"Portrait of the Prophets" - The history of a painting

With the passing of President Thomas S. Monson in early January of 2018, the painting, "Portrait of the Prophets", needed to be updated. In anticipation of the Prophet's passing Doc has been working on this updated version for several months.

This painting has a bit of a history. It was first painted by Doc in 1979 while he and his wife Carolyn were well into the process of raising their young family in Salem, Oregon. That version of the painting was titled "The Prophets", and depicted the presidents of the LDS Church sitting and standing at the feet of the Savior.

After completing the painting Doc wanted to give it to President Spencer W. Kimball, the president of the Church at that time. Ronald S. Jolley, the President of the Salem, Oregon Stake, sent a letter and a photograph of the painting to President Kimball's office in Salt Lake City with the request.

Several weeks later, President Jolley received a return letter from the Secretary to the First Presidency, Francis M. Gibbons, stating in part...

"President Kimball appreciates Brother Christensen's generous offer to present this painting to the Church, but has asked me to explain that at the present time there is not an appropriate place where this picture could be displayed at Church headquarters and for this reason feels to decline Brother Christensen's offer".

"I came to the conclusion", Doc later related, "that President Kimball, being the humble man that he was, very possibly saw in this painting that he was the only mortal man pictured amoung the greatest men to have lived in this last dispensation, and felt that to display it might be inappropriate, especially considering that the Savior was also in the image. It's not unusual for a viewer to consider that a painting with the Savior in it might be depicting an historic event rather than a fictitious one."

Once the disappointment Doc felt had subsided he was encouraged by the vast number of local people who had seen the painting and wanted to get a print of it. He decided that he would paint another version of it, this time excluding the Savior. He spent several months painting the second version and gave it the title - "Portrait of the Prophets".

After completing the new painting Doc and his wife had prints made and began to sell them to bookstores all over the world. After packaging prints for several years and dealing with the challenges of raising a young family and furthering his career as a custom jewelry designer and trade-shop goldsmith, Doc received a call one day from Travis Weaver.

Travis reported to Doc that while on a business trip to Japan he had visited the temple and had seen a print of the "Portrait of the Prophets". He asked Doc if he had any interest in selling the original painting and the remaining print inventory. Although he had not considered that idea, after discussing it with Carolyn they decided to sell.

The photo above was taken in June of 2014 in the front foyer of the Weaver's home near Roy, Utah, more than three decades after the exchange.

Even before selling the painting Doc and Carolyn had made the decision that the rigors of his career, and the importance of Doc's responsibilities as a husband, father, and member of the LDS Church had required that he spend little or no time behind his easel and paint pallet. Although he did not stop painting entirely, his efforts in that direction were very limited until in 2002 Doc was approached by Brad Bateman, a resident of Salem Oregon.

Brad shared with Doc that back in the late 70's he had been a struggling student at Brigham Young University in Provo Utah and had seen the original painting of "Portrait of the Prophets" displayed in a gallery on campus. He told Doc that if he ever decided to paint an updated version of the painting, he would love to be able to own the original.

Before Brad accepted the commission price, he told Doc he would accept only it on one condition -- Doc must agree that when President Hinckley passes away that he would come to his home and add the next president of the church to the painting. The terms were agreed upon by both of them a Doc started work on the next version.

With this version of the painting Doc decided to introduce two new elements; the staircase leading to the sealing room above the Celestial Room of the Salt Lake Temple, and the higher ornate architectural features near the ceiling of the room. To do this he decided to make the original painting on a 48" by 48" canvas.

Doc's understanding that a square image was not standard and that framing copies of it would be costly for those who chose it, he decided to paint it in such a way that the image could be cropped to the more traditional frame sizes.