Mural portrays Columbus' divine mission
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A 50-foot, four-panel mural of Christopher Columbus was unveiled at the Los Angeles Temple Visitors Center Nov. 1 before an audience of about 700 people.
Painted in acrylics by LDS artist Merle Cunnington, the mural portrays four scenes: a portrait of the famous explorer, Columbus before the court of Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, Columbus on the high seas with his three ships, and the discovery of the Americas.The unveiling of the mural came in dramatic sequence as LDS actor Bob Hilton portrayed Columbus and the events leading up to his historic voyage in 1492. As each panel was unveiled, Brother Hilton acted out the events depicted. The program, entitled "Christopher Columbus - The Man and the Mission," was written by Joni Hilton, the actor's wife. Music for the program was provided by the Granada Hills Community Choir, directed by Maryann Mendenhall.
"I feel that we had a real visit with Christopher Columbus here at the visitors center," said Elder Keith W. Wilcox, center director, at the conclusion of the unveiling program, which occurred in front of the center. "Because of the size of the mural and the large frames supporting it, it was impossible to have the performance inside," he explained.
Brother Cunnington, a junior high history teacher, gave introductory remarks before the program. He told of his great interest in Christopher Columbus dating back to 1976. He read many books, studied 80 portraits of Columbus and spent an estimated 1,000 hours on the mural. But the thrust of his art work was to portray the spiritual motivation that Columbus felt in discovering America.
"Columbus was a man of destiny," he noted. "He was a religious man. He felt he had a mission to fulfill the ancient prophecies. First Nephi certainly gives validity to the belief Columbus had in his divine mission."
The artist said that early in 1991 he read a little-known book entitled "The Book of Prophecies," written by Columbus, that furthered motivated him.
"I was delighted when I heard of this new book. The book is a treasure, because it is what Columbus had to say about himself. Imagine the very words of Columbus, unknown to the world for so many generations, and now available for us to read today."
Brother Cunnington said that in the book Columbus quoted from a letter he wrote to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand in which he told that that he had prayed to the Lord about his desire to make the journey, and "with a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies. . . . This was the fire that burned within me when I came to visit your highnesses."
In his work, the artist said he wanted to depict the sense of awe Columbus felt when he realized that he was an instrument in God's hands in fulfilling ancient prophecy.
"I didn't want this year to go by without some Latter-day Saint portraying Columbus before the king and queen of Spain under the influence of the Holy Ghost."
Brother Cunnington, a member of the Woodland Hills Ward, Los Angeles California Canoga Park Stake, graduated from Utah State University in history and pursued three more years of college at Los Angeles State University and Pierce College in Los Angeles. In 1971, he completed three years of study at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. In addition, he established the West Valley School of Drawing in Canoga Park, Calif., and was a part-time art instructor at Ventura College in Ventura, Calif. He is a former newspaper editorial cartoonist and was a teacher in the Los Angeles School District. He taught cartooning at Cal State Northridge.
He has served in various Church teaching and leadership positions including a recent assignment on a high council. Currently, he is director of the stake family history center.
The unveiling program of his mural was attended by many non-members, who went inside the visitors center afterward. Elder Wilcox said, "This is a good beginning for our upcoming nightly Christmas programs."