature, their particular vision becomes apparent regardless of the subject matter or locale. In these works, Horne isn't so much confronted by Italy as Italy is confronted by her. Horne brings with her to Italy her unique pictorial conception, which is based on a love for drawing and a very modernist sensibility for form and structure as well as the emphasis on the push and pull of a flat surface that came to her via her professors' time with Hans Hoffman.

These visual and artistic excursions, not the geographic, are foremost in Horne’s works. We often see “travel exhibitions” -- groups of artists showing together after spending some time abroad; but that is not what you will find here. The work in Roman Holiday is a type of landscape or outdoor art that should appeal, not solely because of an emotional reaction to a place, but because of the aesthetic strengths of the works themselves. These strengths are principally composition and color, both of which are adeptly employed to create works that challenge the eye and delight the senses.

The first painting executed in this group is possibly the most atypical. |0| "Red Apron in Rome" is seen from a slight angle, and has many diagonals in the composition and very loose brushwork, giving the piece a plein air feel. The waiter's black outfit and red apron are typically Italian. It is, in a sense, the touristiest of her pieces. Despite this, it is still a very nice painting (one of my favorites, in fact) with a wonderful interplay of paired colors – the red apron and a lime green window, light blue umbrellas and ochre yellow walls – dancing across the picture plane.

Looking at the other paintings, one can see that as Horne progressed in the series the works tended to take on a flatter shape -- less diagonals and more squares. Even when a perspective is involved, things tend not to recede. The risks of this type of work, of course, is that they can become boring; what I think I like the best in Horne's work is this challenge. Some of the pieces -- a minority -- do seem uninspired, but in a good number of the works Horne is successful and the works are more interesting for the dangers taken.

"Ristorante Tre Scalini," viewable from the street through the gallery window, is a visual bath of oranges and ochres, highlighted with touches of purples and warm blues. |1| The interest in the painting becomes obvious quickly; it is in the overlapping tablecloths that form a series of triangles. These interact with a brightened doorway and windows -- flat squares, and the long rectangles and triangles that make up the umbrellas of the café.

Horne's café scenes are populated with figures – in Italy it would be almost impossible not to see people in a café – but they too are reduced to very basic forms and shapes. They can be individual but are never portraiture, never specific. The stance of a waiting waiter can be gesturely dead on but show almost no detail. In "When in Rome" the diners, lit by a strong afternoon light, are not treated much differently from the floors, umbrellas or tables. |2|

Most of the pieces in Roman Holiday are oil paintings but there are a few small and a couple of large pastel works. I prefer Horne's pastels to her paintings. They show a quick and sure hand and twinkle with light in a way the paintings sometimes do not. One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit is "On The Piazza Novana," a pastel drawing that is probably the best example of Horne's combination of dynamic composition and wonderful use of color. |3| In this piece, orange and red dominate the entire painting except for a small portion in the upper right hand corner where the interior green glow of the ristorante silhouettes a trio of diners. This lopsided scene, where everything seems to be happening in the right hand corner, is kept in check by the large, intruding rectangle of the bottom of one of the table's umbrellas. Secondary compositional effects, like the figure in the right hand corner of the foreground and the second umbrella, bring the eye back and forth, creating diagonal movement out of a series of very flat forms.

The geometric shapes in cafes may lend themselves easily to the modernist compositions of Horne's café scenes, but when Horne strays from the café format we see that she takes the same aesthetic with her. For her few days in Venice, Horne took her eye off the mark. Or the cafes, rather. In her handful of Venice pictures we see the more traditional tourist scenes: gondoliers, cathedrals hovering above the water, views of the Canal Grande. She has examined these subjects in the same way, however. The gondolas are reduced to a swift slip of the brush, eliminating details such as the decorative "irons" of the stems. The reflections and shadows on the water are also seen in broad areas of shapes rather than ripply details. My favorite of this group is of Santa Maria della Salute at night. I enjoy the way she has reduced the grand cathedral to its bare pictorial elements, ignoring the swirls of baroque architecture. The picture is an examination of the interplay between positive and negative forms, much like “La Dolce Vita” a café scene from Rome.|4|

Horne did do one café piece in Venice. “Beacon at the Bauer shows a fairly non-descript scene (for Venice at least).|5| It is the patio of the hotel where the Springville group stayed. Horne has reduced the objects in the foreground to one large plane of neutral color so that it can act as a balance to the dark night sky and help frame the action in the middle – the white lights, lime green reflections and bright red flowers.

Seeing more and more of Horne's cafe scenes makes her selection of subject matter seem, at least in hindsight, obvious if not predestined. The array of basic geometric shapes and colors play to Horne's strength as an artist. Despite the title of the exhibit -- Roman Holiday -- don't be afraid of finding an exhibit of tourist art this month at Horne Fine Art. In many respects these paintings and drawings could have been done anywhere there is a café, though if you have an affinity for the "bel paese" you will find plenty in these works to seduce. But, more importantly, if you are a lover of fine art and appreciate a strong modernist aesthetic you will find much in this exhibit to challenge and delight.

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