Kyoung Dabell stands in front of a historic mural at BYU-Idaho. (Adam Forsgren, EastIdahoNews.com)
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REXBURG, Idaho — Two pieces of history from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have found a home at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg.
The church recently announced the opening of the new “Purpose of Life” display in the BYU-Idaho Center. The display features two “Purpose of Life” murals that played a major role in helping to take the message of the church into the world.
One of the murals was the part of the Mormon Pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. The other mural was painted for and displayed at the 1970 Osaka Japan World Expo. Estimates place the combined number of people who saw the murals at the two events at around 12.5 million. The murals played a pivotal role in declaring the church’s message to the world.
The mural’s story began in the 1960s when U.S. church leaders decided to take advantage of an upcoming opportunity.
“Back in 1964, a few of the eastern states’ church leaders knew the World’s Fair that would be held in New York,” Jacob Spori Art Gallery curator Kyoung Dabell told EastIdahoNews.com. “They thought it would be a great opportunity for the church to proclaim the gospel to the world. This would be the perfect opportunity for a massive population to come and learn about the church.”
Thanks in part to the “Purpose of Life” display at the Mormon Pavilion, the church began to shake the perception that it was only a “Utah Church” and came to be seen as an organization with a worldwide reach.
“This is one of the most influential pieces in modern church history that younger generations aren’t thinking about or that well-informed about,” Dabell said. “These two expos were times when the church turned around perceptions of the church to the world.”
The Japanese “Purpose of Life” display had a similar effect on many visitors to the Osaka World Expo. Together the two murals changed the way the church spreads its message.
“This was a time when the church platformed how they do missionary work today,” Dabell said. “Using media, using missionaries as ushers to explain precisely the key points of gospel principles. Those patterns were set at those two expos.”
“It was mind-blowing as I was doing research and I realized what these two expos did for modern church history, even today” she added. “Not too long ago, (Church President Russell M.) Nelson introduced our new church logo which has the ‘Christus’ statue that was first introduced at the New York World’s Fair. Sixty years later, that very symbolic ‘Christus’ statue became our church logo that goes throughout the globe. I can’t think any other way than that all these things had to happen by divine purpose.”
Visitors can see the “Purpose of Life” display, along with many other beautiful works of art, on the main floor of the BYU-I Center on the BYU-Idaho campus in Rexburg. The building is open Monday through Saturday from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. Dabell hopes many people will take advantage of the opportunity to see all these pieces for themselves.
“These murals will hopefully touch their souls,” she said. “Hopefully, it’s a place for people to come fortify their faith, strengthen their testimony and enrich their lives through this display.”