Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Whole Year Through: Improvement Era, 1963

The Whole Year Through: Improvement Era, 1963

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 02, 2010

I had planned a post this morning on the art of Arnold Friberg, based on his own description of what he intended to do with those iconic Book of Mormon paintings — but the day just isn’t cooperating and I feel as scrambled as the the covers used on the 1963 issues of The Improvement Era: We’ve got paintings and photographs; portraits, buildings, and calendar art; antiquities and then-current events. If you can discern a pattern, please let me know!

Meanwhile, I’ll work on getting a pattern back in my day and post about the artwork tomorrow morning — the good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.




From a painting by Norman Rockwell


Pioneer chapel, Granite, Utah
Watercolor by Ed Maryon, University of Utah






A juniper in southern Utah




Jackson Lake, near the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park




Polynesian Cultural Center, Laie, Hawaii
Just prior to its dedication


First Presidency: Hugh B. Brown, N. Eldon Tanner, David O. McKay






  1. Wow. What an eclectic collection. I didn’t recognize Pres Tanner on the first cover without his glasses, and I can’t quite decipher the identity of the second man.

    And, they put the conference talks in the June and December magazines? I guess that would deal with the editing and production delay that occurs when the conference report is supposed to show up in the next month’s magazine.

    Comment by Researcher — February 2, 2010 @ 11:25 am

  2. I think the second person in picture 1 is Bernard P. Brockbank (formerly president of the Scottish Mission).

    Comment by Alison — February 2, 2010 @ 11:42 am

  3. Ah, how people show their age! (Sort of like the guy who spoke in church Sunday and kept referring to Elder Holland as President Holland. For some of us, it’s President Oaks who gets that treatment!) I don’t remember when the shift was made to printing conference talks in May/November, but I remember reading an article at the time about the challenge of getting the editing done in time.

    I don’t know that we should inquire too carefully into why those mountains–the perfect, “break the mold they ain’t gettin’ any better than this” mountains–were named “les tetons” by some French trapper/mountain man (if in fact they were), and it is true that they are just south of Yellowstone, but they have their own park: Grand Teton National Park. (And, just by coincidence, I spent a week with my family camping and hiking in those extraordinary mountains the very month they showed up on the cover of the Era.)

    And I happened to be in Laie, Hawaii, ten years later when the Polynesian Cultural Center was celebrating its 10th anniversary.

    Heck, I’m beginning to feel like Forrest Gump!

    Finally, that photograph of the first presidency includes an uncle and a nephew. Hugh B. Brown’s sister Sarah Edna Brown Tanner was N. Eldon Tanner’s mother.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 2, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

  4. One other thing: that January cover, with just the tips of the Salt Lake Temple spires, is very odd. I wonder what the designer was thinking.

    Comment by Mark B. — February 2, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

  5. The January and November covers can be explained because of new callings: Elder Tanner was called to the Twelve in October 1962, after the death of George Q. Morris, and Bernard P. Brockbank was called as an Assistant to the Twelve that same month.

    Then, when Henry D. Moyle died later that year, the First Presidency was reorganized–thus the November photograph.

    September 8 was Pres. McKay’s birthday–he was 90 in 1963. I suspect that explains the September cover. (But what’s that book he’s holding?)

    Comment by Mark B. — February 2, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

  6. If you can discern a pattern, please let me know!

    My gift of discernment must be at a low point today, I think, because I can’t see any pattern to these magazine covers at all. Eh, that’s ok — I kinda like the wide variety, actually!

    A couple of other thoughts: Is it just me, or does President Tanner not look a little intimidating in those photos! I wonder if he was trying for that effect? Also, I enjoyed seeing President McKay in another “light” colored suit. He’s the man!

    Comment by Hunter — February 2, 2010 @ 3:31 pm

  7. Wow, the design is all over the place! I wonder why; have you even run across a similar example in any of the publications you’ve researched? I like April: its very of its time in colour and composition. And I kind of like July too, maybe not as well realized, but I like the idea of the diptych of older workers with their machinery emphasized.

    Comment by Mina — February 2, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

  8. Y’all are great — you can find something worth discussing in any material from the past. I love that!

    The Children’s Friend actually seems to be unusual in that it *does* often have a yearly theme. A few of the other magazines occasionally did, but not always. That surprises me: even if somebody isn’t thinking ahead to plan out a whole year’s covers, I would expect a little more unity because the same people were working on the magazine month to month — wouldn’t the same taste, at least the same ruts, tend to make a lot of the covers in a given period somewhat similar? Apparently not.

    The Improvement Era is especially unexpected that way, because for years at a time there isn’t even any indication on covers that a given holiday fell during a particular month — there aren’t many Improvement Era Christmas covers in the advent calendar I did a year ago, for instance.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 2, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

  9. Tanner’s expression is scaring me a little bit.

    Fun collection!!

    Comment by sister blah 2 — February 3, 2010 @ 12:27 am

  10. Am I wrong to think that “The Improvement Era” would have been directed at youth? The forerunner of “The New Era?”

    Comment by ESO — February 3, 2010 @ 6:12 am

  11. It started out in the late 1890s as a magazine for the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, but over the years the Improvement Era evolved into a magazine unequivocally for adults. Along about 1960 they added a section of unnumbered pages within the magazine that was called “The Era of Youth” which was directed at youth — that “Era of Youth” is probably the most direct ancestor of today’s New Era, while the Improvement Era became the Ensign.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2010 @ 6:58 am

  12. I’m very glad to see the Ensign and the Liahona get a more diverse and international flair, with more news and stories from around the world, and a lower percentage of caucasian photo subjects. This makes the magazines, especially non-English Lihaona issues, much easier to present to people who’s native language isn’t English.

    Comment by Bookslinger — February 3, 2010 @ 8:51 am

  13. I don’t doubt you’re right, Bookslinger. When I was a missionary in the very early ’80s, it seemed revolutionary for the flipchart pictures to be multiracial and to include pictures of coins in the local currency and scriptures with titles in the local language. I’m glad the magazines have gone much further. (And you certainly won’t find church materials any more that are like those “usages in good society” lessons I’m posting from the early 20th century, where tips for travel include telling the girls where to buy fruit while traveling on the only train route that made sense in those days, Salt Lake to New York!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2010 @ 9:23 am

  14. Ardis–thanks for clarifying–now the pictures of elderly and infant people make more sense to me.

    Comment by ESO — February 3, 2010 @ 11:05 am

  15. That still makes sense, Ardis. First, leave Salt Lake City–and second, go to New York.

    Where else is there? : )

    Comment by Mark B. — February 3, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

  16. For the sake of being agreeable, Mark, I’ll be agreeable … but after granting the obvious correctness of your comment, there are now one or two places in addition to Chicago where unescorted lady travelers may buy fruit between Salt Lake City and New York.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

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