Not many teenagers know just what course in life they will take. But by sixteen, Soren Edsberg’s course was firmly set toward an artist’s career. Already he was making approximately three or four thousand dollars a year selling his paintings while going to school. He had learned to paint by following the brushstrokes of his father, one of Denmark’s foremost portraitists. In fact, he could copy Knud Edsberg’s technique and style so faithfully that some people could not distinguish the father’s paintings from the son’s.
Soren was also his father’s student in the art of living. When Knud Edsberg joined the Church in 1961, he invited his son to join him in his newly discovered faith. Sixteen-year-old Soren wasn’t particularly interested in religion at the time. But after his father told him how much it meant to him, Soren agreed to be baptized. “I had always loved my father and respected him,” he explains. “Whenever he asked me to do something, I usually did it.”
As a new member of the Church, Soren knew little about the Church or its teachings. For the first month, he did not even attend church meetings. Finally, feeling obligated to learn what the gospel was about, he read a pamphlet about the Book of Mormon. From that small pamphlet he gained a testimony that the Book of Mormon truly is the word of God. That realization forever changed the course of Soren Edsberg’s life.
For one thing, he became devoted to serving the Lord. Just a few weeks after his conversion to the Book of Mormon, he was called to be a regular speaker in missionary meetings. Since then, he has served as a branch president, mission public relations director, high councilor, and Young Men president.
Another event that changed his life occurred in his Copenhagen (Denmark) branch when he met his wife, Johnna—a convert to the Church and a piano student at the Danish Royal Academy of Music. The Edsbergs were sealed in the Swiss Temple and have continued a life of Church service. Soren is now mission leader and Johnna is Young Women president in the Slagelse (Denmark) Branch. The Edsbergs have seven children, ranging in age from three to seventeen. In a country where families average one or two children, you can see the Edsbergs’s commitment to family values by their large family.
One of the most obvious changes in Soren Edsberg’s life involves his artistic course. “Of course, when you learn the gospel, it becomes your whole life,” says Soren, now forty. Now, instead of seeing artistic success as an end in itself, he sees his art as a means of serving the Lord and building the kingdom.
His desire to serve through his art has even transformed his painting style. “I thought about how important it is to be a missionary in everything we do,” Soren recalls. “I felt that if I wanted to do missionary work, I had to paint in a way that would communicate with people today.” Because in Europe realistic painting was not well accepted, he began to paint in an impressionistic style. Later, he turned to abstract art, always trying to make his paintings express positive values and gospel truths.
Brother Edsberg’s work has been exhibited by the Association of National Art in the Charlottenborg Palace, home of the Danish Royal Academy of National Arts. His paintings have hung in several museums in Europe, where his work has been a popular success. But he judges his work by its ability to influence the one who looks at it for good, not by its ability to sell.
He tells about one of his series of abstract paintings that was inspired directly by the scriptures and that had a scriptural “text” inscribed either on the back or below the painting. “My barber told me that he had seen them in a public show,” he recalls delightedly. “Then he quoted a scripture on one of the paintings word for word. It had made an impression on him, even though he didn’t believe in God.”
Soren Edsberg’s personality is warm and engaging, with just a hint of reserve. He becomes enthusiastic when he describes his latest work. It is a series of abstract paintings titled The Course of Life. It was inspired by an aerial view of the earth—looking down at people traveling on freeways and streets, all on various courses. The artist wants people to consider where their course is taking them. “Many times we have a goal,” he explains, “but without realizing we are on a course that is taking us away from that goal. I want people to think in an eternal way.”
The president of the International Association of Art Critics in Geneva, Switzerland, Alexandre Cirici Pellecier, has said that Edsberg’s Course of Life paintings, though truly abstract, are paintings with a positive message that is easy for the viewer to understand. Since Soren’s major goal is to be a missionary, this is high praise.
And missionary opportunities in Denmark—where religion plays little role in most lives—are not always easy to come by. “If you are a member of any ‘sect,’ you are seen either as not very intelligent, or as a weak person who needs something to hold onto, or as a crook who is trying to gain something from it,” says Soren. Even though missionary work can be difficult in such a setting, Soren has had some good experiences—the one closest to his heart in his own family.
Although three of the Knud Edsberg family—Knud, Soren, and Soren’s sister, Birgitte—were members of the Church, their wife and mother, Kirsten Edsberg, remained firmly Lutheran. For years, the family and church leaders had tried to convert her. Finally, Knud Edsberg became discouraged. “One morning my father came to my house. He stood in the doorway crying because he was so sad.”
Soren felt the Spirit come to him. He put his arms around his father and said, “Mother will be a member now. And when I say ‘now,’ I don’t mean in a year or two. I mean now.” After his father had left, Soren went to see his mother. “After I had talked to her for about ten minutes, she said, ‘I would like to be baptized now.’” Father, mother, and son wept together for joy.
A short time after her baptism, Kirsten Edsberg got cancer. As the disease progressed, Soren and his sister became disturbed. Their mother’s patriarchal blessing promised that she would live to fulfill her life’s mission. But she had not yet had her children sealed to her, nor had she had opportunities for church service.
When at last the doctors felt that she would die within days and had withdrawn all medicine except for pain killers, the elder Brother Edsberg called on Soren to give his mother another blessing. After several days of fasting and praying, says Soren, “I felt I had permission to tell the disease to obey the priesthood and to leave so my mother would be able to complete her mission in this life.” Kirsten Edsberg recovered and was able to go to the Swiss Temple to be sealed to her family. She was also able to serve as a Primary teacher. Then, a year after her healing, she became ill again and passed away.
With such experiences, Soren Edsberg’s priorities have become firm: “First, I have my personal commitment to my Heavenly Father. Second, I have my family. Third, I have my church calling. Fourth, I have my job.”
Soren does not consider that his job as an artist puts him in any special category. He feels that there can be artists in any work. “You can do any job poorly. You can do it well. You can do it very well. Or you can do it with genius, and at that level, you start to produce art. That means you can be an artist in whatever kind of work you do,” he explains.
This striving for excellence is something which Brother Edsberg tries to do in his church work. The Edsberg family home—a lovely four-hundred-year-old castle about eighty kilometers from Copenhagen—is often the site of activities for youth of the Slagelse Branch and Copenhagen Stake. Recently, the Edsbergs hosted fifty or so young people overnight at their home. With strong worldly influences in Danish schools, as well as society in general, Brother Edsberg feels that church youth activities need to be as fun and interesting as possible.
The Edsbergs also feel strongly about keeping their own children close to them. Although Brother Edsberg travels quite a bit, his studio is in his home. Since April 1986, one wing of the home has also been a public gallery, where works of many artists are on display. He is planning an exhibition of the works of Utah artists, particularly Latter-day Saints.
Helping their children stay close to the gospel is a continuing challenge. “I don’t think anyone can appreciate how difficult it is to raise children in Denmark,” says Brother Edsberg. “You have to teach them to make the gospel part of everything they do. You have to build their faith and testimony very strongly.” He emphasizes that parents cannot hope to fulfill such a responsibility unless they have the Spirit in their own lives to help them teach and influence their children.
As Soren Edsberg looks to the future, he speaks of artistic goals. He wants to explore his Courses of Life theme in larger mural form and also use such materials as marble, glass, and crystal. He anticipates seeing his children serve missions. In all, he is heading toward his eternal goal and steadily following the course that will take him there.