Footprints of Faith: A Talent of Testimony

By Brooke Walker | Posted - Oct. 3, 2010 at 1:10 p.m.



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You likely don't know his name, but you likely have seen his work. For artist Grant Romney Clawson, painting is not just a job, it's a joy. His testimony speaks loudly through his talent, allowing us to see what he feels.

Clawson doesn't just paint pictures or portraits, he paints his testimony.

"I paint for the Lord," Clawson explains. "I feel like I am the most blessed man that ever lived to be able to do what I'm doing."

It's been said Clawson is the most famous LDS artists you've never heard of. His works hang in temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all over the world. His paintings cover the walls of the Temple Square Visitors Center. But it's his portraits of the prophets that helped to fulfill a childhood vision.

When Clawson was 10 years old he attended fifth grade at Lowell Elementary School in Salt Lake City. One day, he received an assignment to draw a picture.

"I put a lot of time on it that night," Clawson recalls. "I drew a robot in the shape of an egg. I don't remember everything about it, I just remember I spent a lot of time on it and I was very pleased with it."

The next morning, he presented his picture to the teacher.

"She looked at it, she looked at me, she looked at it, and then she said, 'You traced it,'" Clawson says. "I was heartbroken."

But as he thought over his teacher's reaction, another thought was clearly communicated.

"I remember leaning with my back against the wall of the school," he says. "I could see into the distance that the day would come when I would paint for the temples of the Lord. I was just 10 years old, but that's what came to me."

Clawson firmly believes it was that vision that led to his job painting for the Church. He was hired by Boyd K. Packer in 1968. His artist "audition" was to paint Harry Anderson's portrayal of Jesus being baptized by John, and he's been painting for the Church ever since.

Clawson's very realistic portrayal of the Savior, and of well-known scriptural stories, led to another very special assignment. In 1970, then-Elder Packer asked Clawson to paint a portrait of all of the prophets to date, with the exception of Brigham Young (a portrait of Young already existed at the time).

"I painted nine pictures of the prophets in three months. Now it takes me three months to paint one picture," Clawson chuckles. "I'm getting old I guess."

Those portraits now hang in a special room of the Salt Lake Temple, where the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve meet weekly.

Clawson just recently completed the portrait of President Thomas S. Monson and delivered it personally.

"President Monson has been the most difficult because I really wanted to do a good job for him and make him look great," Clawson said. "He said he liked it, that he could find no fault with it."

According to Dr. Kurt Graham, director of the Church History Museum, Clawson's pieces communicate a reverence for the subjects he paints.

"His thoughtfulness in trying to capture the likeness of these great men, he strikes me very much of a servant in terms of his art. I think that's the central message," Graham says.

President Packer had this to say about Clawson's contributions:

"What we are in terms of faith and dedication shows in our music and art. That is conveyed in Brother Clawson's work. Brother Clawson was determined early on to show his dedication to the Lord by using his talents to produce painting that could adorn our temples and other church buildings."

Clawson will tell you he has help; he believes the Holy Ghost has a hand in almost every painting.

"I pray a lot. I have to pray," he says. "I'll be painting along and I just can't get something; I'm making a mess of it. I pray and all of the sudden: smooth. It just goes like that."

For Clawson, it's added testimony of a truth he's always known.

"I've always had a testimony. I don't remember when I didn't have a testimony," Clawson says. "I think people should know my great belief in the truth of the Church because of my paintings. I would hope someone looks at my paintings and is able to sense that, to feel that. They've got to be able to say, 'This man, he has a great testimony of the Church and of the Savior.' That's what I hope my legacy is."

E-mail: bwalker@ksl.com

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Brooke Walker

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