“Museum Says Farewell to Record-Breaking Exhibit,” Ensign, Mar. 2006, 73
The Museum of Church History and Art’s exhibit Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration officially closed January 15, 2006, after running for almost a full year in which the museum broke records for the highest number of visitors in a single year with a total of 437,787 visitors.
“We broke all the records because people wanted to come see Joseph,” said Mark Staker, the exhibit curator.
Though the total count hasn’t been tallied for the number of visitors in January, more than 200 visitors an hour were reported coming in the evening to see the exhibit during its last days.
“It broke the record for day, for hour, and for the full year,” said Darrell Jones, a museum volunteer who worked in the exhibit. “One night we had 1,800 people between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. You couldn’t even move.”
From their totals thus far, July and December were the busiest months in the exhibit. During July, 64,452 visitors came to the museum from the United States and around the world.
Opened February 4, 2005, the exhibit celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith through a combination of original artifacts, documents, art, and media presentations that explored the process by which Joseph was prepared, tutored, and refined to fulfill his prophetic calling.
The exhibit contained revelations from the scriptures as they were originally penned, letters, journal entries, a cloak worn by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and fragments of the vest he was wearing at his Martyrdom. All of these artifacts and more illustrate the context in which the gospel was brought forth.
Hoping to have one last glimpse, Linda Johnson, a museum volunteer, pulled back the curtain to see Walter Rane’s painting Desires of the Heart, only to find that it, too, had already been taken down. The painting portrayed the boy Joseph kneeling in the Sacred Grove.
“We are sad to see it go,” Sister Johnson said. The painting had always struck her as particularly moving. Brother Staker said the most moving feature in the exhibit varied depending on what each individual visitor most related to, but for many, it was to feel they were in the presence of work Joseph did while on earth.
The museum is now moving on to other exhibits, preparing for the Seventh International Art Competition, which will open March 24, 2006.
“They will all be glorious and grand, but this one is gone. It’s a loss in a way,” Brother Staker said.
At the end of the exhibit there was a place where visitors could share their testimony of Joseph Smith. These testimonies have all been kept and will be placed in a permanent collection in the Church archives so that future generations can read the testimonies members have shared of the Prophet Joseph Smith during his bicentennial celebration.
“We even had many youth who could not travel to Salt Lake City to see the exhibit write their testimonies and send them in so their testimony could be included as part of the permanent record,” Brother Staker said. Those testimonies will continue on as mementos of the event. He added that there are two permanent areas in the museum that continue to celebrate the Prophet Joseph Smith: the Presidents of the Church exhibit and the Birth of the Book of Mormon exhibit.