Art in Sacred Space

Rita Wright is the curator for the Springville Museum of Art. Formerly she taught art at Brigham Young University and was the curator for the LDS Church History Museum. Currently she sits on the worldwide committee for art selection for the LDS Church.

She joins Laura Harris Hales of LDS Perspectives Podcast to discuss the function of art in sacred space beginning with the first Christians. Together they discuss the beginning of art in the catacombs, through the dark ages, enduring symbols, and overlooked and creative use of art to create a sacred atmosphere.

Through her years of teaching, Rita realized that sometimes members of the LDS Church have difficulty understanding the art of other religions because of bias and ignorance of the meaning of iconography. She walks us through some common symbols and architectural styles and how they strive to create a feeling of sacredness.

While cathedrals may sometimes come off as garish and colorful to some, members can gain better understanding about these places if they learn more about them and their purpose.

The initial cathedrals were built as Bibles for the poor because the commoners had no access to Bibles and could not read.

Rita shares some insights on how we can appreciate sacred art on a theological, social, and psychological level.

The Witnesses of the Book of Mormon

By June 1829 Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer had verbalized a desire to be the special three witnesses alluded to in the Book of Mormon.

D&C 17 records a revelation affirming their roles as witnesses and was given to Joseph Smith through a seer stone he apparently found while digging a well in 1822.

As witnesses, the three were very different. Martin Harris was zealous, impetuous, and even a bit eccentric. Oliver Cowdery was an intellectual. And David Whitmer was regarded as clear-thinking, down-to-earth, and honest.

David Whitmer was, perhaps, the strongest witness because he lived so long, never wavered in his testimony of the vision, and gave several newspaper interviews that give us additional details regarding the experience. David reported seeing several plates, the sword of Laban, the Liahona, and the Urim and Thummim.

Joseph Smith was understandably relieved to have others to testify of the existence of the plates. Larry Morris concludes that the experience of the Three Witnesses was both an empirical and spiritual experience.

Join Nick Galieti of LDS Perspectives Podcast as he interviews Larry Morris as part of the Revelations in Context podcast series.

What is LDS Doctrine?

Dr. Michael Goodman was part of the team tagged to write the institute cornerstone course The Eternal Family. He and his team developed 28 lessons using the 600-word “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” as a framework.

When deciding what to include, the writers needed to determine what was doctrine and what was individual interpretation.

Using definitions provided by LDS Church leaders, they were able to articulate clear criteria.

Doctrine is what the current prophets, seers, and revelators are teaching. They include eternal, essential truths necessary for our salvation and meet three criteria:

  1. Doctrine is eternal; it does not change through time.
  2. Doctrine is sustained by the united voice of the Council of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency.
  3. Doctrine is necessary for our salvation.

On LDS.org, the nine basic doctrines of the Church are listed and are now the current focus of the seminary Doctrinal Mastery program.

Dr. Goodman points out in his discussion with Laura Harris Hales of the LDS Perspectives Podcast that just because something isn’t doctrine, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t come from God. It simply means we can look at it in light of its non-doctrinal nature.

Visit LDS Perspectives to find links to resources including the Basic Doctrines listed on lds.org.

Mormon Studies in the 21st Century

Historian, author, and educator Patrick Mason tells his students that Mormon studies is just a really fun place to play. It gets to the heart of the questions we have in 21st century society.

By studying Mormonism, we can learn more about the world we live in as it touches on the following:

  • Minority/majority relations;
  • How we can organize a democratic society;
  • The role of religion in the public sphere;
  • Gender issues;
  • Marriage; and
  • Family.

Mormonism, Mormon history, Mormon theology usually has something to say about these foundational issues.

Host Russell Stevenson of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Patrick Mason about how the way historians do their business has changed over the last 100 years. In the 19th century, history tended to be bipolar with anti-Mormons on one end and church leaders, members, and historians offering their version from a faith-promoting perspective that acknowledged God’s involvement in affairs.

By the late 20th century, historians began to weigh truth claims in a more dispassionate manner. Their goals were less polemic and more directed toward enhancing understanding–wherever that may lead.

Please join us for this interesting discussion.

Recapturing the Mormon Trail

Artists Josh Clare, John Burton, and Bryan Mark Taylor worked for years on a project called Saints at Devil’s Gate. It consists of landscapes capturing the Mormon Trail, the 1,300-mile route from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah, that mid-19th century pioneers traveled on their migration west.

The artists’ intention was to pair their paintings with excerpts from historical trail journals by Mormon immigrants, which would allow them to construct a singular persona that could stand for the whole of the pioneer experience.

The paintings record the mundane trail that accompanied the pioneers’ daily wanderings. Practical activities are detailed such as washing clothes, picking wildflowers, and playing music and dancing together in the evenings.

Beyond picturesque beauty, the paintings also explore a sense of the sublime and also sometimes the horrific.

LDS Church History Museum Curator Laura Allred Hurtado discusses with Laura Harris Hales of LDS Perspectives Podcast how researching the history for the book that accompanies the exhibit expanded her understanding of the experience of those who traveled the Mormon trail. For many, it was a rite of passage and the experience of a lifetime.

Join us as we seek a more nuanced glimpse into what the Mormon trail meant to those who traversed it and discuss what we can learn from reading their experiences.