LaVar Wallgren found his life's mission at a drafting table.
Though he has never had formal training in art or sculpting, Wallgren was chosen by LDS Church leaders to design a new Angel Moroni statue, one that would adorn small-scale temples throughout the world. Wallgren, a self-taught artist, made a sketch, then he sculpted the statue.His first impression, his first "inspiration" as this 65-year-old grandfather testifies it is, was approved by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Last week, the first completed work was placed atop the small temple under construction in Monticello, a town in Utah's southeastern corner.
Unlike the gold statues of the ancient American prophet Moroni that adorn the faith's temples around the world, the new statue is life-size, 5 feet, 11 inches from heel to the top of his head. And instead of gold leafing, this angel statue is white. He, too, blows a trumpet and wears a robe and a sash. But this statue is of a younger angel. If the familiar gold statues feature a man in his 30s, the new angel statue features the angelic face of a young man.
Wallgren is still moved, remembering his feelings as he designed the statue. From almost the moment he was asked, he knew this statue should hold a scroll, representating to Wallgren the angel spoken of in Revelations 14:6, an angel "having the everlasting gospel."
Statues of the Angel Moroni have adorned LDS temples since the first was placed atop the Salt Lake Temple in 1893. It was made in 1891 from a 40-inch high plaster model sculpted by the prominent American artist Cyrus E. Dallin. Since that time, the statue has been redesigned at least three times for the church's 51 temples around the world. The gold Angel Moroni statue comes in two sizes, 7 and 10 feet tall.
But the smaller temples needed a smaller statue. Last year, church leaders announced that smaller-scale temples would be built in areas where there are fewer members of the church and where numbers are not expected to increase dramatically. Three small temples were announced or under construction when President Gordon B. Hinckley said during General Conference in October that 30 more small temples would be built.
Wallgren's white Angel Moroni statue will adorn the faith's smaller temples, said church spokesman Don LeFevre. The statues have a weather resistant resin-based fiberglass coat, the same substance used on boat hulls, Wallgren said.
Five more statues have been started at Wallgren's Kearns studio.
LDS faithful believe Moroni is an ancient American prophet who died about 421 A.D. and returned to Joseph Smith as a resurrected being in 1823, delivering a message of a restored gospel and later helping him acquire plates that became the Book of Mormon.
Wallgren fights back tears when he speaks of the new works and the process of design that led not only to the statues but to his religious faith.
It was in Japan as a 20-year-old serviceman that Wallgren set out to know whether his childhood faith was true. He said he came back from the Korean War a person who'd been changed by faith.
"I am going to use the word glorious," Wallgren said. "The most wonderful thing that ever happened to me is when I received a testimony of the church. That glory and joy and, of course, the opportunity to do these things is very humbling."