President Packer’s Art Testifies of Divinity of Creation
By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer
Placed near the middle of President Boyd K. Packer’s art-themed book The Earth Shall Teach Thee is a decades-old photo of the author standing at the front of a Sunday School class in the Brigham City First Ward. The black-and-white image captures a young Boyd Packer, book in hand, fulfilling what is believed to be his first formal teaching assignment.
Since that time, teaching has been central to the life and ministry of President Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and, having been called in 1961 as an Assistant to the Twelve, the Church’s longest-serving living General Authority. As a teacher, he has utilized the seminary class, the printed page, and the pulpits of the Salt Lake Tabernacle the Conference Center and countless meetinghouses across the globe to testify of Christ through gospel instruction and apostolic counsel.
President Packer’s collection of teaching instruments has also included the paintbrush, the coping saw, the carving knife, and a drawer full of other artistic tools.
For more than 80 years President Packer has been an amateur artist. His artwork—which predominately features the birds and wildlife from his childhood in Brigham City, Utah—has proven a reliable source of personal pleasure and relaxation. From the time he was a young boy, he has enjoyed wonder and respite from his cares by, say, sketching a goose in flight or carving a cougar or a pintail duck from a block of wood.
His artwork also instructs. It teaches that all of creation testifies of the Lord and His love. Through his paintings and carvings, President Packer both identifies and celebrates the Master’s loving hand that one can find, at once, in the tiny wings of a black-chinned hummingbird or in the awesome pulling might of a team of pioneer oxen.
“I have always had a love of nature and animals,” said President Packer. “It has been the principal theme in my artwork. It seems appropriate now that my artwork can serve to illustrate one of the most fundamental messages of the gospel: that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all things that are in them, that all nature bears testimony of that divinely directed creation, and that there is complete harmony between nature, science, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
It was Ira and Emma Packer who fostered an interest in art in their son Boyd. Like many families, the Packers and their 11 children endured the sparseness of the Great Depression in their home. But they were a resourceful family and provided young Boyd with art “supplies” gleaned from other sources. Roll ends of newsprint from the local newspaper became sketch paper. A neighbor’s discarded house paint added color to duck carvings. And the boxes that housed the glass windshields installed in Ira Packer’s garage would become the wood source for sawed-out carvings of horses, birds, and other wildlife.
President Packer’s love for creating art would continue through high school and during his years of military service as a bomber pilot. His letters back to the home front were often decorated with wildlife scenes he had witnessed and loved as a child.
He would return home, commence with his college education and professional career and marry Donna Smith. They would raise 10 children together and, in 1961, President Packer would be called as a General Authority. Despite the demands of home, career, and Church service, he found time whenever possible to create art. He is grateful that Sister Packer has always supported his lifelong interest.
“Through the years she always made space available even though I would create a bit of dust with my carving,” he said. “Whenever she could tell that I was preoccupied, she would say, ‘Why don’t you go paint or carve for a while?’ As I painted or carved, I was able to work things through in my mind and resolve whatever it was that was weighing upon me. I have a list of which general conference talks came from which bird carving during the years.”
Indeed, President Packer’s art has long been about more than simply designing a pleasant piece of art. His paintings and carvings are representations of creation and stand as witnesses of the Creator. “The earth,” he said, “did not come by chance nor by accident. It is the result of a creation that is based on purpose, on agency, on choice. ... The beauty and precision of the universe, the endless variety of plant and animal life — all testify of a plan and of a Creator.”
President Packer recognizes the wonders found in nature such as the migratory patterns of insects and animals and the seemingly magical qualities of the so-called “golden mean” (or “divine proportion”) that lends aesthetic order to much of the natural world.
President Packer also utilizes his artistic interpretations of nature to teach gospel principles. Many are familiar with “The Bishop’s Team,” an oil painting that depicts a team of horses left unattended in a field while their master, a dedicated rural bishop, is away from his labors caring for a ward member in need.
In testifying of Christ and His divine creative role, President Packer said, “The Spirit of Christ can enlighten the inventor, the scientist, the painter, the photographer, the sculptor, the composer, the performer, the architect, and the author to produce great, even inspired things for the blessing and good of all mankind.”