“A Conversation about the Church Museum,” Ensign, Aug. 1985, 78
The Museum of Church History and Art opened its doors in April 1984. Since then, it has assisted members and nonmembers alike in understanding the cultural context of the Latter-day Saints and their history and art. Recently the Ensign visited with Glen M. Leonard, the museum’s director. Here is a portion of that conversation.
Q. Since its opening, how has the museum been received?
A. Very well. We have gained a lot of favorable media attention, including articles and reviews in newspapers and magazines and coverage on radio and television. We have also received many positive comments from museum authorities. They commend us for the standards of excellence we have set for ourselves in our exhibits. Our museum catalogs, posters, and exhibits have won awards for excellence in design and presentation.
One of the best indications of how we’re being received is the number of favorable comments from visitors to the museum. Since its opening, the museum has had almost 400,000 visitors. Many of them return again and again.
Q. What are some of the exhibits you’ve featured?
A. We have permanent exhibits on the twelve presidents of the Church, a portrait gallery featuring Church leaders from Joseph Smith’s time to the present, a gallery featuring the work of LDS Indian artists, and our Masterworks exhibit that displays some of the finest work by LDS artists from the Church’s collection. Our rotating exhibits cover a variety of topics from the works of contemporary LDS artists to historical photographic displays to a Hmong textile exhibit.
A top priority now is the historical galleries, which when opened in about a year and a half will become part of the museum’s permanent exhibits. This extensive display will help tell the story of the Church from its beginnings to the present and will include sections on the early LDS historical events, immigration to the West, and historical exhibits on missionary work, temple building, and educational and welfare programs. There are many more faith-promoting stories to tell and artifacts to display than there is available space.
Q. How do you decide which artifacts and objects to display?
A. Our approach is to do interpretive exhibits. That is, each is built around a message or a theme with carefully selected objects and explanatory texts that will help the viewer learn more about the theme.
For example, a recent exhibit featured the painting of LeConte Stewart, a contemporary LDS landscape artist whose goal was to capture the spiritual essence of God’s handiwork. We tried to convey that idea by accompanying Stewart’s works with some of his writings. We had several visitors, including many artists, tell us that although they had viewed Stewart’s work before, our exhibit had given them a new understanding of his approach to art.
Q. What exhibits do you plan next?
A. Our next major goals are to open the historical galleries and increase our international collection. The international collection specifically is a steadily growing collection with an emphasis on the history, sacrifices, and art of Church members from all cultures. Some of the international items we now have on display are a batik showing the First Vision, a Latin American wood carving of a bust of Joseph Smith, and a mola from Panama depicting Moroni’s visit to the Prophet.
Q. How do you obtain the artifacts and objects in your collection?
A. Most are donated. Since the museum opened, the pace of donations has greatly increased. Some families have willed the museum their entire collections of antiques, art, and artifacts. Many of these items will become part of permanent or rotating exhibits, but we are planning a special exhibit opening in January to show off a few of our recent acquisitions.
Some of the donated furniture pieces were used in the Manti Temple. Others will be used to furnish the log cabin that is presently being restored just south of the museum. There has been a great deal of interest in the cabin, which was displayed in the southeast corner of Temple Square for many years. It was built in the fall of 1847 and was part of the Salt Lake Pioneer Fort constructed to house newcomers to the valley until they could complete homes on their city lots.
Q. What other features does the museum offer as part of its overall educational program?
A. We have guided tours available by prearrangement, gallery talks, films, and lectures often associated with the exhibit openings. We also offer catalogs of many of our collections, as well as post cards and art prints available in the museum store.