Arnold Friberg – The Artist Behind the Muscular Book of Mormon Paintings

You can’t walk through an LDS church without noticing paintings depicting abnormally muscular Book of Mormon characters.  The late Arnold Friberg is the artist behind these paintings.  Friberg is also well known outside of the church for his paintings for the Hollywood film “The Ten Comandments” and is most famous for his 1976 work “The prayer at Valley Forge”

Early Life

Arnold Frieberg war born in Winnetka, Ill in 1913. His mother was father was from Swedan and his mother was from Norway, both immigrated through Ellis Island.  His family moved from Chicago to Pheonix in 1921 when he was 3 years old.  At the age of 7 his parents joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Friberg was baptized the following year when he turned 9.  As a child still in grade school Friberg learned from artists at the Arizona Republic, a local newspaper in Pheonix.  He also worked as an apprentice for a local sign painter to earn money.


After graduating high school he attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and continued doing commercial art, now for local printers.  Frieberg worked for the Northwest Paper Company painting over 200 pictures of Mounties for their calendars, he is the only American to ever become an honorary member of the Royal Canadian Police.  Friberg moved to New York in 1940 to study at the Grand Central School of Art.

World War II

When World War II broke out Friberg left school and joined the US Army serving I the 86th infantry.  He was offered to be promoted to captain to draw recruiting posters for the marine corps but instead chose to fight on the front lines where he also used his art skills to draw maps.

Mariage and Teaching

After the war Friberg moved to San Francisco, where he married Hedve Baxter.  Friberg gained a lot of publicity from a series of western scenes he painted for a calendar company in 1948.  In 1950 he moved to Utah to teach commercial art at the University of Utah.

Book of Mormon Paintings

Friberg was asked to paint the first pioneer Sunday school for a 100th anniversary celebration.  The primary President of the church Adele Cannon Howells liked the painting so much that she asked him to paint twelve paintings depicting scenes from The Book of Mormon for the childrens church magazing “The Friend”.  The magazine did not have money in the budget to hire Friberg for the paintings and the church would not fund them so Adele Howells funded them her self.   Reproductions and special editions were sold but nobody knew how popular these paintings would eventually be, now hung in walls of almost every LDS church included in every copy of The Book of Mormon.

In his search for what these Book of Mormon characters might have looked like Friberg turned to church leaders for their input on doctrine and archeological findings but found that their opinions varied greatly.  Many people suggested that Friberg paint the the great sermons like those of King Benjamin and Alma.  Frieberg acknowledged the  value of the inspiring sermons but said “he wanted to paint heroes that appeared legendary in stature,”.  Fortunatly this was consistent with Howell’s vision.

Frieberg said: “The muscularity in my paintings is only an expression of the spirit within, When I paint Nephi, I’m painting the interior, the greatness, the largeness of spirit. Who knows what he looked like? I’m painting a man who looks like he could actually do what Nephi did.”

Frieberg also spoke about how he sought inspiration in painting these depictions of The Book of Mormon: “What I do I am driven to do. I follow the dictates of a looming and unseen force, I try to become like a musical instrument, intruding no sound of its own but bringing forth such tones as are played upon it by a master’s hand.”

These paintings hang today in The Book of Mormon gallery at the conference center.

Paintings for the Hollywood film “The Ten Commandments”

The Book of Mormon paintings caught the eye of a scouts who were looking for an artists for the epic motion picture “The Ten Commandments”.  The Producer Cicil B. DeMillies was shown some of Fribergs work and hired him.  Frieberg worked in Hollywood for three years as the chief artist and designer of the previsualization paintings for the film.

Chevy’s Greatest Moments in College Football Campaign

In 1969 Chevrolet hired Friberg to paint a series of paintings depicting the greatest moments in College Football for use in an advertising campaign.  Freiberg did a lot of research including visiting Notre Dame’s stadium and locker room in order to paint these scenes.

The Prayer at Valley Forge

In 1976 Friberg painted his most famous painting “The Prayer at Valley Forge” to honor the 200th anniversary of the united states of America.  The painting depicts George Washington in the cold of winter kneeling down praying for the safety and success of his army.  Friberg did extensive research on the gear and equipment used by soldiers in the revolutionary war and visited the location durring the cold of winter spending time there to put himself into the shoes of George Washington.  Friberg wanted to emphasize Washingtons hands, showing how desperate he clenched them in prayer.

Saloon Paintings for The Golden Nugget

In 1977 Friberg was hired by Steve Wynn to paint a series of saloon paintings for the golden nugget in Las Vegas, he researched old Saloons and found that they were more of a meeting place than the reputation as dens of iniquity so he painted them as such.

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