“History Meets Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming,” Ensign, June 1980, 79–80
History Meets Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Who would think of using cowboys and Indians to share the gospel? “Probably only someone from Jackson Hole, Wyoming,” says John Campbell, a member of the Driggs Idaho Stake presidency who has worked closely with mission and other Church leaders to open a historical art center in Jackson Hole this June.
The new center will be open during the summer season seven days a week. It is directed by Ritchey M. Marbury III, Idaho Boise Mission president; and Ivan R. Willey, Idaho Falls visitors’ center director.
Members in Jackson Hole are excited about having a unique way to share the gospel with their friends. Financing comes from money raised by Church members who feel a need for a Mormon historical art center in Jackson.
Located near the entrances to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, Jackson Hole hosts several million visitors during a typical summer season. Finding a way to attract those vacationers to a visitors’ center took “some thought and a lot of prayer,” says President Campbell. “We felt strongly that area history, including cowboys and Indians, would be an effective way to attract people to the center.”
Jackson Hole has been promoted as the “last and best of the old west.” And many people come to Jackson primarily to enjoy the wild-west atmosphere. However, Jackson is also a major western art center, and galleries are popular tourist attractions. So local Church leaders decided to include original Mormon art as an equally important part of the center.
The center will present the gospel through both history and art. Artifacts and original art pieces are captioned to tell local history. Jackson Hole was settled largely by Church members, and tales of these colorful yet faithful pioneers and their relationships with the local Indian tribes make interesting entertainment. Many stories emphasize gospel principles as practiced by the early settlers.
A focal point of the history is the story of Elijah Nickolas (“Uncle Nick”) Wilson, one of the first white men to bring his family to the valley. A member of the Church, he lived in Utah as a boy. When he was twelve, he was lured away by a tribe of Shoshone Indians and lived with them for two years. He became Chief Washakie’s adopted brother and close friend. After Uncle Nick returned to his white family, he became a pony express rider and eventually led the first families and wagons over the Teton Pass and into Jackson Hole.
Future plans for the historical presentation include a “living museum” featuring people dressed as pioneers and engaged in pioneering pursuits like quilting, square dancing, and blacksmithing.
Original paintings and sculpture by LDS artists whose work meets rigid standards will be on display at the visitors’ center this summer. Subjects treated include an early rendezvous between fur traders and Indians: irrigation, a Mormon contribution to Jackson Hole; a life-size depiction of the Savior; and an early meetinghouse, the social, cultural and spiritual center of the community.
The matching of history and art gives the center a wider appeal, thereby increasing its potential for teaching the gospel. Hopes are high for it to generate numerous referrals and baptisms. And if visitors leave the center with a better idea of what Church members believe and of what contributions they make, it will have served much of its purpose.