Look at Your Walls. What Do You See?


A mother sadly reported to her bishop that her three sons had left home and joined the navy. Why they had done this, in view of other opportunities for employment, further schooling, missions, or even another branch of the service, was very perplexing to this loving mother. The bishop tried to comfort her by explaining the need young people have to “break away” from home—but he, too, found their action unusual and difficult to explain.

Then the bishop decided to visit the family home. As he entered the living room, his eye was immediately drawn to the large painting of a ship under full sail. It was the only piece of art in the room.

“There is your reason,” he told the mother. “As your sons have grown up, you have told them every day through this painting of the romance and adventure of the sea. You have taught them well. No wonder they all joined the navy.”

The message of this true story is obvious. Our home environment—specifically, visual images in the home—has an impact on our lives.

This idea poses a number of questions for us as Latter-day Saints. Do we fully realize the influence of visual images in the home? What kind of images should be in a Mormon home? Can visual images help explain what we believe? Can our surroundings help us become more spiritual? Is it possible to develop more meaningful feelings about our heritage if we have visual materials of our ancestry available?

The answers to such questions can be positive, and exciting challenges confront us in this aspect of “homemaking.” The following may be useful.

Visual Images with Religious Subject Matter

Latter-day Saint homes in the past have seemed to infrequently utilize “religious” paintings or prints. Perhaps this was due to our members recoiling from the adoration of some religious paintings by members of other faiths. But it stands to reason that if, for example, a beautiful print of Christ were in a home, thoughts would be turned to him more often. There is no reason to feel that any religious images on display are being worshiped.

Another part of this lack of religious art in the home relates to the unavailability of fine prints and paintings. Very few contemporary works are appropriate for use, and access to acceptable and sensitive historical works is equally difficult. Fortunately, quality “Mormon” oriented art is becoming more available.

Visual Images that Recall Our Heritage

Many homes maintain a valuable tie with the past by displaying heirlooms or antiques handed down through the generations. These objects, along with photographs, can become a meaningful and enjoyable part of the home’s flavor. Objects from the setting of a parent’s early life can help children better understand their family. Objects from foreign countries help establish cultural ties to the homelands of ancestors. Old family photographs enlarged to poster size can be fun and attractive in almost any room. In addition, picture pedigrees can be valuable in building a child’s understanding of his ancestry. These ties with the past help give stability and feelings of gratitude toward our forebears.

Images that Build Feelings about the Family

Family “galleries” of photographs, artwork, and other visual objects can do much to develop attitudes of family unity. Good times can be recalled while warm feelings about the family can be reinforced.

Hallways, stairways, and both formal and informal wall areas can be used for collections of family memorabilia. Enlarged photographs can be framed inexpensively and used in many ways. Photos of houses where the family has lived, of favorite vacations, of annual family gatherings, or of special friends can help strengthen positive feelings about the family.

Family Projects

Individual family members usually have special interests or hobbies that result in a variety of collections (plants, unique toys, models, trophies, books, antiques, etc.). Collections can add much to a home when they are used in general family areas—not just stored away in the confines of an individual’s room.

Most homes would be more interesting to visitors and more livable for family members if some of the “standard” ways of decorating were replaced by individual expression through the use of objects of genuine interest. What is less interesting than a room transplanted from a furniture showroom? On the other hand, what is more stimulating than a home where the interests and activities of those who live there are openly expressed?

Use of Fine Art

Nonreligious fine art—drawings, paintings, prints, crafts, and sculpture—can enrich our lives, and there is no reason why this enrichment should take place only in the art museum. Whether the works are originals or they are fine quality prints, we stand to benefit from placing them in the home. Great artists help us “see” and respond more sensitively to the visual world around us.

Robert Frost observed that “home is the place, where, when you go there, they have to take you in.” A Latter-day Saint home should be, instead, the place each of us longs to be. Our relationships, one with another, determine the basic happiness of a family, but the physical environment—including visual images—can greatly reinforce our love of home and add new dimension to our family experiences.

Dr. Maryon, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah, serves as president of the Aaronic Priesthood Young Men’s MIA, Kaysville 7th Ward, Kaysville Stake.