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Steve Landeen, KSL TV

Friberg Moses paintings brought out of obscurity in BYU exhibit

By Carole Mikita, | Posted - May 22nd, 2017 @ 8:34pm


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PROVO — The many faces of Moses are the center of a new exhibition in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections library at BYU. Equally exciting: they were created by Utah artist Arnold Friberg.

Charlton Heston played the iconic role of Moses in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 film "The Ten Commandments," which still airs on network television every Easter. "(The film) was made in 1956. It is the sixth most successful money-making film of all time, even in 2017," said James D'Arc, the library's curator.

But before the film, DeMille hired Friberg to paint key scenes and individual actors.

A DeMille associate scouted the world looking for the right artist. At the time, Friberg was creating the Book of Mormon paintings.

"He packed up these eight prints and mailed them to DeMille, with a note saying, 'The man you're looking for is in Salt Lake City!'" Friberg told KSL TV in 2001.

And the rest, as they say, is history — a very interesting one.

Because Friberg painted the film's characters, he also became the costume designer — a job for which he received an Academy Award nomination.

In our 2001 interview, Friberg talked about the first time he saw Charlton Heston dressed as Moses, wearing his now-famous robe.

"You've done it on your drawing board, and then it comes walking in ... just like the sketch. (It was) unnerving," Friberg said.

In 2001, Utah artist Arnold Friberg spoke to KSL TV about the the first time he saw Charlton Heston in costume as Moses for the 1956 film "The Ten Commandments." Friberg worked as the costume designer for the film. (Photo: KSL TV, file)

Until recently, no one knew the eight paintings of Heston as Moses existed. They were part of the estate of the film's makeup supervisor, Wally Westmore, and went into an auction a few years ago. D'Arc, who worked to get Melville's papers to BYU, was hopeful.

"I was very, very excited and felt they must be here. There is no other place for these paintings than to be with the Cecil B. DeMille Archive here at BYU," he said.

But D'Arc said it wouldn't have happened without the generosity of key BYU donors Rex and Ruth Maughan. After tracking the paintings down to auction house on the East Coast, Rex Maughan was in awe of what he saw.

"I said, 'We have to have them!'" Maughan said. "I think they are incredible, and Arnold Friberg is an incredible artist."

Because they had been in a private collection for decades, Maughan and D'Arc did not want to let them get away. So, Maughan bought the paintings and donated them to BYU

“The difference for patrons of having these paintings here rather than somewhere else is monumental," D'Arc said.

BYU donor Rex Maughan and KSL's Carole Mikita look at recently discovered paintings created by the late Arnold Friberg for the 1956 film "The Ten Commandments." The Utah artist's paintings are on exhibit at BYU's Special Collections Library. (Photo: Steve Landeen, KSL TV)

Using a play on words from the film, the library exhibition is titled "So Let It Be Painted." It includes other sketches, paintings and correspondence between the DeMille and Friberg.

Equally clever is they way in which visitors to the exhibition will experience the paintings. They have the rare opportunity to see scenes from "The Ten Commandments," watching Charlton Heston in them, and then look up to the wall and see the painting that inspired each scene.

It's called "the greatest story ever told," but for the filmmaker and the artist creating "The Ten Commandments" was deeply personal. For D'Arc and Maughan, the preservation of these artifacts for the public has become deeply personal as well.

"When I looked at each one, looking at the detail, the shading, the lighting — classic Arnold Friberg — and I knew, this had to be the place for these wonderful paintings,” D'Arc said.

The exhibition "So Let It Be Painted" is on display at the Special Collections Library through July 3.

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