Thursday, July 1, 2010

Arnold Friberg, 1913-2010

Part of me has always thought that Arnold Friberg’s famed Book of Mormon paintings were included as part of the golden plates compiled by Mormon and buried by his son Moroni.

The painting of Abinadi confronting King Noah left a deep impression on me. Even now, whenever I read that story, even without the picture in sight, I see Noah clad in his purpleness, perched on that throne, with those weird, pointy shoes on his impossibly small feet. Abinadi seems to glow, seems not to be a part of the scene around him. And I’ve always wondered which of the bearded fellows listening in the background is Alma, the doubter, ready to disbelieve Noah and believe the ragged man in chains before them.

Those in the Mormon Belt, of course, will have heard that Friberg died today at age 97, following hip-replacement surgery.

There’s a little apocrypha about Friberg circulating in some circles in Idaho – that at the time he painted his famous Book of Mormon pictures, he wasn’t a member of the church but converted as he read the book in order to understand what he was painting. Not so. Wikipedia tells me he was a child of record, baptized at 8 after his parents joined the church the year previous.

And here's something to think about: Mr. Friberg, maybe, is meeting with or has already met the subjects of his paintings. What a trip that would be. Will King Noah be upset, say, hey man, I'm not that chubby, or, you know, I never wore purple. And will Abinadi really be kind of a real scrawny guy, not the buffed out dude in the painting. I don't know. But that would certainly be one of those etheral meetings I'd like to be in on.

Not apocryphal: He did pre-visualization work for Cecil B. deMille’s “The Ten Commandments" and helped design costumes and other artwork for the film and, as a consequence, was nominated for an Academy Award. deMille apparently made a gift of Moses’ costume to Friberg. I’d like to see that.

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