LDS Artist Shares Artistic Vision at Washington, D.C., Exhibit
By Page Johnson, Church News contributor
Learning to see with spiritual eyes is a central theme of an art exhibit at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center that focuses on the early years of the Savior. The gallery of 21 oil-on-canvas paintings, entitled “Jesus Once Was a Little Child,” is the work of LDS contemporary figurative artist Rose Datoc Dall of the Belmont Ridge Ward, Ashburn Virginia Stake. This event continues through October.
Since the exhibit’s opening in June, more than 20,000 visitors have viewed the paintings, notable for their universal human and spiritual appeal. Among them is Flight, Sister Dall’s rendering of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt, on loan from the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. It was one of the winners of the museum’s 8th International Art Competition in 2009.
Although Sister Dall’s body of work encompasses many subjects, as a mother of four who serves in Primary, she enjoys painting families and children and portraying the love of children. This particular exhibit on Jesus as a child represents 10 years of work.
In an interview at the visitors’ center, she explained her motivation.
“I look into a child’s eyes and know he is a child of God,” she said. “I believe that every child has a divine mission and that every mom has a connection to her child. So I wanted to paint from a mother’s point of view. What were Mary’s thoughts and concerns? What is it like to ‘behold’ something, or to see with new, spiritual eyes?”
Each of the paintings captures what Sister Dall calls the moments in between the moments: Joseph looking at Mary for the first time after learning of her divine mission, Mary walking alone to tell Elisabeth her news, Jesus looking over the covered heads of men in the temple, or Mary’s luminous garments billowing around her and her baby like a shield.
Sister Dall uses light to symbolize an individual’s inner light, a concept that drives her distinctive color choices, which include white on white, the varied golds of late afternoon, and the deepening blues of evening. She also uses symbolism and foreshadowing to tell her visual story. In Shouldering Burdens, young Jesus and Joseph each carry a piece of lumber, an unmistakable image of the cross Jesus will later bear.
But it’s through the eyes of her subjects that Sister Dall truly expresses emotions and thoughts. In Prophet, Priest, and King, Jesus peers out of the picture as an innocent yet otherworldly two-year-old, as three wise men look on.
To capture these moments authentically, Sister Dall intensively researches the people she portrays by studying the scriptures, classical religious paintings, and the history, culture, textiles, and geography of their times. She might photograph or sculpt a face first to get exactly the look she wants; she learns about stone walls by building them and about turbans by wrapping one herself. To give her modern paintings a more classical look, she often designs her own picture frames.
“I spend 90 percent of my time on research and 10 percent on canvas time,” she pointed out. “I want to be accurate, but I also want to use my artistic vision.”
Sister Dall has been developing that artistic vision throughout her life while also learning to open her own spiritual eyes. Although her parents are from the Philippines, she was born in Washington and grew up in Virginia. She was raised Catholic; through the fellowship of a Mormon friend, she found the Church and was baptized at 19. She is frequently asked how she manages to care for her family and still find time to paint.
“It isn’t easy,” she said, “but I’ve learned to be patient and trust in the Lord’s timing. There’s a time and a season for everything. When I finally consecrated my talents to the Lord, I found the time, and doors opened for me.”
Her gift now enriches the lives of others. As adults and children of many faiths visit the exhibit, they tell the sister missionaries who accompany them what the experience has meant to them. Many leave comments in the exhibit’s guest book.
Reverend Amanda Hemenetz of Mt. Tabor United Methodist Church in New Jersey is such a visitor who was profoundly moved.
“Those paintings touched me like no other art exhibit ever has. The realism and mystery combined in each painting created the ultimate expression of human and divine,” she said.
But the guest book entry of a child truly captures the essence of the exhibit: “I have felt the Spirit so much that I thought I was with Jesus.”