Acclaimed oil painter Morgan Weistling began his love of art while sitting on his artist father’s knee. The boy was only 19 months old but was already showing talent. At age 15, he attended art school in Los Angeles, receiving classical illustration training and becoming a dedicated student of light and shadow. At 19 years old, he was recruited to join the top advertising agency in Hollywood. He soon had a successful niche in the movie poster business.
Morgan admits that art was his god in those days. Acknowledging his Creator wasn’t something he took seriously until 1988 when he met a girl while substitute teaching at a design school. He was instantly attracted and asked her for a date. “Unfortunately,” Morgan says, “she was a Christian, and the only way she would go out with me was if I agreed to go to church with her.” He spent several Sunday mornings at Calvary Chapel Downey. After the services, he would say to his girlfriend, “I don’t need this. I don’t need Jesus. I have art.”
Who’s got talent?
About six months into the relationship, Morgan was sitting in the pew not really paying attention to the sermon. But that morning the pastor did something unusual: He handed out sheets of paper to everyone in the congregation and said, “If you’ve got any talents God has given you that we could use here at church, write them down.”
Morgan stared at the blank piece of paper and at first felt smug, believing his success and abilities were the result of his own hard work. Then unexpectedly, God challenged his assumptions. He sensed God asking him, You think you did this all on your own? That you could draw since you were 2 years old and that the ability came out of nowhere? That was all you?
He concluded his talent was obviously something God had given him, and since that was true, he probably should stop promoting films that often exploited sex and fear — kidnapped cheerleaders and the like.
“It became very clear I’d been wasting my time,” Morgan says. “God had literally given me something that I should probably be giving back to Him.” Responding to the altar call that day, Morgan surrendered his life, talent and art to God. That night, he prayed with his girlfriend for a new direction in his profession.
The next morning, Morgan was offered a job to illustrate the covers of a children’s video series for an organization that promoted biblical values — Focus on the Family. Since following the light of Christianity, Morgan has chosen to serve God with his art and has inspired his family to do the same.
A fresh canvas for Morgan Weistling
In 1992, Morgan Weistling married the girl who had taken him to church — JoAnn Peralta. Together, the two spent many late nights meeting deadlines to further their illustration careers, with both of them pursuing work at Focus on the Family and other Christian clients. However, with the advent of computer illustration a few years later, Morgan’s illustration work all but dried up. He switched to oil painting after a friend suggested he get back to his original love of art.
“So I kind of got back in touch with my inner artist,” Morgan says. “I did a painting just out of my pure joy of being a new father.”
Sharing the Light of Christ
Morgan took that first painting, “Bouquet for Mother,” which depicted children putting flowers on a blanket, to a gallery and “everybody went nuts,” he says. Morgan quickly earned several honors and opportunities to show at prestigious galleries.
Leaving the world of media, he began painting stories from the Bible, including Jesus walking on water and turning water into wine. He only stopped doing biblical scenes when he ran out of ideas he was passionate to paint. Morgan didn’t want to create portraits of Christ holding kittens and puppies just because they might sell, he says. He began to focus on the late 19th-century pioneer life in North America as his subject matter. Morgan aims to capture the joy and value of work in that simpler era, each painting telling a story. “The light of Christ is in these paintings,” he says. “[They also show] the virtues of hard work.” The paintings he does uphold wholesomeness and the values that the U.S. was built on. “God shut a door on illustration and opened up one that really lets me paint my heart. Every painting I do, I pray He helps me. So my faith in the future is set in hoping that I continue to let Him use my hands.”
Leaving a legacy
Morgan’s wife, JoAnn, has also developed into a master painter, receiving among other prizes the 2019 Autry Museum’s Artist Choice Award. “I have always tried to follow the leading the from Lord on what He would have me paint and leave it in His hands to use it,” she says.
The couple’s older daughter, 24-year old Brittany, has modeled for her parents ever since she was a toddler and is following in her parents’ brushstrokes. As a teen, she earned money painting portraits, and in 2011 she was invited to show her work at a master’s exhibit when she was only 15. Thirteen-year old daughter Sienna has also shown a strong interest and talent in painting, but Morgan has mixed feelings about that, commenting, “Boy, it’d sure be nice to have a doctor or something else in this family.”
The girls have learned to use their talents to honor God in the same way they learned art — by example. Both Morgan Weistling and JoAnn Peralta have studios on their property, and their daughters have open access to their parents during the day — as do the ducks and pigs Morgan uses as models.
“JoAnn and I have always taught our daughters that they need to know and recognize the gifts that God has given them to use for His glory,” Morgan says. “I have always been clear to them that being an artist and a Christian is not different than being a plumber, mechanic or whatever else people have gifts for. What’s important is that whatever they do, they give it their best effort because God didn’t give these gifts to be used halfheartedly.”
The future for Morgan
Morgan Weistling once wanted to be immortal through art, to have the world remember him through his work. Now he believes his daughters may one day eclipse him in talent — he jokes he’s just “Brittany Weistling’s father” in the art world, and that’s OK. He’s content to let God use his artistic talent one painting at a time. And he’s interested in creating a home as a legacy, a place where he’s hoping he can one day paint his grandchildren playing in the studio with the ducks.
Listen to a broadcast with Morgan Weistling.