Retired Prof De Lamar Jensen Paints the World
Check out the latest podcast episode Listen
Alumni News

Backyard Muralist

De Lamar Jensen sits with a paint brush and palette in his Provo backyard. Jensen, a retired history professor, recreates scenes from his favorite travel destinations by painting murals on the walls surrounding his property. Photo by Bradley Slade.

Piles of perilously stacked books cover De Lamar Jensen’s (BA ’52) living-room table. During his 34-year career teaching European history at BYU, Jensen authored most of these books, which range from an exploration of French diplomacy to Jensen’s own three-volume personal history. But stepping into his Provo backyard, you’ll find a much more vibrant record of Jensen’s life and legacy in murals the 90-year-old has painted on wooden sheds and cinderblock walls throughout his retirement.

While serving a mission in Chile, Jensen and his wife, Mary White Jensen (’63), visited the jagged mountain range known as the Torres del Paine in the southern end of the country. The image of these stark peaks alongside Lake Pehoé remained with Jensen long after he returned to the United States. “It’s just unbelievable, the majesty and spectacular view of these mountains,” he recalls. “I couldn’t get it out of my mind. So when I got back here I said, ‘Why don’t I paint the side of my shed?’” After prepping the shed surface, Jensen recreated the peaks in an acrylic mural spanning the 4-by-12 wall. Not long after completing his first mural, Jensen built a second shed in his backyard. Unable to resist another blank canvas, he adorned the wooden surface with the image of another favorite destination—the scenic town of Brienz, nestled in the Swiss Alps.

Jensen knows Europe and its history like few others and has worked with documents in many languages to publish research on the Renaissance and Reformation. While his career took him to Europe on multiple occasions, his travels didn’t stop there. In addition to serving in Chile, Jensen spent several years as a mission president in Peru. He has also taken his family on international excursions and explored other corners of the world at the recommendation of colleagues.

Now out of space on the wooden sheds, Jensen has since turned to the cinderblock walls surrounding his backyard. The resulting murals—a scene from Hawaii, a Samoan sunset, the majestic Denali, a serene Chinese riverbank, Machu Picchu, tulip season in the Netherlands, the fjords of New Zealand, and the Great Wall of China—let Jensen relive a lifetime of travel with a glance out his window. “It takes me back every time I look at them,” he says.

Jensen has filled the murals with details, both real and imagined, from his expeditions. The road Jensen painted leading to Denali is an authentic portrayal of the road he took on his Alaskan expedition—but Jensen embellished the scene with a grizzly bear and moose he didn’t get the chance to see. Jensen constantly adds details to his already-completed works—such as the tava’esina (a white bird native to Samoa) and the colony of bats he has painted flying into the Samoan sunset. In fact, he has painted a native bird into each of his murals.

Although Jensen has painted on various canvases throughout his life, painting these backyard murals primarily serves to keep him occupied during retirement. “I wouldn’t call it relaxing,” Jensen says. “I find myself painting for several hours, as tired as can be. But it’s mind occupying—I don’t think of anything else.”

Jensen has been plotting to cover the remaining cinderblock walls with other travel destinations. “But I have a problem, and that’s my daughter,” Jensen says. “She’s a gardener, and she grows beans on those walls, climbing beans.” Assuming he can negotiate enough wall space, however, he plans on covering the remaining walls with scenes from the Egyptian pyramids, the Carrara marble quarries in Italy, and the cave of Altamira in Spain. “I just love to see beautiful, meaningful things,” Jensen says.