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Speaking to the soul: LDS Church History Museum's interactive exhibit communicates 'Spirit of Art'

Art has a spirit, a unique way of speaking to the soul that enriches our lives.

"There are many, many art forms," says Angela Ames, church history educator at the Church History Museum. "They all can bring the spirit into our lives."

But if you want art to do that, it helps to understand the background, the process, the artist's intent and purpose, she said.

"Because it is visual, art can communicate quickly," Ames explained, "but because it often involves symbols and metaphors, it sometimes takes thought and feeling in order to relate it to our lives."

That's the reasoning behind the next Evening at the Museum program, "Artists at Work: The Spirit of Art."

The event will be held Friday, Feb. 26, and features eight artists who work in very different genres. Patrons will be able to watch them at work and also interact and ask questions. Harp music will be provided by Melanie Hunt. Refreshments will be served.

"This is our second year of doing a program like this. Last year's art demonstration was a huge success," Ames said.

This year's featured artists are:

David Habben, a contemporary illustrator who uses traditional and digital media to create works for a wide variety of uses.

Tom Holdman, who has created stained glass for a number of LDS temples and who specializes in painting on glass by using powdered glass that is fired at high temperatures to get the shading and effects.

Brian Kershisnik, a painter who specializes in contemporary art that reflects a broad international background.

Elizabeth Peterson, who creates intricate and delicate bobbin lace.

Julie Rogers, an award-winning painter who "loves to paint the simple things of every day life."

Al Rounds, an internationally acclaimed artist who mostly does landscapes in watercolor and giclee.

Kraig Varner, a sculptor who has mastered a range of sculpting genres from figurative to contemporary to portrait work.

Blanche Wilson, who has a broad art background and specializes in woodblock printing.

They represent a wide variety, Ames said, including "some who are more traditional, some who are more illustrative, some who are sometimes considered more folk artists."

Others are very contemporary, such as Kershisnik, "who evokes the spirit in a very expressive way," she said. And Habben is an illustrator, "which is not always considered fine art, but David's work is very post-modern with lots of symbols and deep content, if you know how to read it."

Habben's work "makes the viewer almost create a dialogue to find how it connects to life," she continued. "There's much more involved than telling a simple story."

That's why interacting with the artists can be invaluable, according to Ames. "It helps you understand their purpose, and they can talk about how their art testifies of eternal truths."

Artists, too, see the interaction as worthwhile. "We live in a world saturated with visual media," Habben said. "Being able to meet the artist and to put a face and history with the artwork enhances the level of shared understanding and communication.

"I hope people will see beyond the technical aspects of what I'm doing with my hands and be able to see what I'm trying to convey with my heart and mind," he continued. "What they do with that is up to them, but at a minimum I hope there is an awakening of new thoughts within them."

Kershisnik also thinks demonstrations like this one can help people think about art in new ways — not only for what the art says, but also for how it is done.

"In my own experience, I never thought of art as something people did," he said. "It didn't occur to me that you could do it for a living."

In fact, Kershisnik once thought about being an architect. "Someone once told me that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. I wanted to be an architect, or maybe an art professor."

But after getting a master's degree from the University of Texas, he wasn't ready to go back to the classroom quite yet. While deciding what was next, he and his wife moved to Kanosh, where her family lived. He found a wonderful house and studio there, and he began painting.

Although the Kershisniks now live in Provo, he still works in his Kanosh studio. "I paint on fewer days, but it's more intensive, more productive."

Art has always been very important to Kershisnik. "When I think of what art has done for me, it's presumptuous to even hope that my art can do that for others," he said.

But he added that he hopes viewers come away with some new feeling, some new insight. That's what art does.

"Great art in all media helps us be more human, helps us see ourselves more completely, more truthfully."

It does that in many ways, and not all of them are intentional, Kershisnik explained. "For an artist to sit down and try to do that can be inhibiting. I have to do art that I enjoy myself and hope that the other thing happens.

"But art is more than something that decorates our lives. It should get our minds working, our thoughts reaching," he continued. "It should help us feel more poignantly, more deeply, or see what's funny or help us more firmly connect to something."

Habben agreed, saying that his art "is meant to make you think. If you're confused, good. If you're enlightened, good. I want to get your brain working, asking questions and finding personal answers. The art is meant to stay with you long after you've left the exhibit."

Art is a profound method of communication, Habben said. "Art allows us to communicate with others and ourselves. Every aspect of art, from idea to creation and on through appreciation, gives us an opportunity to see things from a new perspective and to understand the world around us in a new way."

For example, "It could be a matter of the right color in the right place or something much more detailed," Habben explained. "But whatever it is, the result of our experience with it is endless."

Ames said she hopes people will come to the Artists at Work event and feel that spirit, experience that connection. "I hope they will see how these creative people use their talents as an expression of testimony. I also hope it will help viewers realize that they can use their creative talents in the same way."

While not everyone can be an artist, "Every gift and talent is important, every one fills a specific purpose in finding and sharing the spirit," she said.


What: "Artists at Work: The Spirit of Art"

Where: Church History Museum, 45 N. West Temple

When: Feb. 26, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

How much: Free