There are only eight angel Moroni sculptures worldwide that Karl Quilter did not create. “Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Seattle, Mexico City …” he can recite the eight on demand.
Aside from those, the sculpture cresting every temple from Utah to Accra, Ghana, is his work, numbering more than 100; however, he doesn’t know that exact total off the top of his head.
His sculpture work for temples began in 1954, when he helped to create the oxen for the baptismal fonts in the Bern Switzerland, London England, and Hamilton New Zealand Temples.
“I was just a young kid in my 20s back then,” Brother Quilter says.
But he discovered his talent in sculpture earlier than that, in a happenstance way.
In high school he had shown great potential in painting, but when his art teacher saw what Brother Quilter could do with clay he told him, “Karl, don’t ever paint again.”
Brother Quilter pursued his gift for sculpture, moving to Salt Lake City to study with noted sculptor Avard Fairbanks. Brother Quilter obtained degrees from the University of Utah in sculpture and industrial design, continuing his education later at Brigham Young University. However, his work for the temples began before he finished his schooling.
After participating in shaping those oxen in the mid-1950s, he made his first angel to create a cast for a series of smaller temples. Twenty angels were made. They can be seen on the Boise Idaho, Papeete Tahiti, and Nuku‘alofa Tonga Temples, to name a few. This is the smallest of Brother Quilter’s angel Moroni designs.
He has created a total of three different designs, varying in size to match the size of the temple they will crest, and an architect selects from those three. The largest of the sculptures stands 13 feet tall. So how is it placed as high as 120 feet in the air? It is really quite simple, Brother Quilter explains, now that the angels are constructed with fiberglass, a material that is lightweight, strong, and easily handled.
“They are half the weight of any other composite material,” Brother Quilter said, comparing the fiberglass to bronze and other metals. “That means a lot to a builder.”
The fiberglass sculptures are much lighter than the 12-foot bronze sculpture of the angel Moroni that tops the Salt Lake Temple. That sculpture was done by Cyrus E. Dallin, a Utah-born artist who is esteemed as one of America’s most talented sculptors. Dallin initially declined the commission, saying he didn’t believe in angels. Later, however, he accepted. Upon completing the statue, he said, “My angel Moroni brought me nearer to God than anything I ever did.”
Brother Quilter understands that feeling. He says that for him, sculpting the statues is an honor.
In addition to the angel Moroni, Brother Quilter has done most of the oxen for temple baptismal fonts around the world, and he continues to sculpt statues of the nativity displayed on temple grounds at many locations worldwide.
He and his wife, Verna, have 8 children, 42 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren and reside in Salt Lake City, where they have lived since 1957. Brother Quilter was a seminary teacher for 25 years and an ordinance worker at the Salt Lake Temple for 9 years. He is now on a Church service mission to do artwork, working along with three other painters. He enjoys time for thinking and one-on-one time with each of his children. And to this day, clay is still dear to his heart.
“I carry clay with me wherever I go, and when I have a few minutes, I sit and reflect,” he says.