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Church Historian’s Press Publishes Collection of Mormon Trail Paintings

The Church Historian’s Press has announced the release of a new book titled Saints at Devil’s Gate: Landscapes along the Mormon Trail. The book showcases fifty-two landscape paintings of the Mormon Trail, the 1,300-mile route from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City that tens of thousands of Latter-day Saint pioneers traveled in the nineteenth century. Each painting is paired with quotations from the original journals and reminiscences of pioneers who made the journey.

The paintings were created from 2011 to 2016 by award-winning Latter-day Saint landscape artists John Burton, Josh Clare, and Bryan Mark Taylor. Jean Stern, executive director of the Irvine Museum in Southern California, said that these artists are “noted for their remarkable ability to paint beautiful and elegant works, filled with natural light and brilliant color.” He added that the paintings will “appeal to all viewers, those who seek meaning and enlightenment in the historical background of the trail as well as those who seek beauty in art and nature.”

The pairing of the paintings with historical quotations allows modern-day readers to share in some of the feelings that Mormon pioneers experienced while traveling west. For example, Bryan Mark Taylor’s Looking Back, which depicts Nauvoo as seen from across the Mississippi River in Iowa, is paired with a May 1846 excerpt from Wilford Woodruff’s journal: “I left Nauvoo for the last time perhaps in this life. I looked upon the temple & city of Nauvoo as I retired from it & felt to ask the Lord to preserve it as a monument of the sacrifice of his Saints.”

Laura Allred Hurtado, global acquisitions art curator for the Church History Museum, points out that “not all the experiences of the Mormon pioneers were tragic. Journal entries capture the mundane and practical toiling of daily life,” such as finding places to wash clothes, picking flowers, and dancing and playing music.

Pioneers also commented regularly, sometimes quite poetically, on the beauty and grandeur of the land they were traversing. Referencing bluffs she had passed in western Nebraska on the journey in summer 1853, English convert Hannah Tapfield King wrote, “The Bluff ruins . . . are very beautiful— I should like to have an explanation about them—but I suppose none know their history— They stand out in bold relief with a silent eloquence that speaks trumpet-tongued to every thinking mind— There they are looking eternally silent.”

The new book accompanies an exhibition of the same name opening at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on November 17. The free exhibition is open to the public and will run through August 2017. An online exhibit is also available at history.lds.org.

Saints at Devil’s Gate: Landscapes along the Mormon Trail, by Laura Allred Hurtado and Bryon C. Andreasen and featuring the artwork of John Burton, Josh Clare, and Bryan Mark Taylor, will be available for purchase at the Church History Museum store and at store.lds.org.

The Church Historian’s Press is an imprint of the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For more information on the press, please visit churchhistorianspress.org.