Today we make an announcement about a new sculpture park, on the order of the ones in Europe, to celebrate the Book of Mormon. Meridian readers are the first to know.
America is a covenant land, whose promise has been declared in the Book of Mormon since ancient times by prophets who saw our day. Yet, there is an irony.
Europe has her magnificent sculpture gardens, with heroic statues of Greek gods, but until now America has had very few places to commemorate the exceptional promise she bears, nor have there been sculptures on this scale to etch the lives of prophets into the hearts of viewers.
Now, this is changing, and we have a “monumental” announcement to make. Artist and sculptor Steven Lloyd Neal, is creating a 7+-acre sculpture park called “Monument of the Americas and Garden” which will feature more than 50 bronze sculptures, many of them heroic size or even three times life size and featuring multiple figures, along with a series of expansive bas-relief panels that tell the story of the Book of Mormon. These will be placed among waterfalls, manicured gardens, pools, walkways, flowers and ornamental trees all celebrating the Book of Mormon and honoring America’s founding.
All of the statues have been created in maquette form in the past many years and the first three enlarged works are ready to install.
The park will have an art studio and visitors’ center which can be used for juried art shows or wedding receptions and social events. There will be an amphitheater for summer concerts and youth outings.
For Neal, it has been a vision and labor of twenty-five years of sculpting and planning, and the goal is that visitors will be moved to lift their eyes and “always remember” the divine legacy this represents.
The site for the sculpture park is in Utah at a place that cannot yet be disclosed, but beginning work on the actual site is planned for 2020. The various statues in the park design have been created, some of them already in the massive scale they will assume in the park.
Get a glimpse of two artists at work in this video, which gives a preview of Steven Lloyd Neal creating the statues, while Jenny Oaks Baker plays the violin to I Stand All Amazed. This video comes with a promise that you will be both moved and excited about what is transpiring.
The Center of the Park
Here is a sneak peek of the park, though Meridian will run additional articles giving close up views of many more sculptures.
An 18-foot tall bronze sculpture of the Savior is the center of the garden and His teachings are the central theme. He stands, beckoning to “his sheep”—the people of the eastern and western hemisphere, personified by the old world type of lamb He holds, and the baby alpaca at His right side. This figure, lit up at night, will be visible at night.
The statue stands astride a waterfall that cascades three stories over a massive sculpture of the Gold Plates. Representing the destiny of the Book of Mormon to fill the earth, water courses over the golden leaves and falls into a second pool where a model of the world sits, its continents outlined on the globe.
Corresponding to the east and west hemisphere, sculpted life-size bronze figures adoring the Savior are placed at each side of the lower pool. From a distant vantage, the figures take the shape of large adoring hands, with the figures becoming the fingers.
Title of Liberty
At the other end of the central walkway, across from the waterfall, is a colossal presentation of Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty, which captures the essence of the promise of plenty, protection and freedom of this covenant land. It is portrayed in multiple figures. The Title of Liberty, which Moroni holds, is engraved in high relief, “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and peace, our wives and our children,” familiar lines to us from the Book of Mormon.
At a dire time in the Revolutionary War, George Washington gave a nearly identical speech to urge his soldiers to re-enlist when they were ready to go home at the end of their duty. Washington knew if they left, his army would be decimated and that would be the end of the American Revolution.
This sculpture does not just capture the Moroni story alone, but the covenant destiny of America. Seen from one angle, the Title of Liberty becomes the American flag. Seen from another the Title of Liberty is hoisted on a pole held in place by soldiers, just as they did at Iwo Jima.
Moroni, with his bold flag of liberty, stands astride the dragon of tyranny. Around him is Washington holding an infant—the young nation of the United States. The infant is delivered in to his hands by Lady Liberty, as depicted on top of the Capitol dome in Washington D.C.
Soldiers from different eras, including Civil War, World War II and Desert Storm, represent the countless numbers of Americans who have been willing to give their all in the defense of liberty. Women soldiers are represented as well as men.
Sculptures and Panels Portray the Story
Because there are so many sculptures, we can’t give you enough of a taste in one article, but those dramatic moments from the Book of Mormon from King Benjamin’s address to Christ healing the sick are each portrayed.
The central walkway of the Monument will be lined with 20 bronze panels, each measuring ten by seven feet, and mounted on granite/cement frames. They are arranged chronologically with notable stories from the Book of Mormon.
Some of these are created by sculptor, Michael Hall. There is also room for future generations to add more panels.
Portrayed here is Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, the treacherous voyage across boiling seas to the Promised Land, Alma and the sons of Mosiah being visited by an angel, the Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s burying their weapons and so many more. The message of the Book of Mormon is intertwined through some of the most compelling stories of history, and many are portrayed here.
The Background of Steven Lloyd Neal
So what inspired this great work? Many Latter-day Saints know Dr. Neal’s work already. His 8-foot long painting of Lehi’s Tree of Life has been in The Church Museum of History and Art as a centerpiece for 31 years. He has done a dozen other paintings depicting scenes from the Book of Mormon. His giant monument to the Mormon Battalion is at the entry to This is the Place Heritage Park.
He said, “All children draw pictures, beginning from when they are toddlers. They stop drawing somewhere around seven or eight years of age when they perceive that their drawings are not very sophisticated and begin to be embarrassed to show their work. I just never stopped drawing.”
By the time he was in high school, he was already thinking big. He cut five boards 10’ by 5’ put them together like a folded accordion, and did his first oil painting. He said that once he had made this huge canvas, he wondered what to paint on it, and since he had always loved birds, he decided to paint 40 or 50 life-size birds with a jungle background.
It took him two years to paint it, and he said, “I remember being all offended, when my mother would say, ‘Steve come get your bird boards and take them somewhere else.’ I still have this painting, and the only place we can keep it is in the garage.”
After his mission to Japan, an event happened that changed his life when Elder Boyd K. Packer came to speak at the 12-stake fireside at Brigham Young University.
“As I was sitting in the Marriott Center and listening to his talk, I felt as though he was speaking directly to me. One line in particular struck me very deeply. He said that the message of the Restoration had not been depicted in music or in art sufficiently, and though there were many great artists in the Church they were pursuing more worldy topics.
“He thought maybe that those in the Church who considered their talents to be barely adequate would perhaps be the ones to rise to that task.
“The Spirit touched my heart deeply that day. I made a solemn covenant that if the Lord would bless my talents that I would spend all of it, and time and money as well, depicting the message of the Restoration—particularly the Book of Mormon.”
It was while Dr. Neal was in a surgical residency after medical school that the large mural of Lehi’s dream came to him.
“The scene came to me in a flash,” he said. “I wanted to look back down the rod of iron to where we came from—then across the chasm to the great and spacious building, but that would make the people very small and difficult to see from the viewer’s vantage. This necessitated the painting be very large. I wouldn’t recommend to anyone to paint such a monster while doing a surgical residency, but that is how it happened.
“I remember holding surgical retractors in the operating room as an intern looking at the white tile wall and imagining how the painting would look, sketching it mentally.”
The painting took about two years to finish, about the same time as the first international Church art competition happened. He entered, but “I wasn’t going to go to the opening ceremonies, but somebody from headquarters called me up and said I should come because I got a prize. It turned out it was the grand prize,” he said.
This would have been a good enough accomplishment for a life time, but Dr. Neal’s life was again drastically changed while attending the Portland temple in 1995 where he had “a deeply moving spiritual experience.
He said, “Strong images came to my mind—what I would describe as vestiges of a vision—along with the interpretation of an obscure passage in my patriarchal blessing which I had never understood before. In my heart and mind, the Lord offered me another chapter in my covenant that I had previously made to use my time and talents to depict the message of the Restoration.”
It was a series of sculptures on the Book of Mormon for a sculptural park.
He said, “This sculptural rendering I was perceiving was of the Book of Mormon, recording the Savior’s dealing with the remnants of Israel in this land, and was to be the ‘light I should hold up where it would be seen afar’. This the Lord would ‘give in the season and in the hour of need’. It was a big assignment. And one the Lord had waited to give to me until I was 42 years old, waiting until He saw my efforts in fulfilling the promises I had made from almost 20 years previously.”
From that moment on, Dr. Neal, has devoted every effort toward this work, 25 years of effort. He immediately began revising the sculptures he had already created. “They weren’t good enough for a sculptural park, so I redid them. I also made multiple attempts at creating a central figure of the Savior for the monument illustrating the scripture, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold.”
“I went to Italy multiple times to learn how to carve marble and carved out of stone as well as bronze.”
Anyone who knows Dr. Neal, the plastic surgeon, also knows that he spends every moment, even on vacation, fashioning pieces and parts of these sculptures. Since he received what he considers to be a divine commission to do this park, he has never ceased his labors.
In a world that is so quickly running away from the gospel, Dr. Neal hopes this park will be an affirmation of all that is true and good. We will give Meridian readers updates as they are available.