My Sister in Carbonite – The Relief Art on the BYU Joseph Smith Building

A week ago I took my kids over to BYU campus for a short while to kill some time while my wife was at the doctor. Even though we have lived in Utah Country for as long as we’ve been married, we rarely make it over to BYU campus anymore.  Our kids know some parts of campus better than others.

Last week I took them to the Joseph Smith Building. We have a special connection to the Joseph Smith Building, and I wanted my kids to experience it.

The construction of the Joseph Smith Building was completed in 1991. At that time, my family lived across the street from brother Franz Johansen, who had been a BYU professor of fine art. He was a wonderful neighbor, and a very talented artist.

Many members of the church have seen Brother Johansen’s work without knowing his name.  He created the  large relief sculpture on the outside of the Church History Museum on West Temple in Salt Lake City. The doors of the Seattle and Washington D.C. Temples are his work. His sculptures have been seen in the Museum of Art Garden at BYU.  And he created the bas relief stone panels for the Harold B. Lee Library.

I remember one time when the bishopric of our ward had him give a presentation to all of the young men about art. We all went down to campus where he showed us a slide show of all kinds of artwork, and discussed why artists study anatomy. But that’s a different story.

Brother Johansen shared his talent with our family. I remember visiting the studio in his home on various occasions where he would tell us about what he was working on. Sometimes he would invite members of my family to model for him.

Which brings us back to the Joseph Smith Building. On the north-facing exterior of the Joseph Smith Building there is another of Brother Johansen’s works. And immortalized in that relief sculpture is my sister, who modeled for Brother Johansen when he was creating it.

We stopped outside of the Joseph Smith Building last week. “Why are we here?!” whined my second daughter, who was tired of walking in the hot August sun. “I want to show you something,” I explained. “Come look at this.”

I pointed to the relief artwork on the building. “That’s your aunt Becca,” I told them. We talked about Brother Johansen and how my sister had been the model. I snapped the picture included above, and we headed back to the car.

Innumerable people pass by the Joseph Smith Building. Most hardly notice. But I always stop to look.  It looks like my sister, preserved in carbonite like Han Solo from Star Wars, and hung on the wall.

You can read more about Brother Franz Johansen and look at a few of his works of art at the website of the Springville Art Museum.

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