The state of Utah is looking into creating a new flag. I was interested, so looked into best practices for flag making (vexillology) and found a handy guide from the North American Vexillological Association that suggested five basic principles of flag design: Keep it simple (the flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory) Use meaningful symbolism (the flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes) Use 2-3 basic colors (limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set) No lettering or seals (never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal) Be distinctive or be related (avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections) An example of a good flag is New Mexico, with two colors (red and yellow) and very simple (sun symbol) while Utah is a bad example, with a complicated seal on a blue background (just like 14 other states in the United States of America). I enjoy pondering, and after designing a few ideas for a Utah flag, I’ve been musing on what a flag for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could look like. Obviously, the most likely path forward would be to just use the official symbol of the Church (the Christus with the arch around it and the cornerstone beneath) and use that as a flag. The simplified…
Jesus in Recent Latter-day Saint Art
At the Mormon History Association conference this weekend, Anthony Sweat shared a funny story during his presentation on “A White Jesus and a Global Church.” Apparently there were some individuals who were visiting BYU from Saudi Arabia to observe teaching at the institution. During a class that Dr. Sweat was teaching, the Saudis saw a print of the famous Del Parson Jesus the Christ painting. They asked through an interpreter who the painting was depicting. Dr. Sweat explained that it was Jesus, and the Saudis busted up laughing and started chattering. Confused, Sweat asked the interpreter what they were saying and the interpreter explained that they were laughing about Jesus being portrayed as a white American mountain man. Dr. Sweat asked them about what they thought Jesus looked like and they responded that he probably looked like them, which probably isn’t far from the truth. In his presentation, Anthony Sweat went on to discuss the history of how Jesus has been portrayed and ultimately made the point that the traditional European iconography of Jesus as European in appearance is well-established and doesn’t need to go away, but that there does need to be more diversity in depictions of Jesus available for a global church. I’m not going to rehash the whole issue of Jesus’s complexion again, but I am interested in some of the artwork that has been produced in the Church in recent years that provide a different vision…
“They saw the Lord”
What does Jesus look like? It’s a question that we can only guess the answer to or speculate about, but one that does come up in a religion that embraces using artistic depictions of members of the Godhead. In general, the scriptures fail to describe his physical appearance in any detail. Joseph Smith documented several visions where he described seeing Jesus and God the Father, though nothing definitive about their appearances comes from the documents on the subject. History and archeology give us some clues, all of which are interesting to explore. At the end of the day, however, we do not really know what Jesus looks like. Several visions are recorded by Joseph Smith, including the dramatic appearance in the Kirtland Temple recorded in Section 110. Contemporary, first-hand accounts of the 1820s First Vision include the appearance of Jesus, though little in the ways of details. In 1832, Joseph Smith wrote that he saw “a piller of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day” and that “the <?Lord?> opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord.” In 1835, he gave little more detail, only noting that “a personage appeard in the midst, of this pillar of flame … another personage soon appeard like unto the first.” The 1838/39 account that is canonized in the Pearl of Great Price today describes them as “two personages (whose brightness and glory defy all description) standing above me in the air.” In 1842, he made…
Counterpoint: A Feeling of Loss–On Murals and Temples
I lived a significant portion of my life in Logan, Utah and frequently attended the temple during the time that I lived there. I had a lot of beautiful and sacred experiences while doing so, but I also rarely attended that temple without experiencing some feelings of loss. In the late 1970s, in order to introduce the use of filmed endowments to that temple, the building was gutted and almost all of the paintings, stained glass, chandeliers, furniture, and other furnishings were stowed away in archives in Salt Lake City or Provo, sent to other temple and Church office buildings for use, or given away. The murals and the ornate “gold room” sealing room decorations couldn’t be removed intact and the parts that weren’t cut out as souvenirs were destroyed. The temple they built inside the shell of the original was far more efficient, more structurally sound, and had better air conditioning, but lost most of what the pioneer Saints had lovingly contributed to the house of the Lord. President Spencer W. Kimball reportedly expressed regret at the loss of the pioneer craftsmanship, which is the same reason I felt some feelings of loss when I visited. To see the furnishings from the older iteration of the temple, I had to visit the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City rather than the temple itself (until that, too, was renovated and the section about historic Utah temples removed). While the…
Art and Latter-day Saint History with Anthony Sweat
Some years ago, an institute teacher in a Church history class I attended said with some levity that: “I bear my testimony that Church media is not true.” He said this hyperbolic statement in the context of a class where we talked about Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon, and he went on to discuss how there seem to be many different approaches that Smith took during over the course of the translation process. The class took place around the time that the Gospel Topics Essay on the translation of the Book of Mormon had been published, in which the Church openly acknowledged that Joseph Smith spent at least some of the time looking at a seer stone in a hat. Many of class members had felt that it was a bit jarring to learn that their perceptions about the translation process were not completely accurate, and as part of the discussion in class, they had realized that a lot of those perceptions had been adopted through viewing artwork depicting the translation process, and the teacher was trying to address that issue. He added his comment in jest as a way to drive home the point that while artistic representations of Church history can be beautiful and useful, they aren’t perfect and shouldn’t be understood as sources that define doctrine and history in the Church. In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, Anthony Sweat—an Associate Professor of Church History…
Art and Christ in Church Buildings
Yesterday, the Church released new guidelines about the appearance church meetinghouse. The latest in the series of Christocentric reforms during President Nelson’s tenure, the intent of the guidelines is to help “create a feeling of reverence and dignity” in the spaces that “establish the first impression and feelings that individuals receive when entering a meetinghouse.” In line with the recent strong emphasis on Jesus the Christ’s role in the Church that began with insistence on using the Church’s full name and continued with the shift from using the Angel Moroni to the Christus statue as the Church’s primary symbol, “framed artwork that focuses on the Savior should always be displayed” in these meetinghouse spaces. Steps are to be taken to remove artwork, furniture, display cases, etc. that do not fall in line with these requirements (either to other parts of the building or from the building altogether) and a list of approved artwork has been issued. In many ways, I feel that this is a good move on the Church’s part. As indicated in the First Presidency letter, the entrances and foyers are the first impression people have of the meetinghouse interior and set the tone as they come in. Removing some of the clutter provides a neater appearance. The artwork will help focus attention on Jesus Christ. Those will both be a good thing as we enter the building and are mentally preparing ourselves for the sacrament and other…
Where are the women artists in the Come, Follow Me manual?
As I started preparing family lessons using the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s new Come, Follow Me manual, I was struck by the quantity of art. In addition to photos and screenshots from Church-produced videos, the manual includes 78 reproductions of paintings or stained-glass windows. Many lessons – particularly in the first half of the year – include two or three paintings. But as I started going through the art, noting the artists, I saw a pattern: Brent Borup, Del Parson, Walter Rane, Dana Mario Wood, Walter Rane, Tom Holdman, Greg K. Olsen, Robert T. Barrett, Jorge Cocco, Simon Dewey. They’re all men. It’s not until the 20th painting that we get to a woman artist: Liz Lemon Swindle’s Against the Wind, showing the Savior lifting Peter out of the water in Matthew 14. Out of 76 paintings for which I could identify the artist and the artist’s gender, only 9 were by women artists – that’s just under 12 percent.* What’s more, 5 of those 9 were by just one artist, Liz Lemon Swindle. Even though Walter Rane has 12 paintings and Del Parson has 6, those only make up a quarter of all the paintings by men, leaving room for a wide array of lesser known artists to be featured. Why does this matter? We want to be involved in organizations where we can see ourselves (or see what we’d like to be). In India, adolescent…
A Mormon Image: A Tween’s View of Kirtland
The Kirtland Temple, as framed by my ten-year old son.
A Mormon Image: Communing With the Saints
My loved ones are embarrassed by public breastfeeding, so I retire to the mothers’ room to fulfill the measure of my creation. ~ Bethany West If you have a photograph you would like to submit for consideration in our A Mormon Image series, please see here for our submission requirements.
A Mormon Image: Izyek Steps into the Waters
On a cold day in January, Eldon Umphrey helps his son, Izyek, into Mission Creek in western Montana. The creek runs through the family property, and it has become a family tradition to perform baptisms there, even when there’s snow and ice. ~ Michael Umphrey (http://umphrey.net/) If you have a photograph you would like to submit for consideration in our A Mormon Image series, please see here for our submission requirements.
A Mother Here – New Art and Poetry Contest
There have been LDS art contests in the past, either sponsored by LDS church institutions or by private organizations, but none have yet focused on Heavenly Mother as their theme. That changed this month with the newly announced A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest. Aiming to stimulate the visual and poetic expression of Heavenly Mother, as well as highlight the nascent divinity that resides in women as well as men, monetary prizes in excess of $2200 will be awarded to the best entries. The contest accepts two-dimensional art submissions to be considered in its visual arts awards, and all forms of poetry for the poetry awards. The contest will accept submissions until March 4, 2014, after which award-winning entries will be chosen by prestigious judges Susan Elizabeth Howe (esteemed poet, playwright, and professor) and Herman Du Toit (former head of the Durban Art School and former head of museum research at BYU’s Museum of Art). Winning entries will be announced on May 11, 2014 (Mother’s Day) and they, with other merit-worthy entries, will be collected in an online gallery and a printed booklet for all to enjoy. With the kick off of the contest’s website, amotherhere.com, an impressive collection of historical Mormon literature and music addressing Heavenly Mother has been hosted online. It contains works from early Mormon history, beginning with the work of William W. Phelps, up until the present. In addition, the site provides some historical analysis of the portrayals of Heavenly Mother…
Facebook Memes and the Property Tax
There is, I’ve been told, a Facebook meme going around, juxtaposing a decaying house and the San Diego temple to support the argument that churches should not be exempt from taxation.
And, like Facebook memes everywhere, this one is dumb. Dumb primarily because it is a tautology that doesn’t say anything. Because of course a tax-exempt organization does not pay taxes that a non-exempt individual pays. That’s pretty much the definition of tax exemption.
Of course, saying that a Facebook meme is dumb and tautological makes for a pretty short and boring post. Far more interesting, imho, is to take seriously the point that the people spreading the picture are trying to make, and complicating that rhetorical picture a little bit.
A Mormon Image: Cemetery in Carrol County
After retirement, my father turned to family history and temple work to fill his time. Most of this work has focused on researching ancestors from Virginia and North Carolina. I took this photo at a cemetery in Carrol County, VA, near the the birthplace of my father’s grandparents. My father is shown in the picture. While in the cemetery he was able to locate headstones of people for whom he had completed temple work. It was the first and only time that my father has visited this place that has taken so much of his attention. As a side note, I have to feel for my ancestors who left lush, green, beautiful Virginia for the desert of Vernal, Utah! Sorry Vernal. By L-d Sus ___ This picture is part of our ongoing series highlighting Mormon images. Comments to the post are welcome; all comments should be respectful. In addition we invite you to submit your own images to the Mormon Image series. Other images in the series can be found here. Rules and instructions, including submissions guidelines, can be found here.
A Mormon Image: Brothers
We’ve been teaching our oldest son Peter that he’s a big brother to our younger son Jeremy. When Peter learned that Joseph Smith also had a big brother, he fell in love with the concept. Now whenever we go somewhere church-related, he asks, “Will there be a picture of Joseph and Hyrum?” By Robert Gibbons ___ This picture is part of our ongoing series highlighting Mormon images. Comments to the post are welcome; all comments should be respectful. In addition we invite you to submit your own images to the Mormon Image series. Other images in the series can be found here. Rules and instructions, including submissions guidelines, can be found here.
A Mormon Image: Hand in Hand on Temple Square
Walking hand in hand with my family on Temple Square in April 2009. Taking our one year old daughter for the first time was very special, and as we walked I looked around to ask someone to take our picture. We were alone. As I looked at our shadows, I thought that was a much more powerful image; for me, it invokes the feeling of moving forward and facing the future together. This is my favorite photo from that trip. By Christy D. ___ This picture is part of our ongoing series highlighting Mormon images. Comments to the post are welcome; all comments should be respectful. In addition we invite you to submit your own images to the Mormon Image series. Other images in the series can be found here. Rules and instructions, including submissions guidelines, can be found here.
A Mormon Image: Mormon Helping Hands
About 800 Members of the Sacramento California Stake and their friends donated more than 2,000 man-hours at the City of Sacramento’s William Land Park, which has seen its finding cut by 60 percent in recent years and its maintenance staff trimmed from 22 to seven employees. Volunteers focused on numerous work projects, including historic trail restoration, power-washing of park amenities, landscape maintenance, specialized gardening, and the cleaning out of the park’s three ponds. The volunteer service in Land Park has an estimated value of more than $70,000. by John S. McKinney ___ This picture is part of our ongoing series highlighting Mormon images. Comments to the post are welcome; all comments should be respectful. In addition we invite you to submit your own images to the Mormon Image series. Other images in the series can be found here. Rules and instructions, including submissions guidelines, can be found here.
Renewed Call for Photo Submissions
Since instituting the “A Mormon Image” series last fall, our submissions have slowed from a glut to a trickle. As a result, we thought we would issue a new call for photographs to be considered for inclusion in the series. The instructions for submissions can be found here and the images we have featured since kicking off the series can be viewed here.
A Mormon Image: Nauvoo Temple at First Light
The Nauvoo Temple at about 4:15 in the morning. I was up watching the equipment for the pageant and saw the Temple at the first early light.
A Mormon Image: Apostle and Cowboy
Elder George Albert Smith at Sundown Ranch in Aripine, Arizona (1941).
This Mormon Life
Several weeks ago the NPR program This American Life aired a stunning segment on Gordon Gee, the Latter-day Saint President of Ohio State University, and his daughter Rebecca. The segment revolved around a series of letters Gordon’s late wife Elizabeth wrote to their daughter as she was dying of cancer. Rebecca was 16 at the time of her mother’s death, and the letters were to be given to her each year on her birthday for thirteen years. Rebecca, however, gradually drifted from the Church, while the letters from her devout mother focused heavily on the deep yearnings she had for her daughter to remain close to the Mormon faith and marry in the temple. Gordon, meanwhile, began to find himself caught in between these letters from his late wife and his daughter, with whom he remained close. The segment, as is typical of This American Life, is handled deftly with balance, in a way that leads you to understand and identify with each side in the story. It also got me thinking of the many other Mormon-related segments This American Life has aired. Among the most poignant for me are Where’s King Solomon When You Need Him? from Episode 380, which tells the heart-wrenching adoption saga of a Mormon couple, and God’s Close Up from Season 1 of the This American Life television series, which profiles Latter-day Saint Artist Ben McPherson, and his effort to paint a series of works…