Museum Commemorates Handcart Experience
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“Museum Commemorates Handcart Experience,” Ensign, Dec. 2006, 78

Museum Commemorates Handcart Experience

Willie and Martin Remembered: A Tribute to the Mormon Handcart Pioneers, an exhibit honoring the Willie and Martin handcart companies and commemorating the 150th anniversary of their trek across the plains, is nearing the end of its run at the Museum of Church History and Art, closing at the beginning of January 2007 after opening in September.

The exhibit, which features paintings and sculpture depicting the Willie and Martin handcart companies that were caught in snowstorms on the plains of Wyoming while traveling to Utah in 1856, may still be viewed online by visiting the museum’s Web site (www.lds.org/churchhistory/museum).

“Nearly every label in the exhibit contains a quotation from one of the pioneers or their rescuers,” said museum curator Robert Davis. “I could not think of a more powerful way to tell this story than through the words of those who experienced it. The quotations and the works of art create a sense of compassion and reverence for these faithful people who endured horrific tragedies and who mustered incredible faith in God.”

The exhibit follows the pioneers’ difficult journey to Utah, from boarding ships in England to crossing the snowy plains of Iowa and Nebraska. The end of the exhibit depicts a renewed sense of hope as valiant rescuers bring the beleaguered handcart pioneers to safety in Salt Lake City.

The year 2006 marked the 150th anniversary of the arrival of these handcart companies in the Salt Lake Valley, and the exhibit commemorates that anniversary. Regarding the trials those pioneers faced, President Gordon B. Hinckley said in the October 2006 general conference: “Their faith is our inheritance. Their faith is a reminder to us of the price they paid for the comforts we enjoy today” (“The Faith to Move Mountains,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 84).

Several of the artists whose works appear in the exhibit are direct descendants of Willie and Martin company pioneers and their rescuers.

Stephen Mark Bartholomew’s painting shows his great-great-grandmother and her sister as teenagers gathering wood in the snow. Through his research, he learned that these girls pulled one of two family handcarts all the way across the plains until their rescue near Devil’s Gate.

Artist Glen Hawkins painted his ancestor Ann Jewell Rowley, a widow, pulling a handcart through the snow with the help of her seven children, who traveled with her in the Willie company.

Stephen Mark Bartholomew’s work depicts an ancestor gathering wood in the snow. (Snowbound at Red Buttes, by Stephen Mark Bartholomew.)