It's Good to Have Heroes. Read About One of Mine in the New Anthology, "Blossom as the Cliffrose"
I recently came across a long-ago notebook entry in which I named Minerva Kohlhepp Teichert as one of my heroes. I have no memory of making that entry, but my admiration for Teichert—a renowned artist who died in 1976—eventually led to the essay that appears in an anthology recently published by Torrey House Press. Blossom as the Cliffrose: Mormon Legacies and the Beckoning Wild is an eclectic mixture of poetry and prose gathered and edited by Karin Anderson and Danielle Beazer Dubrasky. Contributors are all in some way “inheritors of Latter-day Saint traditions,” whether or not practicing the faith, and all share how that heritage “shapes our personal relationship with landscape” (as quoted from the book jacket). My essay explores the way Teichert’s life and art has spoken to me, just as it has spoken to generations of Westerners and Latter-day Saints.
Why is Minerva Teichert a hero of mine? First of all, of course, I admire her art. In her own quixotic way, she captured the heart of the American West, and the people in it—from pioneer wagons teetering above Hole-in-the-Rock to indigenous boys breaking their ponies. She loved the land, and she loved the people who lived in the land. I admire the way she did not doubt the importance and worth of her art, even when it was not valued by others. (Her paintings now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. But even now, does dollar value really measure their “worth”?) I admire Teichert’s perseverance, and her life-long commitment to her craft, even when she could not find a buyer, even when humiliations came her way. I admire that her art was integral to the life she lived on her Wyoming ranch with her husband, children, and grandchildren. In 1942 she wrote: “I mended undies for dad and o’alls [overalls] for Johnny. We went to Kemmerer and I got the board for my painting and some material for Hamilton’s shower . . . ” Art was part of the fabric of her life. She painted in her living room, then went out to milk the cows. I admire that she transmuted her faith into art that rises far above sentimentality or dogma. I admire her faith, period. She had faith in herself, faith in her family, faith in her art and faith in her God. She was almost sixty when she painted the giant murals in the Manti Temple, and was suffering from vision loss caused by lead poisoning from the paints she used. “Pray for me,” she wrote her daughter. “I need it. I want health, eye-sight, and inspiration.” Like so many others, I cannot help but be inspired by her.
Thank you, Danielle, Karin and Torrey House Press, for including my essay in your wonderful collection! I have loved reading the work of my fellow-contributors. The collection is truly varied, filled with joy and longing, remorse and hope. As so many voices affirm, saving the fragile ecosystems of the West (natural and human) will require our ongoing vigilance, activism and love.
Here are a few links for more information about Blossom as a Cliffrose.