Del Parson grew up in Rexburg, Idaho where his father was an art professor at Ricks College and his mother taught second grade. His father often took his nine children on painting excursion campouts. He found his father’s love of art to be contagious, as did two of his brothers, who became artists as well.
After earning his MFA from BrighamYoung University, Parson became a gallery and portrait artist. In 1978, a tragedy changed his life. His wife and daughter were killed in a car accident. He felt the Spirit of God helping him through the tough times and began to paint religious subjects to give others the sense of hope that he found and to share with them his love of life.
Often he will visualize ideas for paintings. After making a list, one idea will stand out more strongly than the others. Like any creative endeavor, painting is hard work, and a major oil painting can take at least a month to complete.
“When you feel inspired,” says Parson, “a painting takes on a life of its own. When that happens, the experience is pure joy. It is moments like these that an artist loves best.”
Parson now lives in Utah with his wife and six children. His paintings of Christ evoke a strong emotional response from viewers, and both his religious and historical paintings have received numerous regional and national awards. Parson’s work has been exhibited at the Allied Artists of America, National Academy of Design, Knickerbocker Artist, American Artists Professional League, and the Amarillo Rotary Show.
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I grew up with art. My fondest memories are of going on painting trips with my father. He was an art professor at Ricks College and would take his students on camping trips to paint landscapes. While he and the students painted, I would hike and explore. Even our family vacations focused on art. If we came across a particularly beautiful scene while we were traveling, my father would stop the car, grab his easel, jump out and begin painting. Although he never encouraged his children to become artists, his profound love for both art and nature became imprinted upon my heart and mind at an early age.
However, while growing up, I didn’t even consider being an artist myself. Although my notebooks were full of drawings, I finished high school without taking a single art class. As a college freshman, I majored in animal biology. I loved nature and thought I might become a game biologist or forest ranger. But, my secret dream was to become a professional bull rider, and I joined the college rodeo team.
On one occasion, the coach assigned me to paint a large sign advertising an upcoming rodeo. I was very disappointed with the assignment. I didn’t want to be an artist back then, and I knew the only reason I was given that assignment was because my father was an artist. To my surprise, I enjoyed painting the sign much more than getting bucked off the horses or trampled by bulls. With a little encouragement from my father, I enrolled in a couple of art classes.
Painting seemed to come naturally for me, and I instantly became fascinated with it. However, while my artistic skills improved, I struggled with my spirituality. I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do with my life and ended up getting a job building fences in the desert. It was grueling work, and I felt like I was being punished. I was far from civilization and, for lack of something better to do, I began reading the Bible in my spare time. I ended up reading it from cover to cover. I especially enjoyed reading about Jesus Christ and began to develop a testimony of Him. The Bible had a profound effect on me, and its influence gave me a desire to shape up my life.
I decided to continue my education, and I enrolled at BYU. I went there with a firm commitment that I was going to be a good person. I continued taking art classes even though I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it.
One night I went to a dance on campus and saw the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Although she seemed to be with another guy, I asked her to dance. Her name was Joycel. We hit it off and soon began dating. It wasn’t long before I realized that I was in love and wanted to marry her. As I started thinking marriage, my future terrified me. I thought, “How am I going to support a family as an artist?” My father was an art professor, but I didn’t know a single person who made a living selling paintings.
I felt that I needed some guidance from the Lord, so I decided to get a patriarchal blessing. Tears began rolling down my cheeks as I felt the power of God. I couldn’t believe I was receiving such a wonderful blessing, especially being as I was, a bit of a rascal. The thing that impressed me most was the fact that it dealt with art. It said that art would be a joy to me in my life. More importantly, it said that I would teach the ways of the Lord and influence many lives through artwork. I felt that I had received my mission call. Right then I knew I was going to be an artist and in my heart, I knew that I would paint for the church.
After receiving my blessing, I asked Joycel to marry me. Although I was getting more religious, I didn’t think I was quite ready for a temple marriage. Joycel simply said, “Del, you don’t have to get married in the temple, but I’m getting married in the temple.” So, we got married in the temple.
After I finished school, I landed a job teaching art for grades K-12 in Wyoming. It was actually a wonderful job. I really liked it. The only problem was that I felt that if I continued teaching, I would never become a great artist. After talking it over with my wife, we decided that we would make it in the art world or starve to death.
I quit my job and boy, we weren’t far from starving. I would do paintings, but they just wouldn’t sell. We moved around, living in three or four states searching for a place that I could market my art. Eventually, I started making a living by sitting in galleries sketching people’s faces as they stopped by.
As my skills improved, the lines grew longer. I became a student of the human face. Day after day as I sketched, I tried to find and capture on paper the subtle characteristics that make up a person’s countenance.
One day my father called and notified me about an opening at the Church Office Building for a full-time illustrator. I thought it would be perfect. My patriarchal blessing would become fulfilled and I could get paid for it. I grabbed a stack of paintings to show as a portfolio and headed to Salt Lake. I went directly to the personnel director.
“I’m here to inquire about the full-time illustrator job.”
The director explained that I had been misinformed. The job had never existed. However, after looking at my dejected face and the stack of paintings under my arm, he headed me to the art directors. He said they could give me a good critique. After looking through my paintings, the art directors said, “if you keep it up you might become a good artist some day.”
They left the room, and I felt that I had traveled there for nothing. I gathered my paintings together and just as I was about to leave, a man came back into the room. He turned out to be the art director for the Ensign magazine. He said he needed a couple of illustrations for upcoming articles and offered me the job. Later the art director for the Friend magazine offered me a couple more painting jobs.
“By the way,” they said, “we need these paintings in about a week and a half.”
I painted day and night until they were done. Never before had I worked so hard. I took them back to the editors who seemed to like them. As it turned out, I began doing paintings for the church quite regularly.
I later asked my father where he had heard of the illustrator job and why he had told me about it. It’s kind of weird, but he didn’t even remember calling me. Take it for what it is, but I think that the whole thing was remarkable.
It’s a good thing I didn’t ask how much I’d get paid for those first paintings or I probably wouldn’t have worked so hard. I was very grateful for the opportunity to paint for the Church, but those occasional jobs just weren’t paying the bills.
At the time, western art was very popular, and I started doing westerns. I was able to incorporate my love for nature with my love of art. It was unbelievable. When people looked at my art, instead of saying, “That’s a nice painting,” they would ask, “How much is it?” I ended up painting westerns for thirteen years. That’s how I made a living while I was painting for the Church from time to time. We felt blessed and taken care of. It turned out to be a really good experience for me.
At one point, after I had started doing paintings for the Church, I was asked to do a painting that became precious to me. It was a painting of the spirit world for the Ensign. The art director suggested I depict those in the spirit world as full grown adults, around twenty-five years old. She added, “Other than that we’ve never been there, so you’re pretty much open. Paint whatever you feel is right.”
When painting, I try to envision being there. I thought to myself, “If I were to die and enter the spirit world, what would I love to see more than anything?” I quickly imagined my wife welcoming me in. That would be heaven to me.
So I decided to paint my wife greeting me as I entered into the spirit world. In those days I had people sit and pose while I painted. One day while she was sitting there posing, Joycel asked, “What would you do if I were to die before you do?”
“Why are you asking that,” I responded, “is it because we’re doing this painting?”
She said that she just had the feeling she would die before me. We began discussing her dying and what would happen. Finally, I told here that I’d probably remarry and that was the end of the conversation.
One morning, about a year after finishing that painting, an Indian placement student staying at our home missed the school bus. My wife volunteered to take her to school. She also took our young children along so I could get some work done. At the time, we had three children, a five-year-old girl, Chancy, a three-year-old boy, Broc, and a nine month old baby girl, Sara.
Joycel was gone longer than expected, and I began thinking it was a little strange. Just as I had reassured myself that she had gone shopping, the telephone rang. It was the police dispatcher notifying me that an officer would be at my door shortly. Soon an officer came to the door and said, “I have some bad news. Your wife has just been killed in a car accident.”
Nothing could have hit me harder. Here was the woman that I worshipped, who was with me through some unbelievably tough times, and who supported me all the way. I remember a time she posed for about three months for a painting – hour after hour sitting there staring at a brick wall in our apartment. She was the perfect wife and mother of my children.
Now she was dead! I almost collapsed. I wanted to be alone. I left the officer standing in the doorway and went in the other room and wept. After a while, the officer said, “Hey, pull yourself together. You have some very hurt children.”
I don’t remember how I got to the hospital, but upon arrival, I was taken to see my wife. I remember seeing her lying there. It was just a lifeless body – she was gone. I was taken to our children. Two were unconscious, and the third had a broken leg. Of the whole experience, this was the most difficult thing for me, seeing my children there, wiggling, unconsciously jerking all over the place. It was extremely painful, the most horrible experience I have ever had.
I gave my children priesthood blessings, blessing my five-year-old Chancy, the most seriously injured, that she might live. I knew at the time it was the wrong thing to do, but it was what I wanted so badly. I had just lost my precious wife, and here was a child whom I loved more than anything – I just wanted her to live.
My father came to see me and when he arrived I knew I had to give Chancy another blessing. This time I blessed her, “thy will be done.” She died a few hours later.
The death of my wife and child was the most terrible experience of my life. But unexpectedly, it was during this time that I also had the most wonderful experience of my life. After Chancy died, I left the hospital alone. As I was walking, everything suddenly started becoming golden – like a diving light. I felt love – just pure love. I felt as though the Holy Ghost had wrapped his arms around me. I’ve never felt more love in my life. My whole body was on fire, and to this day, I’ve never felt happier.
The Holy Ghost was there for me. He’s called the Comforter, and I know why that’s true. For a period of time it just seemed like I was filled with the Spirit of God, and I was taught many things. Many questions I had always had about the church were plainly answered. But, more than anything, I came to know the Comforter and the great love that the Lord has for me. I came to know the pure love of Christ.
I also realized how grateful I was for the temple. My temple marriage meant more to me than anything in the whole world, and I tried to keep the covenants I had made. I thought of the painting of Joycel in the spirit world and imagined that someday it will be real, just as I have painted it.
A short time after the death of Joycel, I met an amazing woman named Lynette. She had a very strong testimony, and I felt that she would be a wonderful mother. We fell in love and got married. We have now been married for almost 40 years and have had four children together.
I continued doing paintings for the Church. One of the greatest opportunities came when I was asked to do a portrait of the Savior. Although the project was difficult, I felt that the hand of the Lord was present in the painting, and it turned out.
Today, as I continue to paint, I think of the wonderful experiences of my life. I remember my patriarchal blessing and the times I’ve strongly felt the Spirit. I remember the great happiness I’ve felt, the pure love of Christ. These are the emotions I search for. These are the indescribable qualities I try to express in my paintings.