The “Purpose of Life" exhibit in the BYU-Idaho Center is now complete with the addition of a historic mural that was featured in the Osaka Japan World Expo in 1970. BYU-Idaho has housed its sister painting from the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair since 2015. 

Both paintings were created by artist Robert Oliver Skemp and commissioned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the purpose of introducing the faith on a world stage.  

“Since the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, world’s fairs and expositions have been a major platform for the international exchange of industry and culture. Participation in the expo meant exposure to an international audience with a wide reach and influence,” one of the exhibit signs explained. 

In an age before social media, holding and attending such expositions was one of the few practical ways to showcase religious beliefs in an interactive way.

“Try to imagine, there are more than 100 plus vendors, and they are all very commercial-driven pavilions. They are trying to sell, introducing the newest technologies and such at that time and when people walked into our pavilion, they were basically stunned,” said Spori Art Gallery Curator Kyoung DaBell. 

The World Fair in New York attracted 5.8 million people while the Osaka Expo brought in 6.7 million. As a result, these expositions also had a substantial influence on the number of people investigating the Church. 


“One million from Osaka Expo and nearly one million people from the New York World’s Fair left referral cards, meaning they left their addresses and phone numbers, commenting such as ‘A beautiful display. I want to know more about it. I’ve never heard about your church. Can you please come visit me?’ The outreaching of populations who’d never heard of our church is just mind-boggling,” Dabell said. 

At the time, the Church of Jesus Christ was known as a “Utah church” but quickly became known as a worldwide religion. 

As dictated on an exhibit display, “In 1964, Church membership was just over 2 million, but five years after the New York World’s Fair, membership had doubled to more than 4 million. In Japan, the first stake had been formed in 1970 following 69 years of missionary work, and the second stake was formed only two years after the Osaka Expo.” 

The New York mural was printed as a visual aid in an early proselyting pamphlet about the Plan of Salvation. DaBell remembers the artwork as a part of her own conversion to the Church and was baptized two weeks after receiving this same pamphlet. 


The success of this expo largely influenced the Church’s continued incorporation of multi-media displays and learning resources. 

According to a Church article on the subject, “The Church’s use of audiovisual technology in the pavilion pioneered the wide use of such technology by the Church in visitors’ centers, fairs, displays, and mass media today.” 

In addition to the exhibit, many paintings saved from the Temple Square visitors centers depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments are now on display. A series of canvases is also arranged on the wall alongside these paintings above a timeline of events tracking the New York and Osaka murals before, during, and after the expos.



  • 1961–62: New York World’s Fair Mormon Pavilion is conceived by G. Stanley McAllister and others and proposed to Church officials.  
  • 19 October 1962: President David O. McKay signs the official agreement with the New York World’s Fair; the Church secures a pavilion lot. 
  • 1963: Robert Oliver Skemp is commissioned to paint a mural entitled The Purpose of Life, Man’s Search for Eternal Happiness. He uses himself as the model for the painting. 
  • 1964–65: Skemp’s mural was displayed in the Mormon Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. 
  • October 1965: The mural and other pavilion artwork move to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, to be displayed in the North Visitor’s Center. The Christus statue is moved to L.A. Temple Visitors’ Center. 


  • 1968–69: Japanese version of the Purpose of Life is commissioned for the Osaka, Japan World’s Expo and painted by Skemp. 
  • February 1969: Osaka Mormon Pavilion construction commences under the direction of Elder Bednar P. Brockbank. 
  • 13 March 1970: Osaka Pavilion is dedicated. 
  • 15 March–13 September 1970: Purpose of Life is displayed with Christus statue and other art in Osaka Mormon Pavilion. 


  • 1976: The NY mural moves to the Hyde Park Pavilion in London. 


  • June 1978: The Osaka mural moves to the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors’ Center as part of the expansion and rededication of the temple. 
  • February 2004: Guy and Alice Suchomel, a senior missionary couple serving in Hawaii, save the mural from destruction during visitors’ center renovation and send the Osaka mural home to Sacramento, CA.  


  • 2011: Hyde Park Chapel is renovated before the 2012 London Olympics. The NY mural is removed and sent to U.S. for restoration.  
  • 2015: The NY mural moves to BYU-Idaho and is installed in the BYU-Idaho Center. 


  • July–September 2019: Suchomels donate the Osaka mural to BYU-Idaho where it is restored. 
  • May 2021: The Osaka mural is installed in the BYU-Idaho Center alongside the NY mural. 

While both murals were created for virtually the same usage, this new “Purpose of Life” exhibit features the paintings side-by-side for the first time. The exhibit can be viewed in the lowest level of the BYU-Idaho Center during regular building hours. More information about the exhibit can be found at