Minerva Teichert estate sues The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU Museum of Art

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(Left to right) Minerva Teichert (1888-1976), ‘The Promised Land,’ c.1949-1951, oil on masonite, 41 5/8 x 53 11/16 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1969; Minerva Teichert (1888-1976), ‘King Benjamin’s Farewell Address,’ c.1949-1951, oil on masonite, 36 x 48 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1969.; Minerva Teichert (1888-1976), ‘The Title of Liberty,’ c.1949-1951, oil on masonite, 35 15/16 x 48 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1969. The 42-piece collection of Book of Mormon paintings was donated to BYU by Minerva Teichert. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

Tim Teichert, a grandson of the late Latter-day Saint artist Minerva Teichert, is suing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as BYU and the BYU Museum of Art for copyright infringement.

In a complaint filed on Jan. 30, Tim Teichert accused the Church and affiliated organizations of having “knowingly reproduced, distributed and displayed Minerva Teichert’s paintings without her or the Teichert Estate’s permission.”

The lawsuit, filed in California, states that the Church and its affiliated organizations have “mass reproduced, distributed and/or sold prints or other reproductions of Minerva Teichert’s paintings without authorization, and continues to do so.” The Church History Museum Store and the BYU Museum of Art Store both sell prints of Teichert’s work.

Minerva Teichert’s estate received the copyright registration for 31 pieces of her artwork throughout 2021 and 2022. Tim Teichert’s 2023 complaint specifies seven individual paintings that he believes the Church History Museum Store has unlawfully reproduced and distributed, as well as seven in the BYU Museum of Art Store and two by Deseret Book. Several of the most popular paintings in question are Minerva Teichert’s “Christ in the Red Robe,” “Rescue of the Lost Lamb” and “Queen Esther.”

Since becoming representative of Minerva Teichert’s estate in 2018, Tim Teichert has sought the rights to Minerva Teichert’s work. Tim Teichert first sued the Church in 2021, arguing that Minerva Teichert “never gave the Church or the local Church buildings/congregations authorization to do anything other than display her paintings, with certain conditions,” according to the 2021 complaint filed by Tim Teichert in the state of Wyoming.

Both the 2021 and 2023 complaints refer to original Minerva Teichert paintings in a Cokeville, Wyoming Latter-day Saint meetinghouse. Minerva Teichert attended church at the Cokeville meetinghouse for much of her adult life and donated four of her original paintings to the building where they were on display from 1955-2014.

According to the 2023 complaint, the Church informed members of the Teichert family that it planned on relocating the Cokeville meetinghouse paintings to temples and other Church buildings as a means of preserving them. Although Tim Teichert and other Theichert family members opposed the removal of the artwork, “The Song of Quetzalcoatl” was removed and placed in the Star Valley Wyoming Temple.

In addition to the removal of “The Song of Quetzalcoatl”, Tim Teichert alleged in the 2023 complaint that the Church removed the rest of the original paintings from the Cokeville meetinghouse during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the building was empty, and replaced them with corresponding prints. The complaint also states that the Teicherts believe the Church “has relocated additional paintings by Minerva Teichert without the authorization of Minerva Teichert or the Teichert Estate.”

Representing the estate of Minerva Teichert, Tim Teichert requested in the 2023 complaint that the Church and its affiliates immediately and permanently discontinue current copyright infringements, relinquish all inventory and versions of the disputed works, present the Teichert estate with a report and accounting of all the revenue generated by the disputed works and grant the estate monetary damages for the copyright infringement.

The Church denies Tim Teichert’s allegations and claims to own both the paintings and copyrights to the artwork in question.

“The work of Minerva Teichert is loved and admired around the world.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns both the paintings and copyrights to the artwork in question. The Church will continue to defend those interests as the case moves through the legal process so that we may preserve and protect this artwork for generations to come,” Sam Penrod, a representative for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement.

Carri Jenkins, assistant to the president for University Communications, said BYU believes the complaint to be unfounded and is committed to defending their interests as the case moves forward to preserve Minerva Teichert’s work:

“For decades, BYU has enjoyed positive relationships with many members of the Teichert family, including Minerva Teichert herself. No organization has done more to celebrate and recognize this artist and her artwork than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU. BYU and the Church own the paintings and the copyrights to the artwork identified in the lawsuit. The use of the artwork in question by the BYU Museum of Art has been in accordance with standard legal agreements and ethical best practices. As the Church has stated, we ‘will defend (our) interests as the case moves through the legal process so that we may preserve this artwork for generations to come.'”

Lawyers for Tim Teichert could not be reached for comment.

Minerva Teichert was a famous 20th-century artist celebrated for her depictions of Western and religious subjects. She was a devoted member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became popular in the Church community for her illustrations of scriptural and pioneer events. Teichert donated many of her pieces to the Church and BYU throughout her life, with BYU even accepting paintings in place of tuition for some of her descendants.

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