Since last summer when I became fascinated with the exhibit "Harvesting the Light," about the beginnings of Utah impressionistic painting, the Museum of Church History and Art has stuck in my mind. This treasure in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City offers a cultural haven unparalleled in the area. The exhibits are tasteful and beautiful and enjoying them creates the same feeling as being lost in a wonderful book that you can't put down.
Recently, I became lost in the current exhibit on the noted painter, Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert. Minerva, a descendent of Mormon pioneers, discovered her talent while growing up on her family's Idaho homestead. When she graduated from high school she came to Salt Lake City to study art, but was advised by C.R. Savage, the noted photographer, to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. So she taught grade school for two years, saving money for the future, then traveled to Chicago, to study under John Vanderpool.Minerva recalled later: "We almost worshiped that little hunch-backed man who, we felt, was so big and high that he walked with God." But his teaching techniques tested her severely. She said: "My master gave me many long criticisms, sometimes a little harsh. One day I looked toward the back of the room at the many poorer drawings and with tears in my eyes exclaimed, `Mr. Vanderpool, why do you criticize me so harshly when there is such work as this here?' "
She was referring to the other students who seemed to escape his critical eye. Minerva remembered that her teacher said in a choked voice, "Miss Idaho, can it be possible you do not understand; they're not worth it, they will drop out, but you - ah, there is no end."
She also studied under George Bridgman, Dimitri Romanoffski and Robert Henri at the Art Students League in New York City. While in Henri's painting class, she wrote, "I've driven many a run-away team and I love the pull of the reins in my hands but that class was something now!"
Minerva's artistic talent continued its development. In 1947, when she was 59 years old, she outlined on eight sheets of paper the major events of her life and explained how she felt about her art. She said:
"I married my cowboy sweetheart, which was right. My first son was born while my husband was serving in France. I painted stage scenery to pay for his birth. I painted what I loved for the Pocatello Tabernacle "Not Alone" - got $38 for it. When he came home my husband couldn't hire help. For the next 10 years I helped in the hay fields . . . My first three little boys grew up beside a haystack. We got our start like that. It hasn't ended - when the American Falls Dam went in I was the last white woman out of the Snake River Bottoms. We had to go somewhere. So we landed here. I spent most of the mornings for the next 15 years in the milk house. The children must be educated, etc. I painted usually after they were tucked into bed at night.
"I must paint. It's a disease . . . "
Her teacher, the noted American artist Robert Henri gave her a calling for a mission in art when he told her to return to the West and paint "the great Mormon story." He told her it was her birthright, that she felt it, that she would do it well. She said, "I felt that I had been commissioned."
She proceeded to carry out her "mission," approaching art in two ways: "There are only two reasons for paintings in the first place - either a thing must be very beautiful, or, it must be an important story." Minerva Teichert proceeded to spend her life producing over 500 paintings, many of them devoted to telling the history and doctrine of the LDS Church. In the 1920s and 1930s, her work served to beautify chapels and tabernacles throughout Mormon country. In 1950 she completed 40 plus sketches of the Book of Mormon. She still had the desire to tell a world-class story, even on the walls.
The LDS Church commissioned her to paint murals for the Manti Temple world room.
She and her assistant, Frank Stevens, completed the work in seven weeks, working from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., occasionally reading and quoting scripture for inspiration. Over a period of 50 years, Minerva worked to tell her story, painting feverishly between ranching responsibilities and mothering five children. She felt keenly the responsibility of her talent and wanted consciously to be the best. She died in Provo, Utah on May 3, 1976, at the age of 87. Her work and her spirit must be seen to be appreciated.