My brother, Gary, is my favorite artist whether it be western art or religious art. Sure, I’m a bit prejudicedhow could I not be! Gary and I were the two middle kids in our family, sandwiched between our high-achieving engineer brother, Jack, and our super-musician sister, Ann. Gary and I had a very congenial relationship. I was four years older than him and felt a bit protective of him in grade school, always making sure he didn’t miss the school bus each afternoon that would return us to our farm home in Vale, Oregon (pop. 1,100). Our parents are Jacob and Ruth Kapp.
Dad was a crop farmer, a dairyman and a cattle buyer through our growing up years, and I watched as Gary dutifully assisted him in all of these areas, though I sensed that these occupations did not figure into his long-range life plans. However, working with farmers, cowboys and cattle undoubtedly gave him an authentic background and fascination for his future work in western art.
There were no art classes available to Gary in our small schools, but with encouragement from an eighth grade teacher he became an amateur cartoonist, imitating others’ works. He also enjoyed drawing clever posters and cartoon sayings when he ran successfully for 8th grade president and later as sophomore class president. At this same time he became enchanted with some of the Arnold Friberg paintings he saw in The Children’s Friend magazine, which he said touched his soul and made him think, If only I could do that for a living!
He began drawing during church meetingscartoons, monsters, machines, tractorsloving the details. The first portrait I remember him drawing was of his high school girlfriend Nancy, and I definitely took notice and started to think of my brother as an artist. As a senior in high school he was asked to provide artwork for the section dividers and the cover for the yearbook.
BYU and Mission
Gary enrolled at BYU in a basic engineering course, but he also took two art classes, where he was surprised to find they were advanced classes. A student in those classes took him under his wing and helped him understand figure drawing, an important part of his formal art education. After his freshman year, he accepted a call to serve in the Great Lakes Mission, which included Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. He mostly set his art aside for two years but occasionally visited an Art Academy near his apartment, after which he bought colored pencils and started drawing portraits of missionaries on P-days.
At the end of his mission he asked permission to be released two weeks early to enroll in a summer algebra class at BYU. His mission president drew two parallel lines of a continuum (representing an early release or a normal release date) each of which could lead to a different end result. Pointing to the early release he said his life would take its normal course, but then pointing to the normal release date he posed the question, “But what if your future wife is on this continuum?” Gary served his full time and even one day longer, so he could baptize a brother he had taught, who was travelling to the mission home so Gary could baptize him.
A Tender Mercy
Elder Kapp’s new, revised travel schedule took him to Chicago where he would have a five-hour layover. He called my in-laws, Rolland and Miriam Perry, who lived in the area and they and their two daughters met his train, provided a picnic lunch and spent a few hours with him. During this lengthy layover Gary’s interest in their youngest daughter Diane (my husband’s sister) was rekindled. They had first met at our wedding when they were 16 and 12 and he had felt a spark of interest even then. When she arrived at BYU in the fall, their courtship began in earnest. Unfortunately, in mid year, Diane’s arm was severely burned in an accident and she had to return home to Chicago to receive skin grafts over many painful months. But after this unfortunate hiatus she returned to BYU where their courtship resumed and marriage followed. I’ll bet the mission president was smiling!
A Change of Direction
After his mission, Gary was planning to enroll in engineering again. He knew he needed a joband fast! He said a prayer and then went to the Clark Media Building to apply for a job as a projectionist. But he walked in the wrong door (either by chance or grand design). He said he was there to apply for their job opening, and was told that they would need to see his portfolio. “What is a portfolio?” he asked. When told that it was a collection of his drawings, he stayed up all night drawing as many cartoons as he could and turned them in the next morning. He was hired as a cartoonist, drawing a filmstrip series for the Indian Seminary.
He knew in his heart that he wanted to be an artistnow there was no doubt. Walking in the wrong door literally changed the direction of his life. He changed his major to art. He worked with many fine artists while working there, some from Disney, others from New York, and gradually he was doing more advanced filmstrips for the Art Department that was then housed under the football stadium. Three years later he graduated with a B.S. degree in Art, and was moved to the Art Department in BYU’s Motion Picture Studio where he worked for five years painting backgrounds for movies, a temple film, and more sophisticated filmstrips for the Book of Mormon, Old Testament and Church History. He continued graduate studies in art for two more years.
A Challenge and a Blessing
In 1976 Gary built a beautiful new home in Provo for their growing family, which contained a spacious new art studio. He also bought a new car. Soon after, he learned that the BYU Motion Picture Studio was laying off two-thirds of their employees, top to bottom, including him. This was a time of important decisions for them, as they prayed to know whether to look for other work or take the uncertain step of becoming an independent artist. They felt the impression to go independent.
Western art was red hot at this time. Gary said, “anything with a horse in it” was selling. He found a few good western galleries interested in his work in Scottsdale, AZ; Dallas, TX; and Jackson Hole, WY, and started painting landscapes and western artcowboys, Indians, Horsesfull time. He loved this type of art and had considerable success at it.
Diane was a full partner in their art business, managing every aspect of it and becoming his most valuable critic. But western art cycled, and fell in and out of favor through the years. Gary said that fasting, prayer and paying a full tithing resulted in many small miracles that carried them through the hardest times. Seven difficult pregnancies, including one full-term stillborn daughter, were extremely challenging for Gary and Diane and I marveled at their faith and reliance on the Lord.
Their six living children are a monument to their faith-filled lives.
Our music business was paralleling Gary’s art business and I asked if he would paint a portrait of Christ and of Joseph Smith as cover pictures for two of our music projects. I loved the result, as did countless other people, and prints were made of these two portraits which Gary said helped to support their five sons on missions. Both have been published in Church magazines and are displayed in many homes throughout the church. We often see them hanging in the offices of bishops and stake presidents as we give fireside programs throughout the church. The portrait of Joseph Smith hangs in Carthage Jail. Gary’s heart was definitely in creating church art. He also began doing illustrations for Church magazines more and more.
Inspired by the Words of a Prophet
Hanging in Gary’s art studio is a powerful and motivating quote by President Ezra Taft Benson: “I have a vision of artists putting into film, drama, literature, music and paintings great themes and great characters from the Book of Mormon.” (October, 1988)
In Gary’s own words: “Perhaps the most spiritual experience in my work came about twenty-five years ago, when I was painting Western art to support my family, yet felt an overwhelming desire to paint scenes from the Book of Mormon. Diane and I had prayed and fasted that a way would be opened for me to do this and still support my family financially. One night after sleeping for several hours, I suddenly awoke with a vision’ of a painting of the conversion of Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah. It was so vivid that I hopped out of bed, went down to my studio and sketched it out in detail. Then I returned to bed.
“The next morning, a woman came to my door saying that she and her husband (Alan and Karen Ashton) wanted to commission a large religious painting. When I asked what she wanted me to paint, she said they had been thinking about the conversion of Alma and the sons of Mosiah. Stunned, I showed her the sketches I had made in the night. I knew then that the Lord would provide a way for me to paint those Book of Mormon scenes that meant so much to me.” (1)
Also shown below is “The Power of God Was Upon Alma and Amulek,” a second commission from the Ashtons.
Another great blessing came to Gary when he attracted the notice of Texas art collector David B. Larsen who, over a decade’s time, commissioned him to do eighteen major Book of Mormon paintings. While David had previously commissioned works by a number of LDS artists, he said, “Nothing has been so passionately all-consuming for me as my decade-long odyssey with Gary Kapp to bring the Book of Mormon to life, particularly the events of the Savior’s ministry to the American continent.” (2)
Gary says that without David’s financial patronage over a period of many years, most of his Book of Mormon paintings would never have been done. While both men were serving as bishops during this time, they worked together deciding which scenes from the Book of Mormon needed to be painted. The results are inspiring. As President Spencer W. Kimball once said, “It is usually through another person that God answers our prayers.”
One of my favorites among Gary’s paintings, “That Ye May Know,” was published on the cover of the October 2011 Ensign, a special Book of Mormon Issue. This painting depicts the Savior appearing to the people in America and inviting them to come forward to see and feel the nail prints in His hands. Gary said of this painting, “As I was kneeling on the floor putting the finishing touches on the bottom of this painting, I had a very moving experience. Some of the figures in the painting were almost life-sized, and when I looked up, it was as if I had become one of the people in the painting looking up at Christ. Tears came to my eyes as I felt myself part of that sacred occasion.” (3)
Gary’s religious art hangs in the home-museum of David Larsen, and has hung in the Visitors’ Center at the Sacred Grove, the Washington, D.C. Temple, Mt. Timpanogos Temple and various Church History sites. His works have been published scores of times in church magazines.
A Special Commission
Years ago, feeling the lack of a Gary Kapp painting of the First Vision, I commissioned my brother to do such a painting. It was a joy to observe his process, and the painting is indisputably my favorite painting of this sacred event. It appeared on the cover of the Ensign magazine in May of 2000 and was recently purchased by the Church for the Mt. Timpanogos Temple where both Gary’s and Diane’s, and our own married children attend.
A Final Word
I feel a special bond with my brother Gary. Because he and I married siblings, the bond is even stronger as their children seem like an extension of our own family. In the beginning of my music career Gary painted charming pictures for the covers of our CDs and songbooks. In recent years, Covenant published a book of his art and my music, Another Witness, Music and Art That Testify of Christ, which was the fulfillment of a desire we had to combine our talents.
For decades, one of my favorite pastimes has been visiting his studio to see what he is currently working on, and seeing paintings stacked everywhere awaiting shipment to art galleries. I can feel the magic that happens there! I have always loved his Western paintings, but there was a new feeling in his studio when he began to paint religious art. Many of these large paintings would be on his easel for months as he worked to perfect them and the feeling in his studio changed to something I can only describe as reverence. His most recent religious commissions have been “Who Touched Me?” (New Testament), “The Tree of Life” (Book of Mormon) and “Tarry a Little Longer” (Book of Mormon).
For over a decade, Gary and his wife have been facing a difficult challenge.
Diane, a highly accomplished pianist, flutist and sportswoman who used to climb Mt. Timpanogos regularly, ski the slopes of the local ski resorts enthusiastically, and golf with her husband regularly, gradually became invalid from a severe back problem which causes her great pain and has essentially confined her to bed. To say we hurt for them is an understatement. Her pain is constant and makes it impossible for her to do all the things she has loved and excelled at in her life; his pain is seeing her hurting so and feeling helpless to relieve her pain. Together, they meet this trial with such grace and dedication to each other that it may be the greatest lesson they will teach their family and all who love them.
Gary is still painting religious commissions and also some western art. He can hear from his studio when Diane needs him and goes to her room to give the needed help. He has learned to do many things that were not natural to him: meals, laundry, housekeeping, shopping, etc. When I ask him how he is handling things, his response is always, “It’s my pleasure to care for her.” The tapestry of love that he is weaving through this trial may be his greatest masterpiece of all.
Janice Kapp Perry: Composer, author, lecturer
(1) Another Witness: Music and Art That Testify of Christ, Janice Kapp Perry and Gary L. Kapp,
Covenant Communications, 2009, p. 19.
(2) Ibid. p. 81.
(3) Steven Kapp Perry, Another Witness, “Cricket and Seagull Fireside Chat,” October, 2009.