For generations, it has been an LDS icon, one of the most famous
artworks of Mormonism. Now, a copy of Torleif S. Knaphus' \"Handcart
Pioneers\" sculpture, viewed by millions of Temple Square visitors over
the years, will grace the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Ottestad,
Norway, about a two-hour drive north of Oslo.
Knaphus (1881-1965) was a Norwegian convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who
emigrated to Salt Lake City in 1905, where he created many sculptures
and paintings, some with LDS themes. Many of the sculptures were
commissioned by the church. Besides the handcart statue, perhaps his
most famous work is the Hill Cumorah Monument in Palmyra, N.Y.,
depicting the angel Moroni.
\"It is a natural fit to have a statue about emigrants by a Norwegian
emigrant be placed at the Norwegian Emigrant Museum,\" said Allen P.
Gerritsen, a Knaphus grandson and representative of the Knaphus
(pronounced kuh-NOP-hoos) Family Organization.
The sculpture being sent to Norway is a casting from the 3-feet-high
original commissioned in 1924 by the Daughters of Utah Handcart
Pioneers. That work was displayed for decades in the old Bureau of
Information Building on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, where the
South Visitors Center now stands.
For the 1947 centennial of the coming of the Mormon pioneers to
Utah, the church commissioned a heroic-size copy of the sculpture for
placement on Temple Square, where it has stood for years just east of
the Assembly Hall.
Gerritsen said the sculpture going to Norway will be
placed June 7 in a prominent location outside the museum along a
pathway between the museum's research center and church. The event will
be marked by a celebration and formal unveiling, with Norwegian
dignitaries to be invited.
Scores of Knaphus descendants gathered Saturday in Salt Lake City
for a \"send-off\" of the sculpture. Among those on hand were two people
who served as models for members of the pioneer family depicted in the
And Knaphus' own daughter, Marie Kanphus James, was the model for the little girl riding in the handcart.
Now 85, she shared memories of her father. Though she does not
remember him sculpting the original in 1924, the creation of the large
one in 1947 \"was a big thing in my life,\" she said.
She remembered going to the studio to see him work. She was there on
one occasion as a young married woman, when she expressed admiration
for his work and the wish that she had such talent.
\"He stopped his work, got down and looked me in the eye, and said,
'Why Marie, you're sculpting right now.'\" He told her she was sculpting
the lives of her children.
\"He was quick to make you feel like his work was no more important that anyone else's\" she remarked.
She remembered when in his later years a reporter
from Life magazine interviewed him in his Salt Lake studio,
surrounded by statues, oil paintings and clay models. Asked what his
greatest work was, he pointed out pictures of his
family and a large genealogical pedigree chart hanging on the wall. He
replied, \"My family and this genealogical research has been my greatest
work in life.\"
It was not the answer the Life reporter was looking for, his daughter recalled, but it reflected his values.
She remarked that her father, after he joined the church, was full of zeal and eagerly distributed
pamphlets and books about the church to family and friends. \"Now his
handiwork will continue that missionary contact in his native land,\"
Gerritsen said the family organization found five years
ago that Norway does not have any art pieces from their famous
progenitor. They launched a fund-raising effort to cast the
copy and donate it to the museum in Norway. He said it
will sit on a massive base of Iddelfjord granite, found only in
Norway. A bench made of the same material will face the statue.
Richard G. Oman, a longtime curator at the Church History Museum,
where the original 1924 sculpture is now displayed, attended Saturday. He said heritage is reflected both in Knaphus'
sculpture and his life, a heritage of overcoming hardship to achieve
great things. The work of the family in providing the sculpture for the
museum in Norway is an application of two precepts taught by the
Prophet Joseph Smith: governing themselves according to correct
principles and doing good of their own free will, Oman said.