To see gallery of entire works together, click HERE
This show is about transmission, recontextualization, and symbolic meaning—in essence, they are works of translation. I'm fascinated with objects, their history and the meaning they imbue, especially when that meaning changes once placed within a different context. This show explores my faith and my relationship to my faith using the tools of art historical composition and object placement.
Below is a list of the works in the show with inspiration sources tied to the pieces. The commentary is not exhaustive in that I want you, the viewer to have space to make your own connections and meaning with the pieces. I hope this will aid in your viewing experience and invite you to submit your own commentary on the contact page.
"And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed he would not have fallen, but he would have remained in the garden of Eden. And all things which were created must have remained in the same state in which they were after they were created; and they must have remained forever, and had no end." —2 Nephi 2:22, Book of Mormon
This piece is meant to be an allegorical snapshot of the moment after Eve has partaken of the fruit, but before Adam does. It presents the dilemma and the decision at hand: to remain alone in the garden of Eden or follow Eve and enter a world full of pain, death, knowledge, childbirth, but ultimately growth and progression. It is full of symbolic objects representing aspects of the decision and references to the consequences of that decision, along with art historical influences rooting the composition.
Arnolfini Portrait, painting by Jan van Eyck, 1434
Enthroned Washington, sculpture by Horatio Greenaugh, 1832
Ka Statues of King Menkaura and Queen, Egyptian, Old Kingdom, Dynasty 4, reign of Menkaura, 2490-2472 B.C.
"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!" —Isaiah 52:7, KJV
I titled this piece "Jane" in reference to both Jane Manning James and to the moniker "Jane Doe." Jane Manning James was one of the first African American converts to join the saints, walking barefoot into Nauvoo. A pioneer on many levels, she eventually became one of the first African Americans to also settle in the mountain west and remained faithful until the end of her life, despite failed attempts to petition for her temple endowment.
"Jane Doe" is commonly used as a placeholder name for someone whose true identity is unknown or must be withheld due to some sort of legal action. I feel the historical experiences of African American Saints has been anonymizing and complicated to say the least. Black Saints can often stand out in a ward or branch due to their minority status and can face challenges to integration that their white counterparts might not have to face. Janan Graham-Russell, LDS writer and researcher on womanist theology in Mormonism, speaks to her experiences in joining the Church: "Yes, so I was aware of the priesthood restriction—priesthood and temple restrictions, rather, before I joined but I wasn’t aware how complex they were until I was baptized and I was going to the temple. I looked around in the temple and all I saw were white faces. To me, it was, 'We’re in this holy place and I don’t see anyone who looks like me.' That’s really what began that journey, was not seeing any church leaders that looked like me or any black or brown faces in going to the temple. That was a really powerful experience.” Black saints face the juxtaposition between standing out, but still being invisible.
As a white woman, I don't feel I can comment much on the experience of African American's in the Church, but this piece for me was a way for me to say "I see you. I honor you."
The choice to use Whistler's Mother was that it was an iconic painting created after the Saints had settled in Utah, Jane Manning James would have been in her late 50s. It has always had this Lucy Mack Smith feel to me and I wanted to reimagine this well known work with an African American model. I think we can and should have more works with people of color in our own visual culture.
This piece also has personal significance to me in that the model was a Sunday school teacher of my youth who was a huge influence on my own personal conversion to the Gospel. When I think of someone who embodies faith and lives it in a real way, I think of J.V. Agnew. Just to give the viewer an idea of her devotion, when she arrived to the shoot, she was fasting for someone she had never met but had heard was having a hard time.
Amidst themes of Race and pioneer heritage, the piece also references the overarching love of the Savior, through the portrait of Christ, gazing down on the subject and the mother hen in the foreground (Matthew 23:37, 3 Nephi 10:6).
Whistler's Mother, painting by James McNeill Whistler, 1871
Jane Manning James, Black Saint, 1847 Pioneer
Jesus Washing the Apostle's Feet, painting by Del Parson
Church Gospel Topic Essays, "Race and the Priesthood"
Genesis 3:15, Matthew 23:37, 2 Nephi 26:13
Inspired by Albrecht Durer’s “Melencolia I,” both pieces are explorations in iconography and the ethos in seeking higher realms.
This composition delves into the tension between knowing and actually living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The figure embodies both the intellectualization of divine intervention and a humanization of spiritual reaching. This convergence between the sacred and the profane is where we wrestle with truth and seek understanding. The surrounding objects create an allegorical rendering of this time before inspiration comes. Amidst all this, the necessity of a Savior emerges, bringing the divine light of Hope and "the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
The piece also explores the parallels between epistemological aspects of scientific knowledge and the practice of ongoing revelation in the Church. In both scientific inquiry and continuing revelation, new light will often confirm but occasionally redirect in unexpected ways.
In this way, the piece ruminates on cycles of striving for truth and the sublime, both on an individual and an institutional level. It is this intellectual dynamic that propels us forward: “...and he that receiveth light,and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth...until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
The title, Principia, is shared with Newton’s landmark text, which—while widely referenced to this day—was partially upended by Einstein’s theories on space and time. Subsequently, Einstein’s work has been somewhat rejected by later developments in quantum mechanics. Modern science is still trying to reconcile the paradoxes.
Joseph Smith once said beautifully: "by proving contraries, truth is made manifest.".
The setting resembles a workshop, drawing attention to both the "workshop of life" and the idea that we are also creations of the Great Master, the son of a carpenter. In the workshop of life, we ponder truth, wrestle with it before God, discover weaknesses, and apply Grace to the best of our mortal capabilities.
The potted plants exhibit different states of Faith, expanding on Alma's extensive allegory of our Faith being like "unto a seed" (Alma 32:28). Among other things, the hourglass represents the limited time we have here in this mortal realm, the ladder our aspirations in movement towards a higher realm, the red chain as the inevitable sins we encounter, and the compass in the subject's hands a pondering of truth.
Melancholia I, etching by Albrecht Dürer, 1514
Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson, 2007.
EMMA WITH A PEARL EARRING
"Emma with a Pearl Earring"
"The Girl with a Pearl Earring" by Johannes Vermeer is a striking portrait, psychologically investigative in nature—enough to inspire a book and subsequent movie. There is not much we know about the original model (in part because the figure is a "tronie" --a painting of an imaginary figure), and like the Mona Lisa, she stares at the viewer as if she has something to hide, but at the same time, wishes she could tell us. Emma Hale Smith had a rich and complicated relationship with Joseph, especially concerning his involvement with Polygamy. Her tense relationship with Brigham Young also created dilemmas for her after the death of Joseph and the exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo. Growing up I was relayed an nearly saccharine version of Emma, creating a mythical and almost imaginary image of her--a tronie of sorts. This narrative lacked the complexity and duality she possessed as an actual person. Sadly, most of what we know about her is through the accounts of others—which while partially illustrative, are only a snapshot of the truth—and like the portrait, we are left wishing we knew more.
I've always admired Emma's strength and her commitment through complex and heart-wrenching experiences. She went through extraordinary pains in the name of faith and family. This piece is meant as an homage to her, her tenacity and all that she endured in establishing the Church.
Girl with a Pearl Earring, painting by Johannes Vermeer, 1665
Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, book by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippitts Avery, 1994
QUEEN OF THE SOUTH
Queen of the South
"The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here." —Matthew 12:42, KJV
I was studying my scriptures one day and came across the above scripture and I became fascinated with this "Queen of the South" and wondered at who she was and what did it mean that she had the authority to judge. Scholars believe Christ was referencing the Queen of Sheba who came to King Solomon to test him with questions in her heart and found that he was as wise as she had heard. At the same time I was reading "The Alchemist" and found the character Melchizedek quite interesting, because he is the namesake of Mormonism's highest priesthood and he employs a Urim and Thummim, which is a tool that dates back to the time of Abraham but is also wrapped up into the story of Joseph Smith. I had this image came to mind of a queen wearing the Hoshen of ancient Judaism with a pair of black and white eggs who carried both questions and authority. The Urim and Thummim are often depicted as a pair of black and white rocks, but for a woman the eggs seemed more appropriate and symbolic of the choices inherent in the feminine sphere.
Queen Esther, painting by Minerva Teichert, 1939
The Alchemist, book by Paulo Coelho, 1993
The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood, a talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, April 2014
Alternative Feminist Approaches to Ordain Women, an interview with Fiona Givens, Maxine Hanks, Margaret Young, and Neylan McBaine.
A Veiled Vestal Virgin, sculpture by Raffaelle Monti
Aundrea Frahm’s “Mother and I” and “Altaer”
Matthew 12:42, Luke 11:31, Kings 10:1-6
“The woman who by lack of care lost the precious piece may be taken to represent the theocracy of the time, and the Church as an institution in any dispensational period; then the piece of silver, every one a genuine coin of the realm, bearing the image of the great King, are the souls committed to the care of the Church; and the lost piece symbolizes the souls that are neglected and, for a time at least, lost sight of by the authorized ministers of the Gospel of Christ.” --James E. Talmage's commentary on the parable of the Lost Coin, Jesus the Christ.
Compositionally based in Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World" this piece is about the tension between faith and remaining faithful. In Wyeths' original painting, the model suffered from a degenerative muscular disorder that made it impossible to walk. Keeping the faith can be difficult for those struggling through cultural confines, sifting through doctrine, church history, and personal revelation in the hopes of finding peace. I thought the painting presented an appropriate metaphor for desires unmet, struggles with perfectionism and pushing forward our mental handcarts.
Earlier this year I decided to read Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," a victorian play about a woman trying to act perfect in an imperfect marriage. In the end she leaves the marriage, which created quite a stir after the play's debut. Mormon audiences then and now would struggle with this less than happy ending but I thought it an appropriate metaphor for those who eventually decide to leave the Church. Even though I find more joy and goodness inside the Church than if I left, I understand there are pains that are too much for others to bear. This piece is my attempt at empathy and how I choose to "mourn with those that mourn" (Mosiah 18:9).
Christina's World, painting by Andrew Wyeth, 1948
A Doll's House, play by Henrik Ibsen, 1879
"The Parable of the Lost Coin," a blogpost by Samantha Strong Murphey, 3.18.2014.
"Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus." —John 18:10, KJV
In the New Testament I came across the scene where Peter cuts off the servant of the high priest's ear and Christ immediately heals it. I thought how terrifying that would be and how this person, who John gives us the name of Malchus, probably had no inclination or idea that Christ would be healing him. For anyone who sided with Christ, this Malchus seemed to be playing for the wrong team—and Christ heals him anyway.
So this piece, juxtaposed with Van Gogh's famous portrait, is meant to be the moment after the tragedy but before the healing. How often in our lives we don't see if and when the healing will come, but that it's there. And how often do we think we're not worthy of mercy and grace—but that Christ is there and possibly just about to send the healing we need. Symbolized here in the sheepskin trim of Malchus' jewish hat, the stripes on his clothes (Isaiah 53:5), and in the purple background—we can't see Christ literally but He is there just the same.
Self Portrait with Bandaged Ear, painting by Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
JOSEPH'S BOOK OF THE DEAD
"Joseph's Book of the Dead"
The Book of the Dead was an Egyptian funerary text, a liturgy of writings and spells that Egyptian's would have commissioned and buried with them after death. Different scenes are often delineated by curtains or veils that the deceased can pass through after completing certain tasks or tests. The scene depicted is one of the most commonly shown in Egyptian Books of the Dead, also known as the "Weighing of the Heart" ceremony. This ritual shows Anubis weighing the heart of the deceased on a set of scales against the (ostrich) feather of Maat or truth. Here Joseph is also pictured with a coin, the deceased often paying a tribute or token to Anubis as he escorts them through the underworld. I grew up listening to my father talk about Hugh Nibley and the many parallels between Egyptian funerary rights and Mormon temple rituals and it fascinated me to no end. The scene is full of symbols regarding Joseph's life, his establishing of Mormonism, and the ultimate need for a Savior.
The mortar and pestle are symbols of the pharmacy trade, or in this case the Great Physician. Other Christocentric symbols included in the composition are the set of scales, standing square in a cross shape (Christ as our true judge) and the large, rough stone. The Masonic G lends a triangular composition and draws the parallels between Mormons and Masons. It is also a reference to "Gazelem" which has interpretations relating to Joseph Smith and Seer Stones. The lotus blossom bowl is a symbol of resurrection and rebirth. The delft hippo is part of a reference to the "Destroyer," a three in one animal consisting of the head of a Crocodile, the body of a Lion, and the end of a Hippo. If the deceased did not pass the test, it was there to consume their soul and prevent them from progressing.
The keys are indicative of the priesthood which overlays or even subdues the rabbit or hare. The Hare is a symbol of The Trickster, or in this case the follies or fallibility of man. Joseph was specifically charged with being a trickster or a fraud and did in fact have a mischievous personality. I appreciate Adam Miller's thoughts on prophets: "While it is scary to think that God works through weak, partial, and limited mortals like us, the only thing scarier would be thinking that he doesn’t."
My work is heavily influenced by Mormon scholars like Richard Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Terryl Givens and I appreciate their academic rigor in presenting Mormon history.
Joseph Smith was an endlessly complex human being who sought to reimagine institutions and establish the Kingdom of God by restoring the Gospel of Jesus Christ after a long period of apostasy. His legacy has been endlessly debated and every decision scrutinized by scholars and apologetics inside and outside the faith. Despite all this, each member seeking admission into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must weigh for themselves whether or not Joseph was indeed a prophet of God. I thought this Egyptian ritual was an apropos scene with which to play out this conflict.
Egyptian Book of the Dead, Wikipedia Article
The Weighing of the Heart, Book of the Dead of the Priest of Horus, Imhotep (Imuthes). Early Ptolemaic Period, ca. 332–200 B.C. From Egypt
Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Lyman Bushman, 2005.
AFTER THE FALL
“After the Fall”
The composition of this piece was inspired by the Etruscan tombs prior to the Roman Empire. Often built out of Terra Cotta, they depicted a couple in a reclined pose, together in the afterlife--a parallel that easily translates to LDS teachings on eternal marriage. For Adam and Eve it also represents the spiritual death suffered after the fall, and the spiritual deaths we all go through as we progress--falling down but ideally, also falling forward.
I have a small black lab stuffed animal in the first Adam and Eve piece and I wanted to contrast that with the "realness" of life after we've taken the leap into something new--the idea of something vs. actually living it. The dog is also an old master symbol of fidelity, one of the themes which I wanted to carry on from the first one.
An alternate title I thought of using for this piece was "Faith of Eve." This piece is all about the hard part AFTER we've made big revelatory-induced decisions. The enduring and trying desperately to "cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward" (Heb 10:35). Sometimes those rewards take an incredibly long time to come, but I do believe they come.
Apart from themes about death, continuity, the perpetuation of relationships after changes and trials and beyond the grave--this piece also explores the idea of how having a child is an "epistimologically-transformative" decision--because you cannot know what having a child is like before you actually have a child. I thought about Eve's decision, and of our own decisions. How we can't know all the consequences until after we've made them and the implications of having a Savior play into that.
The star and the palm are both symbols of the Savior. I believe Eve had faith that the Savior would come, but she didn't know, and probably couldn't conceive of how long that would take. Time is so important to us, we measure everything by it, and quickly judge God when things don't happen in our time frame.
Sarcophagus of the Spouses Etruscan Tombs
“Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidences” BYU Devotional by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. March 2, 1999.
“Is Having a Child a Rational Decision” NPR Article. March 11, 2013.
“An Early Resurrection: Life in Christ before You Die” by Adam S. Miller. 2018.