Strangers and Pilgrims

Season 1 – Death of the Prophet Joseph Smith

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The Paintings of C.C.A. Christensen

In my last blog post I talked about how much I enjoy Boyd K. Packer's talk The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord.

I wanted to share, from that talk, a story which I love, which story didn't really fit in with the purpose of my last blog post.  That story is on the discovery of paintings by C.C.A Christensen.

Boyd K. Packer tells the story as follows:

Some years ago I was chairman of a committee of seminary men responsible to produce a filmstrip on Church history. One of the group, Trevor Christensen, remembered that down in Sanpete County was a large canvas roll of paintings. They had been painted by one of his progenitors, C. C. A. Christensen, who traveled through the settlements giving a lecture on Church history as each painting was unrolled and displayed by lamplight. The roll of paintings had been stored away for generations. We sent a truck for them, and I shall not forget the day we unrolled it.

Now, I am pretty sure that the Trevor Christensen he is referring to is Mormon Filmmaker T.C. Christensen.  T.C. makes a lot of films based in Mormon History.

Boyd K. Packer and these guys go and find these rolls of paintings hidden in a back room.  He goes on:

Brother Christensen was not masterful in his painting, but our heritage was there. Some said it was not great art, but what it lacked in technique was more than compensated in feeling. His work has been shown more widely and published more broadly and received more attention than that of a thousand and one others who missed that point.

I do not think Brother Christensen was a great painter, some would say not even a good one. I think his paintings are masterful. Why? Because the simple, reverent feeling he had for his spiritual heritage is captured in them. I do not think it strange that the world would honor a man who could not paint very well.

I like this story because I grew up seeing C.C.A. Christensen's art in all of the church buildings I attended.  They were everywhere.  And, I always just assumed that he was this celebrated, popular artist.

Turns out, he was an artist who happened to be the ancestor of a filmmaker the Mormon church was working with.  And, not only that, but Boyd K. Packer doesn't even think he is, technically, a great artist -- but thinks he makes masterful paintings.  Packer thinks Christensen is good at capturing the Mormons' spiritual heritage.

To me the story is, "Guess how this one painting ended up in every Mormon church building across the country."  I think that's pretty interesting.

This Blog Post here has a little bit of a write-up about C.C.A. Christensen's art.

One of C.C.A. Christensen's paintings shows the Death of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith.

The paper show's Joseph, as he dies, being hit by a beam of light.  This idea that Joseph's body was hit by a beam of light when he died was a lie created by a man around Nauvoo, Illinois -- Joseph's hometown -- who thought adding that part in to the story would help him sell pamphlets he had written up recounting the death of the Mormon prophet.

That false part of the story ended up working its way in to some tellings of Joseph's death -- like that of C.C.A. Christensen's. 

I have tried, really hard, in writing my 9-episode series on the Death of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith to not get anything historically inaccurate or false in there.  I'm pretty sure that the story I have, while not all the truth, is all true.