Outcry at Proposed Removal of Minerva Teichert Mural in Manti Temple

On March 12, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced it would remove historic murals from the Salt Lake and Manti Temples as part of the renovation process, leaving many of us reeling.

Of particular concern is the erasure of the work of Minerva Teichert. Heather Belnap, BYU Associate Professor of Art History provides some context for the mural in the Manti Temple: 

“In 1947, as part of the centennial celebration for the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in Utah, Minerva Teichert was asked to paint a mural for the World Room in the Manti LDS Temple. Working day and night, she finished her magnificent ‘The Pageantry of History’ mural—which spans over 4,000 square feet—in only 23 days. She was completely exhausted and elated when she finished, and reported with satisfaction, ‘I am the first woman artist to ever be given such a commission in the church.’ Her entire career was centered around the telling of what she called ‘the Great Mormon story,’ and the Manti mural is her masterpiece.”

Many people have invested much of their lives to the study and preservation of LDS art. Writer and editor Lavina Fielding Anderson, one of the “September Six”  infamously excommunicated in 1993 and yet has remained a devoted attendee of the Mormon church, feels deeply wounded by the impending loss. Her husband, Paul Anderson, was an architect and dedicated much of his life to the historic preservation of classic pioneer buildings, including several temples and tabernacles. Anderson was heavily involved with the work of Nauvoo Restoration. The dedication to art, architecture and historic preservation was central to the lives of Paul and Lavina. 

Dialogue board member and art editor Andi Pitcher Davis reached out to Lavina Fielding Anderson, knowing how personally this would impact her. Here is Lavina’s response:

“On Wednesday and Thursday this week, I experienced such overwhelming sadness that I was almost paralyzed. I couldn’t stop crying. I was confused, baffled. It seemed inexplicable. The anniversary of Paul’s death is coming up at the end of the month, but no particular memory had triggered this pain. When I read the First Presidency’s announcement, I understood. Paul loved the pioneer temples and devoted his best efforts and most sensitive creativity to honoring their beauty and sacrifice. There is grieving on both sides of the veil over this decision, made all the more dreadful because the justification is numbers, numbers, numbers. I’m sick at heart.

“The April 2020 issue of the Journal of Mormon History published Paul’s 2004 essay on ‘Preserving the Manti Temple.’ It includes his terrible shock when the Logan Temple was ‘remodeled,’ meaning demolished to the walls, in the late 1970s. He literally saw a bulldozer driving around inside the structure. In that context, the preservation of the Manti Temple and its continued use of the live endowment was a triumph, thanks in large part to Paul’s boss, Florence Smith Jacobsen, and the devotion of Manti’s Saints, both past and present. Since my excommunication in 1993, two different First Presidencies have rejected my appeals for reinstatement, thus forbidding my entrance to the temple. For the first time, I’m not sorry about it.”

Pitcher emphasizes the pain of losing a site specific installation, “The World Room is a three story testament to the women of Mormonism who made this desert blossom as a rose. The removal of the Teichert mural is the ripping out of the still beating heart of the Mother.” 

Professor Belnap beautifully summarizes our collective pain at the loss of Teichert and others’ art: “All of these artists painted with the conviction that theirs was a holy work, and these temple murals were sacred offerings. I have spent a lot of time with these pioneer artists and their art, and they have come to feel like old friends, even family. Their art has edified me, increased my connection to my heritage, and deepened my discipleship—and I know that it has blessed the lives of countless others.”

For many of us, Minerva Teichert is an oasis in a patriarchal desert. Almost all the paintings hung in Church spaces are both male focused and male produced. I heard recently in a podcast about Teichert that she submitted art to the Church to consider as the illustrations for the Book of Mormon. One can’t help but wonder how the Church might have been influenced had her more nuanced and inclusive works been used as opposed to Arnold Friberg’s muscle bound prophets. She tried to sell them to the Church but they didn’t want them, so she ended up donating them to BYU where they are on display at the Museum of Art, thanks in part to Paul Anderson. This mural erasure feels like not just another rejection of Minerva, but of the female voice, the feminine divine, and of our right to be in holy places. 

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25 Responses

  1. Elisa says:

    I would add that this is just going to make temples seem sterile. I am someone who doesn’t particularly love the temple (understatement …), but its connection to our spiritual (and for many, including me, literal) ancestors is one redeeming quality that’s being erased here.

  2. EmilyCC says:

    Yes, yes, yes. I have a cousin who is an artist and works often with frescoes. She pointed out that the textures and swirls and colors will be lost in photographs. I feel this loss keenly as Minerva’s work brought me comfort when I have done work in the Manti temple.

  3. BETSY SHAFER says:

    Say it isn’t so!

  4. Marie says:

    I am so dismayed about all of it, but particularly the impending loss of Teichert’s Manti temple mural. As you note here she was remarkable, a great talent, and a WOMAN–something uncommon in our main body of church devotional art and it really does feel like her femaleness and her more nuanced style has played a role in her being treated as a second class artist in the church. A few years ago when her Book of Mormon paintings were on display at BYU I learned about how they’d been rejected by the church in favor of Friberg’s Schwarzenegger prophets, so certainly the relative disfavor shown to her work by church leadership is nothing new. But I learned the other day from a friend who is Teichert’s great-granddaughter that some Teichert descendants (though no one in my friend’s branch of the family) have filed a lawsuit against the church having something to do with how much the church is profiting from selling prints of her work. She and I wonder if the lawsuit could have played some role in the church’s exclusion of Teichert’s very popular works from the list of approved church foyer art and/or influenced the church’s plans for the Manti World Room.

  5. mkaribarr says:

    Or maybe her art style is not a preference. I love pastels so one would think I would like many of her works, but in fact I do not “love” them. I appreciate them and her testimony within them. I have never been to Manti, but judging from the picture her art is more inline with what I like color-wise and stylistically. I do not think the choice to remodel any temple is based on gender. Nor do I think the rejection of the use of any art is based on whether the artist is male or female. My church building has art by Teichert, I am sure countless others do as well, if the rejection of her art was gender related it would not be allowed anywhere…simply using the word allowed in relation to the doings of the church is jarring to my senses. It has no relation to the church I am apart of. I am sorry some in the gospel feel such stings against them.

    • Les says:

      Their “stings” are valid. Just as your opinion to not “love” her style of art. The point is, whether people appreciate her aesthetic or not is irrelevant. Teichert is one of the most important and revered artists of her time for multiple reasons. The removal of the her mural in the Manti temple and other murals by similarly important and respected artists in other temples is akin to the Vatican removing the murals in the Sistine Chapel. It’s absolutely devastating.

    • Marianne Eileen Wardle says:

      Loving or not loving artwork does not affect its intrinsic value or art historical importance. Personal preference is irrelevant to the question of whether and in what manner Teichert’s work should be preserved. Removing them (which is possible with conservation experts) would make them available for study and viewing by a greater audience. The church has plenty of money, but lacks the will to preserve something extraordinary.

    • Marianne Eileen Wardle says:

      And please don’t confuse the gospel with the church. The gospel never stings. The church often wounds.

  6. Z Cl says:

    “the female voice, the feminine divine, and of our right to be in holy places.”

    I have seen no evidence that the mormon church as an organization wants to do anything but silence, sterilize, mute, and remove all things female from divinity and from holy places but that which serves their interest in power and feeds their ego.

    What is there going to be to see, other than the truth of these expensive, soulless, great and spacious buildings men have erected for their own glory?

  7. Aimee says:

    Manti is my temple—we can see the “rabbit ears” of the spires on a clear night from my parents ranch 30 miles away. I was married there in one of the small rooms off the Celestial room that required everyone attending to wear white. It was there that a part of my religious mind was activated by the sight of an old Eve picking a pretend apple from a painted tree, and a retired Sanpete sheep herder, pronouncing the name “Jehova,” (gee-hove-a) during the creation of the world, in a way no literalist film could ever ignite. And the world room—to be immersed in Minerva’s gorgeous, densely vivid idiosyncratic Mormon vision is the closest thing we have to a Sistine Chapel—but ours was created by a woman. I have known for a long time now that I was unlikely to ever be allowed back into those rooms, but like Lavina, “for the first time I’m not sorry about it.” As I see so many people I love grieving this loss, I can’t help feeling that our attachment to the peculiarities, complexities, and wrestle with the problematic parts of our pioneer faith is exactly why so many are fine ripping the hearts out of them. Add me to the list of the heartbroken.

    • Becca says:

      So much this. The beating heart of the Manti temple experience, from the humble presentation of the live endowment to the soaring murals of the world room, reached my heart as a woman in a way that the video endowment simply does not. I am truly saddened.

  8. Laurie Lisonbee says:

    I was told by someone “in the know” that phone calls asking for the mural’s preservation should be made to Brent Roberts, managing director of the Church’s Special Projects Department, as well as to the office of the Presiding Bishopric which has oversight of Brent Roberts. (801) 240-1000.

    • Millie Tullis says:

      Thank you for this information– I wonder if we could start a letter (or email!) writing campaign of some kind

  9. DeAnn S says:

    If you would like to express your feelings about this renovation, you can call the LDS Church at 801.240.1000 and ask for Tom Owen. You may also email RobertsSS@churchofjesusChrist.org. The most effective outreach will express respect and love for the temple and the art therein. This information can be found on the Juvenile Instructor Blog. https://juvenileinstructor.org/losing-minerva-a-guest-post-on-the-temple-murals/

  10. Mary Young says:

    I am appalled and grieved and, yes, angry. I am reminded of the day an attorney who admitted to a complete lack of knowledge about music explained to me and my organist son why Bach is musical anathema, but a few “tweaks” would make an evangelical pop-rock piece perfectly acceptable for Sacrament meeting. For too long, we’ve left all our questions about art to businessmen and Philistines .I. Am. Angry.

  11. Jeanne PIckett says:

    Who do we write our protests to? This temple, artwork, spiral staircases and live performances need to continue. This our heritage and history. If we need a more expedited system to get temple work done build a new temple but do not disturb this wonderful testimony and monument erected by the sacrifices of faithful women and men. PLEASE! Jeanne Hickman Pickett

  12. Jo says:

    This makes me so angry. The church’s attitude toward historic art and architecture is consistently abysmal. Destroying these murals is so short-sighted.

  13. BT says:

    There is a group forming to try to preserve the temple. Join us to see how you can get involved: https://www.facebook.com/preservethemantitemple

  14. Klee says:

    Appalled, dismayed and disgusted as well as heartbroken are the only words I can find in response to the news of the destruction of the artwork in the Salt Lake and Manti temples. I have little if any faith that an outpouring of negative feedback would prevent this action. I am arguing with myself about an email to the church right now. As was mentioned earlier- the gospel is not the church. Does anyone know what is happening with the St. George temple? This is a disgrace!

    • EmilyB says:

      Nelson-patriarch-of-the10-children is a man whose policies cannot abide a woman’s work product tsking center stage during priesthood ordinances. I imagine letters would fall on deaf ears

    • James Stephens says:

      You would be surprised how much public momentum can change a decision. Public outcry was what saved the tabernacles in Heber City and Bountiful. Public outcry was what altered the plans for the Tooele Temple (which would have had high-density housing surrounding the temple if the saints there did not voice their objections).

      As for the St. George Temple, they’re bringing back progression and murals. Same with Mesa, Arizona. That’s what I find confusing. There’s so much effort to preserve those temples (as well as the Idaho Falls and Laie Temples years earlier), yet the Manti and Salt Lake Temples don’t get the same treatment. It’s baffling.

  15. Jared T. says:

    I really want to push back on the use of words like “erasure” that more typically are used to describe settler-colonial violence toward indigenous peoples.

    And while yes, it is disappointing that the Church has moved in the direction of whitewashing cultural difference instead of celebrating it, we should also remember that when so much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth happens when it comes to white American culture being deemphasized, the message to many with indigenous roots whose ancestral cultures were destroyed in the name of building the settler culture that is being mourned, is that notions of exceptionalism are very very real even among the most open minded or “liberal” white members. We might point to the racist depiction of an Indian juxtaposed with laudable depictions of Pilgrims, white settlements, and Columbus. Is this the culture you want to preserve and defend? Please, next Columbus Day, don’t talk to me about how we should replace Columbus day with Indigenous Peoples day if you are favoring preserving those depictions in the holy temple. You are showing your true colors. And we are watching it.

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