Friday, March 28, 2014

"I MUST's a disease" Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert

Minerva Kolhepp Teichert
When she wrote her memoirs in the late 1940s, painter Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert recalled the moment when her future as a Western woman artist became clear. She attended a critique in Robert Henri's portraiture class at the Art Students League in New York where she studied from 1915 to 1916. Henri asked her if anyone had ever visually told the "great Mormon story" and Teichert answered no, not to her satisfaction. Henri advised, "Good Heavens, girl what a chance. You do it. Your're the one!" Teichert left New York soon thereafter, returned to her family's homestead in Idaho, near the Utah border, married her "cowboy sweetheart," did the books for the family ranch, raised five children and painted almost every day of her life.

 Minerva Kohlhepp was born in North Ogden, but grew up in a  homestead farming family in the vicinity of American Falls, Idaho. Her father encouraged her sketching in childhood and she soon developed an "indomitable will to succeed and excel in the field of art."

Minerva left home for the first time at age fourteen to work as a nursemaid for a wealthy Idaho family in San Francisco where she was exposed to art in museums for the first time, and attended classes at Mark Hopkins Art School. However, it was not until she graduated from high school and taught for several years that she was able to pursue any serious art training. By age nineteen, she scraped together enough money to get to Chicago, where she studied at the Chicago Art Institute under the draftsman, John Vanderpoel, a master of the academic school of painting. Several times during her three-year course work she returned home in order to earn more money in the fields or in the classroom to get back to school to follow her dream. To finance her study in New York, she created a roping act for the New York stage and this is when she began her custom of wearing a distinctive head band. 
Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert
Oil on canvas

Minerva quickly emerged as a top student in her popular art classes. When questioned about her choice of subjects for her art, she’d say, “There’s too much sagebrush in my blood to forget the beauties of rugged mountains [and] dry plains.” She was recognized for the excellent quality of her animal paintings as well. For over half a century, Teichert painted hundreds of murals and easel paintings for churches, schools, and private patrons throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Well-known throughout the Mormon community, Teichert's obscurity in the art world may be due to her particular attention to Mormon history and theology. She concentrated her work on scenes from western Americana and religious artwork that expressed her deeply held convictions.

Teichert painted over 400 murals in which women and western themes feature prominently such as The Madonna of 1847, which depicts a mother and child in a covered wagon, crossing the plains to settle in Utah. Teichert is known for a set of 42 murals from the Book of Mormon, as well as her murals inside the Manti Utah Temple. Teichert's distinctive style can be seen in the painting Christ in a Red Robe, in which women can be seen reaching out to Christ, who is depicted in a red robe at his second coming, referencing Isaiah.

Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert
Christ in a Red Robe
ca. 1945
Oil on canvas
LDS Museum Store Online
During the 1930s, early in the Great Depression, Teichert's commitment to her art work began to pay off. Like most everyone else, the Teicherts were struggling to make ends meet. Minerva was determined to contribute with her artwork, but she needed to reach out to a larger market. She traveled to Salt Lake City in search of an agent. At a meeting with Alice Merrill Horne, a well-connected art dealer in Utah, she unrolled a mural and said simply, “Please look at this.” Horne was astonished. Just two weeks later, Horne had arranged an exhibit of Teichert’s work and within months, Teichert would meet with the governor of Utah and receive enthusiastic reviews of her art in major Utah newspapers. In 1932, when the Teicherts’ economic situation reached a crisis, Horne found several buyers, and Teichert’s paintings saved the ranch.

As Teichert’s profile rose in Utah, the artist continued to explore stories of the Mormon migration and scriptural themes. By 1947, she had risen to the top of the Mormon art world, winning first prize in the Church’s centennial art contest and became the first woman invited to paint a temple mural.
Teichert increasingly felt it was her responsibility to tell the Book of Mormon story in images so that “he who runs may read,” a common phrase from the time taken from the book of Habakkuk. After finishing the Manti Temple mural, she set out on what she expected to be her masterwork—42 paintings of Book of Mormon stories, rendered large enough and simple enough to be “read” at a glance.
Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert
Handcart Pioneers
Oil on canvas
 77 x 49 inches
Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, Utah
Finishing the paintings in 1952, the 64-year-old Teichert anticipated how the works might accompany the Book of Mormon text, or be used as slides by missionaries around the world, or be sold as a book of paintings. Unfortunately, they were never sold. She was praised for her beautiful art work, but no one bought the paintings, and, for the remainder of her life, she strove to find a buyer. Her longtime agent and friend died, murals became less popular and tastes changed. It became more difficult for Teichert to get commissions and to sell her work. Not to be discouraged, she continued to paint, she found a new agent, and her artwork with western themes became marketable in Utah and beyond.

Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert
Queen Esther
ca. 1939
Oil on Canvas
14 x 9.7 inches
Collection of Betty Curtis and William Lee Stokes 
In the spring of 1970, Teichert fell from her porch and broke her hip, possibly after suffering a stroke. She would never paint again. She died in 1976. The story does not end here, however. In 1969 she had given the Book of Mormon paintings to Brigham Young University with no compensation or promise of publication. Upon receipt BYU showed the paintings briefly, then stored them away. In 1997, after the resurgence of interest in her work, BYU held a major exhibit of the Book of Mormon paintings and created a companion volume of the collection. BYU religion professors also lobbied to have Teichert’s Book of Mormon series line the hallways of the Joseph Smith Building, making it possible, in effect, for those who run to Book of Mormon class to read.

Her work was re-discovered after her death with a new appreciation for her excellent technique and the enormity of her body of work. Teichert's works are displayed at the campus of BYU including the Museum of Art. One of Teichert's most famous exhibits, "Pageants in Paint," has been on display in the BYU Museum of Art. The exhibition examined how the American mural and pageantry movements influenced Teichert’s artistic production through 47 of her large-scale narrative murals.

Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert
Return of Captive Israel
ca. 1945
53 1/2 x 90 inches
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
Relief Society Building, Salt Lake City, Utah
During her many active years, Teichert had one-person exhibitions at the Washington Museum, New York (1915), and at the Alice Merrill Horne Galleries, Salt Lake City (1932, 1939). Among group shows, she hung works at the Idaho State Capitol, Boise; Springville Museum of Art, UT; First National Exhibition of American Art, New York; and event of the Wyoming Artists Association.

Painting the Mormon Story, Peter B. Gardner,, (retrieved 3/28/2014). 
Brigham Young University News Release, Opening reception for “Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint” Sept. 26 at MOA (retrieved 3/ 27/2014)
Independent Spirits, Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945, Patricia Trenton, ed.
An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, Phil Kovnick and Marian Yoshiki Kovnick.

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