Category: Images

What My Father Did

Richard G. Oman as a young man.

A few weeks ago my father retired after spending three decades working for the Church Historical Department.  I’m no doubt guilty of an excess of filial piety, but I think that the Church and Kingdom are better for the work that he did. 

Mormon Images: Office Decor and the Place of Mormonism in American History

A few weels ago I finished my stint at the public trough and left the service of the federal courts. I know work for the law firm of Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood in Washington, DC. The identity of the firm is significant only because this is the firm (and office) where Rex E. Lee practiced law for many years. There is actually a three-foot tall bronze statute of Lee outside the office’s moot court room (named in Lee’s honor). As you might expect, the firm’s DC office hosts a sizable continent of LDS attorneys and their office decor reflects the the trajectory of Mormonism within American society.

A Mormon Image: Gadfield Elm Chapel

One of the interesting factoids of church history is that for a brief period in the 1840s there were more Mormons in Great Britain than in the United States. Beginning with the mission of the Twelve to England, Mormon missionaries were very successful in Britain, especially in the so-called “potteries” region around Manchester. (Momon missionaries didn’t seem to do so well in London, and Wilford Woodruff had some choice things to say about the city in his journal.) The greatest missionary success came among the so-called United Brethren. The United Brethren were a splinter group that had broken off from Methodism. (Methodism had become very popular in Britain, especially among the working class, in the late 19th and early 19th centuries.) The United Brethren were worried about issues of divine authority and Christian primativism. When Wilford Woodruff preached to a congregation of the Brethren in Preston, England, the whole congregation joined the Church, and Mormonism spread like wild fire among…

A Mormon Image: Joseph in the New York Review of Books

For those ever-so-hip, black-turtleneck wearing New Yorkers in our midst, I felt that I would do what I could to relieve any anxiety that you might have about the potential un-hippness of Mormonism. Hence this image of Joseph Smith, which appeared in no less an oracle of Manhattan sophistication than The New York Review of Books. I have to confess that I am a bit mystified as to the significance of the shovel. A reference to money digging perhaps? Digging up the Gold Plates? Who knows. Interestingly, Joseph did visit New York City once in his life. It has been a while since I read the journal entry, but as I recall he thought it was a facinating place, but full of sin and ready for a good smiting by the Almighty. Not a bad description all in all.

A Mormon Image: The Vault

The Granite Mountain Vault lies hidden away on the north face of Little Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City. Built by the Church in the early 1960s, the Vault lies under 700 feet of stone, and was meant to withstand a nuclear blast. Contrary to the ramblings of your crazy uncle, it safeguards mainly genealogical microfilm. There is an manmade lake inside that keeps humidity at the optimal level. Alas, it is no longer open for public tours.

Temple Murals Errata

In my post below, I wrongly stated that the Ghana temple was the first one to have murals. My bad. Los Angles (1956) was the last temple to have murals before the recent spat of temple building. The Winter Quarters Temple didn’t have murals, but it has very large, framed paintings in the ordinance rooms. This paved the way for the Columbia River Temple, which was the first recent temple to have true murals. Since then, murals have been included in the temples listed in this comment. In addition, there have been murals in the Monteray, Mexico temple, and the Nauvoo Temple (although these were commissioned after the temple was dedicated).

A Mormon Image: Ghana Temple Murals

Beginning with the Saint George Temple, our temples use to include murals. Generally the endowment would progress from a creation room, to a garden room, to a world room, to a telestial room, and finally to a celestial room. From the Saint George Temple to the Los Angles Temple, the practice was to put murals on the walls of the creation, garden, and world rooms showing some version of creation, garden, and world. Then for a long period of time, these murals disappeared from our temples. With the Ghana temple, they are back.

A Mormon Image: Elijah Abel

Elijah Abel is generally thought to be the first black Mormon. (Click on the picture to the right for a larger image.) He was most likely born into slavery and escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. In 1832 he was baptized by Ezekial Roberts. In 1836 he was ordained an elder, most likely by Joseph Smith. He was later ordained a Seventy and during the course of his life he served at least three proselyting missions. He came west with the Saints, settling in Salt Lake City, where he worked on the Salt Lake Temple as a carpenter, although Brigham Young refused to allow Elijah to recieve his temple endowment. He died in 1884. Both his son and grandson were ordained Elders. For more information on Elijah Abel and other black Latter-day Saints, check out

A Mormon Image: Fremont’s Map

Shortly before his death Joseph Smith began making plans to move the main body of the Saints to someplace in the American west. After his assination, Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve continued to flesh out these plans, ultimately choosing to move the Saints to the Great Basin. In making their plans they depended on the reports of John C. Fremont and on the maps of the American west that his expeditions had created. Here is one of them.

A Mormon Image: Quilting the Tree of Life

What counts as art is an interesting question. We have a bias toward thinking of art in terms of oil paintings, bronze statues, or marble carvings. One of the unfortunate effects of this bias is that it makes much of the art done by women invisibile. You’ll note that most of the work done in those mediums has been done by men. However, if we expand our sense of what constitutes art, there are mediums where women clearly dominate. Consider quilting.

A Mormon Image: Temple Murals and Art Missionaries

While many members don’t realize it, there is actually a fairly strong tradition of impressionistic painting among Mormon artistists. The origins of the tradition go back to the decision of the Church to send some budding young LDS artists to Paris as “Art Missionaries” in the late 19th century. This painting, a study for the mural in the Garden Room of the Salt Lake Temple, is an example of this impressionist tradition.

A Mormon Image: The All-Seeing Eye

During the nineteenth-century all-seeing eyes were a common Mormon image. They seem to have been borrowed from Masonry and represented the presence of God. Accordingly, the symbol was frequently associated with temples, and appears in numerous places on the interior and exterior of the Salt Lake Temple. This image, however, is much earlier and comes from the St. George Tabranacle.

A Mormon Image: The 19th Ward Chapel

When Brigham Young laid out Great Salt Lake City in the 1840s, he modeled it on the Mormon experience in Nuavoo. Thus, the city was divided into wards, which were combined to form the original Salt Lake Stake of Zion. In all there were nineteen of these wards, and they continued to be the core units of the Church in Salt Lake for many, many years. This chapel, built in 1890, housed one of those original wards.

A Mormon Image: C.C.A. Christiansen

Since blogs seem to thrive on regular features, I have decided to start one here at T&S. Because my father is an art historian and a curator at the Museum of Church History and Art, I have always been interested in the images and art that Mormonism has produced. Thus, I will begin regularlly posting samples of it to this blog, along with a little bit of commentary. I begin with C.C.A. Christiansen

An Image for Kaimi

Here is what I have always thought was the best visual depication of Kaimi’s theory of Book of Mormon geography. The painting is by the wonderful Minerva Teichert.