Josh Clare, Saints at Devil’s Gate, The Mormon Trail. An American Painter’s Spiritual Journey. 

Painter Scott Burdick standing in front of painting
Painter and author Scott Burdick

A Leap of Faith.

Josh Clare took an enormous leap of faith when he became involved in an extensive project with two other artist friends. This particular project spanned a few years and many miles travelled, resulting in a collection of rare master paintings that document the American landscape and more specifically, the Mormon Trail and its history. It is quite rare to find artists who can invest the time to pursue the creation of such a major body of work. 

 As one of the most sought-after working artists of our time Josh Clare created stunning paintings of nature, landscapes, and figures. He finds sublime beauty in the simplest of things, a ramshackle barn, a stand of trees or the curve in a river banked with snow. We are delighted to host Josh teaching a workshop with us this Fall in Provence, France and want to share news of this extraordinary project he was involved in.

Above: “Carry On”. Oil painting by Josh Clare.

The Journey of The Mormon Trail

A few years ago, Josh Clare’s friend and fellow artist John Burton grew interested in capturing the beauty and harshness of the Mormon Trail, a 1300 mile journey that took more than 70 thousand Mormon pioneers across the western states from Illinois to Utah over the span of over 20 years starting in 1846. He shared this ambitious idea with Josh and Bryan Mark Taylor and in 2011 the three award-winning landscape painters embarked on an epic artistic adventure to paint scenes from the Mormon Trail with the goal of amassing enough paintings to show in an exhibition. Thus the project called “Saints at Devil’s Gate” was born.

Above: “Rock of Ages”. Devil’s Gate, WY. Oil painting by Josh Clare.

Devil’s Gate

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this journey was especially important as all three artists had ancestors who had made the journey to escape religious persecution and find their “promised land”. As Josh says, ”The basic premise of the show from the start was to paint the trail as it appears today and to give people the opportunity to remember the deep faith of those who sacrificed much to come start life over in the desert.”

The title of the show comes from one of the most recognizable parts of the journey, the rocky formation in Wyoming known as the Devil’s Gate. Although the pass wasn’t used as it was too treacherous, it was a well-known landmark for the travelers.


The Perfect Venue: The Church History Museum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

When they started creating this large body of work, they didn’t have a venue for the exhibition, but continued to give time and effort to the process of creation. That was certainly a leap of faith! In 2013, Josh first approached the Church History Museum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, and in 2015 they agreed to exhibit the works along with historical information to create an extraordinary glimpse into the rigors and joys experienced by the pioneers.


Walking In the Footsteps of the Original Mormon Pioneers


The trio traveled the trail multiple times over a 5-year span both together and alone and spent time at 52 of the most iconic and significant landmarks. They wanted to focus their paintings on areas that were mentioned in the many trail journals kept by the original pioneers. They made a point of going to the places during the same season as the original travelers so that they could capture what the pilgrims experienced, no matter what the weather was like. This meant that they were not only painting in the height of summer with strong winds blowing dust onto their paintings, but were also often painting in the snow, chilled to the bone but with the knowledge that they could always get respite in their vehicle if need be. They were very much aware that the original travelers on this route had no such luxury, in fact many of them didn’t survive the journey due to exposure, the harsh conditions and illness. However the trail was not always bleak, there were also views of unsurpassed beauty, often described by the original pioneers.


Quiet Dignity in Wide-Open Spaces

Josh says, ”I have some really great memories of painting the trail with John and Bryan. The time we spent painting together was a real highlight for me. There’s a quiet dignity to those wide-open spaces, space that hasn’t been altered a whole lot in all the time that has passed since the pioneers made their way across it. Much of the trail feels like sacred ground to me—consecrated by sacrifice and faith. During a trip we took in the winter to Devil’s Gate in Wyoming we were able to just make it to the site as the sun was setting. There was snow on the ground, and nobody was there besides us.

It was an incredibly special moment—magic.”


A Journey Documented

The artists made lots of sketches and around 300 paintings along the trail and amassed a multitude of photographs. Each artist then took their sketches and small plein air studies back to their studios and created around 17 larger oil paintings each, most at around 36×48 inches and the 52 finished works were exhibited for the first time at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City in 2016.

The exhibition curators showed each painting alongside a quotation or two from church members who had made the perilous journey west all those years before. The paintings were put in order from the beginning of the trail in Nauvoo, Illinois to what would become Salt Lake City, in Utah.

The exhibition was shown from November 2016 until August 2017, and it was the only time all of the paintings were shown together.

Peace Be Still“, Council Bluffs, IA., oil painting. Josh Clare

Lord, I Would Follow Thee“, Gering, NE., oil painting. Josh Clare

My Strength is Sufficient“, Mount Pisgah, IA., oil painting. Josh Clare

Truth Conspiracy  by Scott Burdick

Sold out, some copies of “Saints at Devil’s Gate: Landscapes along the Mormon Trail” are still available from Amazon.

Faith Personified

The Church Historian Press also created a companion book called, “Saints at Devil’s Gate: Landscapes along the Mormon Trail”, which beautifully illustrates both the paintings and the accompanying quotes. It really helps the reader get a sense of the enormity of the journey and the faith that the pioneers must have had despite all of the hardships encountered along the way.


Spiritual Beauty


Josh considers the Mormon Trail project to be one of the most important and spiritual parts of his artistic journey so far. He says, ”The more I paint, the more I realize that the quiet beauty of ordinary and simple things is the kind of beauty most worth looking for and the most rewarding to find.” I asked him if he had a favorite painting from the show and he said, “ No, they’re all important pieces for me, some came easier than others, but I still think of the show as a unified whole, so it’s hard to separate it into parts.”

Nihala by Scott Burdick

Above: “His presence will my want supply“. Douglas, WY. Oil painting by Josh Clare.

Josh Clare Paints Provence Workshop


We are fortunate to host a unique painting workshop, Josh Clare Paints Provence, this September in a magnificent estate in the south of France and can’t wait to watch the magic unfold. His unbridled enthusiasm and humble approach to art results in the most beautiful paintings and we look forward to seeing his interpretations of the French landscape.

To see other paintings by Josh Clare, go to his workshop page here.


Other Subjects Painted by Josh Clare

If you enjoyed this article you may be interested in these blogs about other notable painters:

Rose Frantzen American Painter. A National Treasure 

Meet The Artists ofAmericans in Paris Paint Provence  (The group of renowned USA painters founded by Vanessa Rothe)

and Susan Lyon: Faces and Figures, A Personal Vision.


Blogger: Shirley Hambrick

Shirley Hambrick is an award-winning stained-glass artist and painter. She has lived in Scotland, Spain and the USA. Shirley is part of the Workshops in France team and attended over 30 of these trips. She writes about her adventures.

Being Scottish, she was trained at Edinburgh College of Art and Design. Shirley teaches in the West Virginia area and you can some of her beautiful work here.

Lauren Carlo

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