Podcast transcription: The Come, Follow Me (Art Companion) with Jennifer Wilcox
Glen Nelson: Hello everybody, and welcome to another episode of the Center's Studio Podcast. I'm your host Glen Nelson. This is our 20th episode. We started March 2018. Isn't that kind of incredible?
Jennifer Wilcox: That's very incredible.
Glen Nelson: And today we're doing something different. This is a series of monthly interviews with artists of all kinds. I've sat down with painters, filmmakers, authors, dancers, composers, poets, scholars, performers, galleries, and museum directors. Today I want to explore what art does for people, specifically how art can be used in a church setting, such as a Sunday school class. The music you've just heard is by one of the Church's great advocates for fine music, Robert Cundick. And this work, "Mountains," is an arrangement for piano of three Latter-day Saint hymns that are about his beloved Rockies. I commissioned this work years ago for the concert pianist Grant Johannessen, who is the performer on this recording. I'm joined by my Center colleague today, Jennifer Wilcox: . Hello, Jennifer.
Jennifer Wilcox: Hello. you've introduced me to sound like a church lady.
Glen Nelson: What would have been a better introduction?
Jennifer Wilcox: I don't know. But all of these intellectual people, these artists, and then we have Jennifer, a typical church lady.
Glen Nelson: Oh, I see. Well, it will be up to you to raise the bar, won't it? [Laughs.] You and I work together on a weekly project that's an intersection of art and gospel study, and we'll get to that in a few minutes. But first, tell us about yourself. Where do you live?
Jennifer Wilcox: I live in Westchester County, so I live 22 miles north of the city, and I commute into the city on a train to come to work.
Glen Nelson: What's your connection to art?
Jennifer Wilcox: My parents are both artists.
Glen Nelson: I didn't know that.
Jennifer Wilcox: They are not, formally. I purchase art. I like art. I'm appreciator of art. I look to art for recreation and leisure, for relaxation and expression. I like art.
Glen Nelson: How long have you been in Westchester?
Jennifer Wilcox: I've lived there for over 30 years.
Glen Nelson: What is it like to live with art? I mean, how does that affect... You're seeing you're seeing original work every day in your home. How does that affect you?
Jennifer Wilcox: I like the texture of art. I like the way that I can feel that I've invited a guest into my home. I think what is on the walls of your house should express what you are. This whole minimalist stuff, I don't get it. I don't understand when you go into a house and it all looks clean and pristine and washed and white. That's not how my house looks. I like color. I like pattern. I hope when we get to heaven, we don't all wear white billowing polyester. But I understand the symbolism.
Glen Nelson: So your house, is it kind of eclectic? Is it a whole bunch of different things?
Jennifer Wilcox: Yes.
Glen Nelson: So everywhere you look, there's something of interest to see.
Jennifer Wilcox: Yes. And I like that. My daughter the other day said, "Oh, my word mother, when you die, what are we going to do with all this stuff?" I I thought, "Well, you're going to treasure it. What do you mean, what are you gonna do with it?"
Glen Nelson: Yeah, well, you might be in for a surprise there. But I do respond to minimalism, because I feel sometimes the city, I'm so overstimulated that I need a place that can be just really quiet. And so for our home for a long time, we had almost nothing in it. Your day job is the law. So you're an attorney in New York City. How long have you been an attorney?
Jennifer Wilcox: Longer than I wish to admit. In my office, I have a lot of art work. I've chosen to have art work exclusively by women. And I've used some of those pieces of art even to help in mentoring younger attorneys.
Glen Nelson: How so?
Jennifer Wilcox: For example, right across from my desk is a painting by a woman named Emily Robison, and it's of cowboy boots, a whole row of cowboy boots. And I was talking to an attorney one day, and I said, "What you have to think about when you come to work every day, is your job is to kick butt."
Glen Nelson: In your legal practice, do you work with artists at all, representation of them or anything?
Jennifer Wilcox: No, no, I don't know. None of my work is very creative, to be honest.
Glen Nelson: Because I know a bunch of attorneys who want some kind of creative outlet, almost in reaction to their day job at work. And so they do stuff in the arts. I don't know, something creative.
Jennifer Wilcox: I find that if I'm not doing something creative, then I feel stifled in other parts of my life. So I need to do something that is expressive.
Glen Nelson: I became aware of you as a teacher. So this is mostly church work, I would imagine. But how long have you been a volunteer worker in the church as a Sunday school teacher other kinds of teacher?
Jennifer Wilcox: Probably as long as I've been an adult in the church. I've taught a lot of classes. Currently, I am the adult Sunday school teacher. And I've only had that job... I got the job in last December, but I've only been teaching since January, under this new curriculum of Come, Follow Me.
Glen Nelson: Well, we're going to definitely talk about that in a minute. But what struck me, as you were telling me about how you teach, is how you bring art into the classroom sometimes. So can you describe what would an example that would be?
Jennifer Wilcox: Because I choose artwork in my home that reflects my values, that is something that can be uplifting, it's easy for me to pick things from my home to use in my class. For example, in the family room, I have a piece of art. It's a wooden piece that I bought out of a Protestant church that says "Jesus never fails." It's a carved piece. Two weeks ago, when I was teaching about charity never faileth, it was easy to describe how charity is pure love of Christ. And I used that as an example.
Glen Nelson: So you physically bring that work in?
Jennifer Wilcox: Yes. And people have responded very well to that. And my class room, I probably have used a piece of art work about every other week that I teach. But then every single week, I have some art work that I use by either a child or an adult in the congregation.
Glen Nelson: So tell us what that's like.
Jennifer Wilcox: When I was called to teach...
Glen Nelson: Do you teach every week?
Jennifer Wilcox: ... I teach every other week. So when I was called to teach under this new curriculum and studied up about it, I felt very strongly that my role is to help the students in my class to teach the gospel in their homes. It's a home-centered, church-supported curriculum. Therefore, my job is to help the people who are in the class to be able to teach that in their homes or in whatever group they're studying with. So I teach two weeks' worth of lessons every week. So I teach, and we talk about what we've studied in the prior week because the structure is such that the week ends on Sunday, and then I write a little book, just quarter sheet of paper, and it has eight pages about something in the reading for the following week, that can be then used in your home to teach those concepts. And those little books are illustrated by someone in the congregation. They had been illustrated by as young as five-year olds, up to adults, I had a father and son, illustrate, I had a woman who used to be a commercial artist, who still is an artist illustrate, I've had an entire family illustrate. I had a family reunion, and everybody illustrated some of it. But to see another person's interpretation of what this little book tells has been helpful in broadening and deepening the content in those little books.
Glen Nelson: So it's like a single sheet of 8.5 x 11 inch paper that's folded down.
Jennifer Wilcox: And then a cover on the outside.
Glen Nelson: So are the the children's things, are they sort of like cartoon style, just children's drawings.
Glen Nelson: And I assume that the people who are in your class looking at these things know the artists.
Jennifer Wilcox: Yes.
Jennifer Wilcox: They always ask, "So, who illustrated this week?" And I announce who illustrated this week. My little books are heavily footnoted, so that it will have an application to whatever age you're teaching in your house. So they're written for children. But with those footnotes, you can launch it into any direction that's useful.
Glen Nelson: What kind of feedback do you get from students that they might be going home and making art themselves? Have you ever heard of that? Have you ever had that reaction?
Jennifer Wilcox: Some people have asked to have the little books without the illustrations, so they can illustrate them. Which has been a helpful thing, I think. And these little books have been very helpful in people's homes. I people have said, "Can you write one for every week?" I say no. I could write one for every other week.
Glen Nelson: Do you team teach?
Jennifer Wilcox: No, I teach by myself.
Glen Nelson: Because I was thinking, if I were the other teacher, on an off week, I would feel intimidated that I wasn't doing something as cool as what you're doing.
Jennifer Wilcox: Well, that's nice of you to say, but I'm sure they would come up with something, too. I think that's what the beauty is in this curriculum, is it allows for individual adaptation, both for the students and for the teacher. And then the students all become teachers on their own, as well.
Glen Nelson: Yeah. How far in advance do you have to ask an artist to do a little booklet?
Jennifer Wilcox: I asked them two weeks in advance. So I write the book for two weeks out, two weeks ahead. And then I pick it up, like, I'll pick up the one tonight for the lesson on Sunday.
Glen Nelson: Okay. And then you just Xerox? Like, how many copies would you be making?
Jennifer Wilcox: I make 60 copies. And we have one per household. So you can't take multiple copies. And then I send a copy to the artist, so they have their own.
Glen Nelson: So you started this in January?
Jennifer Wilcox: Yes.
Glen Nelson: Okay, so you have quite a collection now?
Jennifer Wilcox: Yes.
Glen Nelson: How about that. Do you ever get feedback from somebody... like because in the in the northeast, where we live, we have a lot of visitors in our wards. I'm not sure if that's exactly the same where you are.
Jennifer Wilcox: Yes.
Glen Nelson: But what kind of reaction are you getting from people outside of your ward who just happened across one of these lessons?
Jennifer Wilcox: Typically, they're surprised to hear that we have Zion flourishing here as well. [Laughs.]
Glen Nelson: Let's talk for a minute about visual art as a tool in the classroom. I've been doing a fair amount of research recently on public schools and art education, which has largely been eliminated or reduced in U.S. public schools. And a result of that, a number of studies have been conducted in reaction that show a link between arts education and improved literacy skills. For example, one report by the Arts Eucation Partnership in 2002 revealed that children in schools who have exposure to the arts are often more proficient at writing, reading, and math. Other studies suggest arts education may improve graduation rates, reduce disciplinary infractions, and promote higher attendance and their test scores. A Johns Hopkins researcher wrote in "Neuro-education: Learning Arts and the Brain" that arts education actually rewires the brain of students in positive ways. So I would be curious to hear your thoughts about how you think art itself is a partner in what you're doing. It's more than just the illustration, isn't it?
Jennifer Wilcox: Words can be interpreted in different ways, but even moreso art work can be interpreted in different ways. And one of the beauties about our gospel is that it's individual. So this is yet another way that I can teach a gospel topic that allows an individualized learning experience. In my home growing up, when my parents were artistic, we often would be asked to try to look at something and figure out a different use for it. How else can that be used? I found this really inexpensively, what can we use this for? And so we looked at ordinary things to try to think of a use that was extraordinary or different. And I think that's what the arts does: It allows you to look at things, to look at problems, to look at relationships in ways that are not typical.
Glen Nelson: Yeah. Have you brought into your classroom full-size paintings and things?
Jennifer Wilcox: I had one in the last time that was as large as a chalkboard.
Glen Nelson: Yeah. Okay. So you bring that in, and then you say, what, to your class?
Jennifer Wilcox: So the one that I brought in was the painting "Inheritance II" that we used not very long ago in the Come, Follow Me (Art Companion). And I used that to talk about--as the title of the painting is "Inheritance" to talk about--what are characteristics that we inherit, not just from earthly parents, but what have you inherited from heavenly parents? And then we branched off to talk about, we know a lot about our Heavenly Father. We know more about his son Jesus, we experience a lot about the Holy Ghost. But we don't know a lot about our Heavenly Mother. And yet we can see divinity in women. And as you see those divine characteristics in with other women, I believe that's what is the sisterhood that draws us together. Because we see that divine in each other. And we talked about what is it that you inherited in your life? Where can you see in your own self and in someone else, a divine characteristic that came from a heavenly parent?
Glen Nelson: I love being in a situation where it's not a docent or an expert explaining the art work, but a whole group of people looking at talking and one person says this and another says, "Oh, I didn't see that. Let me add my two cents." Is that sort of what these discussions are like?
Jennifer Wilcox: Very much.
Glen Nelson: Yeah.
Jennifer Wilcox: And it's interesting because the artists may not see what's in their work at all. I remember when I was in college, I took a drawing class, and we were to draw a face. And then I, I can't remember exactly what the assignment was, but I had forgotten about it until Sunday night. We were visiting my grandmother--my grandmother was an Avon lady. So I borrowed one of her Avon catalogs and drew a face, and I just couldn't get the nose right. So I drew a hand across the face. We took it to class the next day. And the professor was fascinated and went on and on about how great this, how it showed how makeup often obscures the real person and what you are. And I thought, "I'm not going to tell you, it wasn't just that I couldn't get the nose, right."
Glen Nelson: I'm one of these people who has a little bit of a hard time learning from just one method. I'm not really a visual learner, exactly. But for me, in order to retain something, I need to see it, and hear it, to read it to experience it--the more senses the better. What about you How was the best way for you to learn?
Jennifer Wilcox: I feel the same.
Glen Nelson: The same, the more senses the better.
Jennifer Wilcox: And that has to be true also with gospel learning, that we don't just learn gospel topics just by having read the scriptures, or having heard a conference talk. We can experience the gospel in more of our senses as well, I've been trying to figure out and I still haven't quite gotten it. But I will before the end of the year, how to use dance, how to have the people in my class move in a way to help them to learn a gospel principles.
Glen Nelson: I was once in charge of a stake leadership training something or other. And as luck would have it, we had two Alvin Ailey dancers in our ward. And so we did this thing where they came up and danced in the aisles of the chapel. And then everybody was sort of... it was like the room was spinning. And I had people tell me after, who were... they just respond to things kinetically, they said, that was the first time that they had felt the spirit in that way. And that they had missed that. Like, they had had gospel reactions from other senses, but they had never really been able to connect how you could do that in movement. And so they were passive in the sense that they were watching it. But I think that was enough of a bridge for them to really feel it. As I was making some notes about this discussion today, it occurred to me that in a church setting, I often feel that I'm just really passive about it. You know, even though I'm trying to listen to a talk or to General Conference, and soak in as much as I possibly can, I have warm feelings for at the time that I just can't recall it when it's done. And so I was also wondering, you know, in this age of digital engagement, and wondering if younger people who are so used to multi-person feedback, constantly find this sit back and listen, experience, disorienting or less engaging. Would you have any thoughts on what that might be like for them?
Jennifer Wilcox: And would imagine that's true. It's been interesting to me to watch how many people will pull out their phone and snap a picture of the artwork that we made.
Glen Nelson: Yeah, I'm not entirely sure that our church and churches generally won't evolve a little bit away from where we are now, where we're sitting back and just listening. And I think that art might be a key in some ways in the classroom, because it just cries out for a different kind of engagement
Jennifer Wilcox: It's also a way of journaling.
Glen Nelson: What do you mean?
Jennifer Wilcox: Like Annie Poon--and she was on one of our Art Companions--she illustrates what she feels and reads in the scriptures. And that same sort of journaling to write down or to sketch out what you're feeling at the time, can help bring you back to that experience going forward.
Glen Nelson: Yeah, that does make a lot of sense to me. Attending our first Center festival at Riverside Church in New York in 2017. Elder Uchtdorf said this: "I'm grateful for so many members of the Church, also these great talents and share them in today's world. If we better learn to appreciate art, in its ways where it can communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ, like these [Heinrich Hofmann] paintings..." He was taking a tour of the paintings in Riverside Church's collection. "...How they transmit a message, which is beyond words, but goes totally to the heart. Modern art works have that same kind of power." So when you hear something like that, what's your reaction?
Jennifer Wilcox: We are a creative people. By nature, we value creativity. We know that it is divinity within us. President Uchtdorf also said, creation brings great satisfaction and fulfillment. And when we talk about "fulfill the measure of your creation," I think you fulfill the measure of your creation by creation.
Glen Nelson: So this is the first time that you've done art, you've made these booklets and had art be a part of it?
Jennifer Wilcox: I did them when I taught primary. I did some little booklets then. They were different, but I did a little books also when we were trying to teach literacy, and help with English language learning. But this is the first time when I've done them on this scale.
Glen Nelson: I'm working on a large scale project for the Center that tackles Art Education in a serious way, for children, teens, and adults, and I remember really clearly at the beginning of 2019, having you over to my apartment to look to see what I was working on. Do you remember that?
Jennifer Wilcox: Yes.
Glen Nelson: You were sitting right where you are now. And as we were chatting, you had an idea, which was...?
Jennifer Wilcox: Well, you were talking about getting groups together to study art. And I thought maybe you could use groups that were already getting together to study art. And at that time, we were at the beginning of this Come, Follow Me curriculum, where people were being encouraged to join together and families or into small groups to study the gospel. So it seemed to me that you could use the gospel to teach art. But as you and I have developed this program, we've been using art to teach the gospel.
Glen Nelson: I have to confess, I'm kind of embarrassed, because this does seem so logical. This idea, doesn't it? I mean, it just seems almost inevitable that I didn't get it.
Jennifer Wilcox: You did not get it. [Laughs.] That was obvious. You did not get it.
Glen Nelson: I was like, "Yeeaah. ok." All I could imagine is that I would be hunting for illustrations like Ensign illustrations or something to be paired with weekly gospel study. And frankly, I wasn't very interested in doing that. It's not like it was beneath me or anything, I just didn't think that I could do a better job of that kind of pairing than what's already out there. But you envisioned it differently from the very beginning.
Jennifer Wilcox: But where you caught it was when I said, "Look around your apartment, and look at this photograph right here." And it's a photograph by an LDS artist of a [prisoner's] last meal of someone. And you said, "Well, how would you use this?" "It's obvious. You would use that to talk about the Last Supper?"
Glen Nelson: I remember slapping my hands on the size of my face, like in this giant eureka moment? "Of course, of course. Yeah." And that's how we started it. So let's describe now this Center's Come, Follow Me (Art Companion). Do you want to give an overview of how it works and what it is? How should we explain it?
Jennifer Wilcox: So you and I work together. I have gone through the curriculum and mapped out what the reading is for each week and some ideas of gospel principles or concepts or ideas that I find within the reading. Then we've talked about a little further, and you, because you have a far broader art knowledge than I do, have come up with some art work--sometimes I have, big mostly you have, that was prepared or created by a LDS artist. And then you've written some content. And I've thought of some questions to try to draw the reader both to the scriptural passages and to the art work, and to explore those two together in a way that will deepen their faith.
Glen Nelson:I don't think we're trying to supplant Come, Follow Me. How do these two things work together?
Jennifer Wilcox: In my class, I've referred to the Art Companion, to say if you look here, you'll see this piece. And I've shown them sometimes and talked about how looking at those pieces and thinking about the scriptural passages in relation to that piece of art work may help you to think about them in a way that you hadn't before.
Glen Nelson: Yeah, that's how I'm approaching them myself. So each week, we put on our website--centerforlatterdaysaintarts.org--the new lesson for that Sunday the that will start on Monday and go through the following Sunday. And then as you just said, we present an art work by an artist, we get usually a quotation from the artist, not necessarily how it directly connects to that lesson, but sometimes it's what that work meant to them, how it came about, something, maybe it's biographical about the artist, their process, or their struggle, or their inner life, or whatever. And then your questions sort of take from that art work and add a couple of questions that then could lead to a fuller study directly from the Art Companion. And is that more or less how it goes?
Glen Nelson: It's funny how its evolved, though. At first, I was in charge, mostly, of the art works themselves and writing a little introduction about them, and you did questions. But over time, I become more comfortable feeling scriptural, and I'll weave scriptures into that introduction more often. And you are very cool.... We haven't even mentioned this, but one of the things that I love that you're doing is you'll create little art activities sometimes for people. So you'll have a couple of questions of things that are leading a discussion, and then you'll say, "Make an artwork of this kind," or some kind of prompt that individuals and families can do. How do you come up with those art project ideas? Are you taking them from someplace or just your head?
Jennifer Wilcox: No, they've just been coming from my head. As I study and look at that piece of art and think about how it fits those ideas, I've just been thinking of it.
Glen Nelson: Yeah. Have you ever taught art?
Jennifer Wilcox: Not at it, not other than to my children. I used to take my children, we used to go to the Met. And they had these little lunch boxes, with a notepad, some pencils, and a postcard, and we would study a piece of art, I would have done a little research about it ahead of time. And then take them into the Met and sit on the bench and draw sketches of what they saw.
Glen Nelson: What are some of the challenges that you see as we create these Come, Follow Me (Art Companion) lessons? Is the hardest part for you identifying how you get so much material? Because these lessons themselves, the Come, Follow Me curriculum is not just a single lesson; you could give 10 lessons out of that material. Is the hardest part trying to decide what part of that material to select, or what is it for you? What's the challenge?
Jennifer Wilcox: I think the challenge for me has been in formulating the questions and picking the issues, to make sure that it's not directive, but allows individual interpretation, to help someone to look at something differently, but not necessarily to describe to them what that "differently" should look.
Glen Nelson: Yeah. I remember when we first started doing this, we had these discussions between us how literal to be. And I was saying that my experience in the Church and its official illustrations is that they are very tightly connected to illustration itself. You know, there's not a lot of abstraction, there's not a lot of photography and sculpture, necessarily, and so on. And I would like to show as diverse a range as possible, of male artists and female artists, artists from the in the U.S., arts outside the U.S., arts exploring a whole bunch of different media. And that was one of my challenges. It's like how can I make these art works feel connected to spiritual things, even though they might not have been created that way? But they still have a possibility for interpretation that includes those those things. I don't know if I've been entirely successful with selecting those things in just the right ways. But as soon as we started doing this, the response that we received was immediate and powerful. Traffic to our website increased by factor like 10, or something. And we started receiving emails and congratulations from readers who went on to say how they loved it and how they were using it, in addition to their Come, Follow Me study. So what did you start hearing from people in the beginning about this product?
Jennifer Wilcox: That people would look at the art work that was chosen and read what was written there, and learn a little bit about that artist, that it would help them to look at a gospel principle in a way they hadn't seen it before. And the most powerful piece of that, I think, is application. Application is where the gospel has the most meaning. Not that you learned a story, but that you learned how that story impacts you, how it changes the way you live your life. And so when someone can have a personal, individual relationship with a piece of art work, in relation to a scriptural topic, that can change the way they see that topic or alter the way they choose to live that gospel principle.
Glen Nelson: Yeah, I completely see that. And another one of the goals that I had for it was to help people be more comfortable looking and talking about art itself. So throughout these weeks--this started in March 18, 2019 was our first art companion lesson--we've scattered in a little bit of art history, a little bit of art criticism, just some sort of clues of how you can look at an art work and try to figure out where it was made, how it was used, what its interpretation might be for you, all those sort of things. One of my favorites was when you had objects from the sacrament. What were the objects that we had?
Jennifer Wilcox: We had some objects, some sacrament objects that my mother had gotten out of the basement of the old 18th Ward chapel, because she befriended a janitor.
Glen Nelson: And this is in Salt Lake City?
Jennifer Wilcox: And this is in Salt Lake City. So we had some silver water pitchers, we had some old sacrament trays, we had the original silver sacrament cups...
Glen Nelson: A pretty big one...
Jennifer Wilcox: A communal one, and then we had smaller ones. And then we had a glass one. And then we had this really great tray that they used for the sacrament bread.
Glen Nelson: Very ornate tray.
Jennifer Wilcox: Yeah.
Glen Nelson: And all of them had a lot of detail to them.
Jennifer Wilcox: They were beautiful.
Glen Nelson: When you first brought them to me, I kind of panicked because I expected them to be these shiny, silvery things, but over the years they had tarnished. And so I spent a week polishing on them, like, rubbing my fingerprints off with silver polish. And they just glowed, you know. And then you also had a sacrament cloth that was a crocheted?
Jennifer Wilcox: Yes.
Glen Nelson: And so we photographed that. So I think that's an example that one of our interests is not just fine art, but art and objects, which is very much in keeping with how art is presented in museums and galleries, today. It's broadening the scope. So it's not just looking at a painting, but also looking at different kinds of objects that existed. And so I think we're trying to bring that into the mix, too.
Jennifer Wilcox: Those particular sacrament items also helped us to talk about respect and reverence for the sacrament in the way we present it to one another, and involvement. At one time when those sacrament items would have been used, women would have been quite involved in the preparation of the sacrament because you polishing them was probably not what deacons did.
Glen Nelson: Yeah, so you commented about how the Young Women's and the Relief Society organizations were in charge of keeping these in good repair. And we put that in our introduction to the lesson. We also told some stories about how people... if you had a single cup, it would go down the row, and you would look and see, you know, if the girlfriend took it to her lips in a certain place, then you wanted to, when you got it, you would try to drink from the exact same spot, or something like that.
Jennifer Wilcox: But it also illustrated, I think, how sometimes modernization takes out the touch of people.
Glen Nelson: Tell me about that.
Jennifer Wilcox: In modernizing the way the sacrament is served, and using paper or plastic cups that are thrown away, no longer are young women or Relief Society sisters involved in cleaning up those items that are used for the sacrament. Not to suggest in any way that women and young women's roles should always be cleaning and utilitarian, but that the the touch of more saints is sometimes lost as we modernize and simplify.
Glen Nelson: We talked, I think, if I'm not mistaken, in that lesson, about the nationwide health scare at the time--in the early 20th century. And that was the catalyst for getting in the communal cup out of the way.
Jennifer Wilcox: Right.
Glen Nelson: This doctor, was it in Logan, I think?
Jennifer Wilcox: That’s right.
Glen Nelson: He said, "Yeah, I'm a doctor, we're not gonna, we're not supposed to do that." And he was rebuffed. And they said, "Oh, no, this is how we do it." And then he went to some connection that he had directly, you know, the church office building, and they said, "Yeah, that's probably not what we should be doing." And they changed their policy, a little bit. But that's part of our history.
Jennifer Wilcox: Sure.
Glen Nelson: I thought that was a fascinating one. What are some other of our Art Companion lessons that you really liked?
Jennifer Wilcox: The loaves and the fishes was a great one. It was Caitlin Connolly's piece. And I think in seeing that, in seeing her interpretation of the loaves and the fishes, helped people in my class to look at the blessing of the touch of the Savior's hand in how it makes our offering enough, whatever whatever that offering may be.
Glen Nelson: What does the painting look like? Can you describe the subject of it?
Jennifer Wilcox: It's a woman holding a child. The child is reaching back toward a loaf of bread. And the woman's dress is covered with fish.
Glen Nelson: Like, as a print?
Jennifer Wilcox: As a print. And then there's an open window with light shining in on her. And on that loaf of bread. And that painting now hangs in my home.
Glen Nelson: I remember that we wrote to Caitlin, who is a friend, and this was, this might have been the first or the second, I think it was the second of our Art Companion lessons. And we were trying to describe this new thing that we were working on. And we have to ask permission, obviously, to reproduce these works and post them. And we asked her if she had a comment that she'd like to add to it. And she told the story of... she's a new mother with twins. And she can't do it all by herself. And she has a busy life and a busy home life. And that real, honest reaction of mothers needing help really resonated with a lot of readers. I heard from a lot of people about that, the power of that specific lesson in that painting.
Jennifer Wilcox: And the timing in when that loaves and the fishes miracle happened in the Savior's life, when He had learned of the loss of John the Baptist, and He Himself was grieving and looking for a time and a space away. And yet there were those clamoring for His attention. That's something that a mother of young children can certainly relate to.
Glen Nelson: Over time, so that maybe about a month in or maybe two months into this project, as I started reaching out to artists each week to get a new work of theirs, they started saying to me, "I follow this every week, I've been looking for some way to have what I do part of my gospel practice, my study practice." And they were some of our biggest supporters from the very, very beginning, I was approached by a parent of teen children one Sunday at church. She said that they had been trying to stay the gospel each week as a family, but it wasn't going very well, that they had a couple of teenagers, and they were resistant to that kind of study. But somehow, starting with engaging art work, using the Art Companion brought everybody around the table. And they soon learned that what started as a discussion about art quickly became a discussion about principles in the art and in the gospel. And that anecdote makes me really happy.
Jennifer Wilcox: Today, as I was walking from Grand Central to my office, I was listening to the scriptures that I'll be teaching this next Sunday. And as I listened to the scriptures in Second Corinthians chapter 10, verses 12, through 15, is talking about measuring ourselves, and measuring ourselves against others and the danger in doing that. And as I listened to that, I thought about a painting in my home by Brian Kershisnik called "Measurement from Memory." I'll take that with me this Sunday. So I've appreciated that in working on this project, it has helped me to think about what I read in terms of art work that I've seen, and what is the message of divinity that's in the art work that that is all around us. It doesn't have to just be illustrative to teach a gospel principle.
Glen Nelson: And I think that might be the biggest ah-ha moment for a lot of readers looking at this project is, they're so used to seeing illustration being tandemized by a publication, you know, "We have a lesson about the loaves and the fishes, so let's get a picture of some sardines and baguette," right? So it's a very literal thing. And I think for artists..., artists don't really think in those terms all the time; illustrators do, but fine artists tend not to think as literally as that. And I think just in some way, they felt a little excluded from this conversations. I don't want to go too far on the other side and say that every art work has a potential gospel reading as part of it, but what I'm finding as I'm looking over a whole body of an artist's work, who is a member of the Church, that that from those art works bubble up all these gospel things, in artworks that don't immediately read as being gospel topics? Does that make sense to you?
Jennifer Wilcox: For sure. I think the gospel is designed and presented in a way where it is up to us in our own minds, to decide what it looks like, that it isn't to be dictated by "it was sardines and a loaf of bread." I'm not so sure.
Glen Nelson: Yeah. How do you imagine that this project will evolve over time?
Jennifer Wilcox: Well, I've been looking for things knowing that the Book of Mormon is what will be studied next year and looking for pieces of artwork that will help to talk about and explore principles that are taught in the Book of Mormon. I would hope that this can continue, that we'll be able to look for a broader base of artists. There are plenty of them out there. We are a creative people. It's always fun to me, when I returned to Salt Lake for something, to go to all the galleries and see all the great things that are there, and to drive around and look at the colors on people's houses. There is wonderful, wonderful art work in all forms that is created by our people, and it should be shared and appreciated. I most recently saw a beautiful painting of the Savior, that was so touching, because it was so personal as he looked at him, he could feel the warmth, and the concern and the care.
Glen Nelson: I'm increasingly anxious that the art work that the members of the Church view is representative of all the people in the Church. I was looking at a Pew study just this week that predicted that by 2060, 40% of Christians will be in Africa, which is a very large number, isn't it? That's a very large number. And I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is really growing in Africa. And my anxiety is, do I know more artists in Africa, for example? I would love to have more representation of the art works that I see personally, in the Church from outside the U.S. One of the things that I'm especially eager to discover is works by new voices generally, works by artists of color in the Church, there are so many contemporary women doing amazing things in the Church; I want to capture our moment there, the art work of indigenous peoples in the Church, I think, is under-represented. And each one of those is so interesting, because it's their personal processing of these reasons why they exist, you know? They're pouring their hearts out in their media. And I love the idea that I can see a painting of an artist in Cambodia, whose picture of Jesus looks a little bit more like Buddha than I might be or initially comfortable with. But the acknowledgement that it's from her point of view, which I value, makes me feel that I'm part of a big global community. And that's really exciting to me.
Jennifer Wilcox: When we were at the festival, one of the discussions came to the point that there was a hope that art work in ward buildings throughout the world would be reflective of the people who attend to there. That's a lofty goal. I'm not sure when or if we'll ever get there. But when we're now looking at home-based gospel education, you can control then the art work that's on the walls in your classroom, in your home. And that can be produced as locally as by the people who live there. So the opportunity we have to produce art work that is in our homes in the place where we individually study the gospel is our own.
Glen Nelson: That's the perfect synthesis for me of our discussion today. I want to thank Jennifer Wilcox: , who's been my guest today in our podcast interview and also may pal and colleague creating the Come, Follow Me (Art Companion). It's available each week on our website, which is: centerforlatterdaysaintarts.org. And if you'd like to receive it as an email, you just go to our website and on our homepage, there's a subscriber box, and you can put in your email and this will be automatically sent to you like a subscription. So thanks so much, Jennifer. I'm having so much fun working on this project. Are you?
Jennifer Wilcox: Absolutely. Thank you for including me.
Glen Nelson: So on behalf of the center, thank you all for listening as well. B'bye.