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Mormon Trail Paintings on Display at Church History Museum

Paintings featuring landscapes of the Mormon Trail are on display at the Church History Museum of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. A new exhibition titled “Saints at Devil’s Gate: Landscapes along the Mormon Trail,” begins Thursday, November 17, 2016, and runs through August 2017. The exhibition features 52 recently painted plein air (painted outdoors) landscapes by Latter-day Saint artists John Burton, Josh Clare and Bryan Mark Taylor, who started the ambitious project in 2011.


The paintings depict the land along the Mormon Trail as the pioneers would have seen it in all four seasons. The trail is the 1,300-mile route from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City that some 70,000 Mormon pioneers traveled between 1846 and 1868 on their journey to the West.

The free exhibition also includes a collection of preparatory sketches. In addition, an online exhibition highlights images and details of the artwork. 

Reflecting on their experience of painting outdoors along the Mormon Trail, the artists often remarked on their opportunity to document the historic trail that their ancestors traveled and often echoed a shared sense of awe and wonder at the near-mythical American West.

“Burton, Clare and Taylor approached the subject of the Mormon Trail with a mix of professional practice and religious tribute,” said museum curator Laura Allred Hurtado. “The artists’ work explored 19th-century modes of thought regarding the landscape as picturesque and sublime in ways that often mirrored the sentiments of Mormon pioneers as they crossed the plains.”

The paintings in the exhibition are organized to reflect geographically moving westward along the trail. “This geographic organization creates an experience for the viewer that mirrors a journey,” added Hurtado, who has also co-written a book on the subject with Bryon C. Andreasen, the historian who researched historical accounts for "Saints at Devil’s Gate."

The Church Historian’s Press has announced the release of the companion book also titled “Saints at Devil’s Gate: Landscapes along the Mormon Trail.” The book showcases paintings from the exhibition, which are paired with quotations from pioneers who traveled the trail.

“It’s a shame these landscapes are now fly-over country, that so many travelers today race past them without a thoughtful pause,” said Andreasen. “If these paintings kindle in some a desire to slow down and take in the landscape, to exercise historical imagination while infusing the views with fresh, personal meaning, the exhibition will have been a success.”

Hurtado said the artwork is on loan to the Church and that this is the only time all of the paintings will be shown together in one collection.

Burton is an award-winning oil painter and graduate of Academy of Art University. Clare graduated with a bachelor’s degree in illustration from BYU–Idaho in 2007 and has earned numerous awards. Taylor has won many top awards from the most prestigious plein air invitationals. He received his bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in 2001 and his master’s degree in fine arts from Academy of Art University in 2005. 

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