Kenneth William Packer
Using Stories to Inspire Art
About 20 years ago, Kenneth William Packer felt he should create a sculpture based on a story his father, Boyd K. Packer, told in a General Conference meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The story was about a bishop who left his plow and horses in a field whenever anyone needed help. Packer asked his father for permission to retell the story in sculpture form. The elder Packer, himself an amateur artist, said he also wanted to recreate the story but as a painting.
“For one month in the summer, we worked side by side,” Packer says. “It was very fulfilling not only artistic-wise but also for building our relationship.”
The resulting bronze sculpture and acrylic painting are both called “The Bishop’s Team” and each depicts the two horses and plow described in the talk. This unique father-son experience stemmed from Packer’s passion for using stories to inspire his artwork. In fact, many of his sculptures are based on a story, often one that involves sacrifice and service.
“I do a lot of sketching and build a file on a story I think needs to be told,” he says.
Themes of Sacrifice and Service
Packer’s work focuses primarily on Western themes and historical stories. From portraying workers cutting lumber for the Tabernacle at Temple Square organ pipes to depicting stonecutters quarrying granite for the Salt Lake Temple, his sculptures often illustrate accounts from his pioneer heritage.
“Even though there have been a lot of Western artists and a lot of Church of Jesus Christ historical artists, there are still stories left untold,” he says. “Some of my sculptures I do just because I need to tell those stories.”
A variety of experiences contributed to Packer’s artistic life, beginning with his early years when his parents gave him art supplies and encouraged him to create.
“All my life I’ve been drawing and playing with clay,” he says.
Time spent as a youth at his grandparents’ ranch in Wyoming gave him valuable insight into Western characters, as did his exposure to cowboy artists while studying at Brigham Young University.
And finally, his professional work as the exhibit designer at BYU’s Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum honed his ability to accurately portray animals and create visual interest.
“You have to get a person’s attention so they want to view an exhibit and learn the scientific story,” he says. “Just a silhouette can draw you from across the room.”
Packer uses those same design principles to generate interest in his sculptures. Recently retired from the museum, Packer now has more time to dedicate to his artwork. He plans to continue telling stories through sculpture, including depicting accounts from Pipe Springs National Monument and Cove Fort.
“It’s satisfying when someone appreciates the art and feels something positive from it,” he says. “But the creative process is a reward in and of itself.”