Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » George Reynolds and C.C.A. Christensen: Illustrated Book of Mormon Stories
 


George Reynolds and C.C.A. Christensen: Illustrated Book of Mormon Stories

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 10, 2009

Before there was Arnold Friberg, before Living Scriptures and the Book of Mormon comic books, there was George Reynolds (1842-1909).

Some of Reynolds’ writings about the Book of Mormon were state-of-the-scholarship for his day:  His Complete Concordance to the Book of Mormon, A Dictionary to the Book of Mormon, and several refutations of the Spaulding story fall into this category. Other writings attempted to simplify and popularize the Book of Mormon among church members, especially the youth. So far as I have been able to determine — and my search has not been exhaustive, so I could quite easily be corrected here — his 1888 The Story of the Book of Mormon may contain the first illustrations of the Book of Mormon, all of them paintings of varying quality produced by various Mormon artists.

The first mass-produced, widely distributed illustrations for the Book of Mormon appeared in 1891 with George Reynolds’ “Lessons from the Life of Nephi,” published in the Juvenile Instructor. With one exception, those illustrations were produced by the LDS artist C.C.A. Christensen (1832-1912), whose primitive style featuring generally very long and lean humans posed stiffly against idealized backgrounds are familiar to many of us (a wide collection of images is available here). Christensen’s paintings, made in 1890, were sent to Chicago for engraving by Vandercook & Co. and returned to Salt Lake for black and white printing in the Juvenile Instructor.

Reynolds’ Lessons were exceedingly didactic; Christensen’s paintings were stiff and did not reproduce especially well in Vandercook’s engravings. Still, they appear to have been eagerly received by the Mormon public; we’ll see in a follow-up post later this week how they fixed the Nephite image in the Mormon mind.

Reproduced below are the “lessons” given by Reynolds after each of his summaries of the Book of Mormon stories, and both the black and white Vandercook engravings seen by the public and Christensen’s color paintings, still owned by the LDS Church.

 

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Lehi Preaching to the Jews

“Our lesson teaches these truths: That all things are known unto the Lord, the future as well as the past; and that He reveals to His servants, the prophets, many things before they come to pass, that His name may be glorified in their accomplishment. Further, that when a people turn from Him, and become wicked and corrupt He does not punish them until He has sent His messengers to warn them of the danger of their evil ways.”

 

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Lehi and His Family in the Wilderness

“The reward of obedience is the lesson that is today impressed upon us. If Lehi had not been obedient to the word of the Lord, his garments would not have been free from the blood of that doomed generation; he would not have been blessed with the approval and commendation of God, and would have remained in Jerusalem to be destroyed with the rest of the unbelieving. Obedience to God is ever the path of safety and salvation.”

 

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Nephi and Zoram with the Records

“Our lesson today teaches this important truth – That whenever the Lord gives a command to men He always opens the way for its accomplishment to those who seek to obey Him in faith; in other words, God never asks His children to do impossibilities, as all things are possible with Him.”

 

The Peacemakers

(This painting was produced by George Ottinger rather than Christensen although it appears in the “Lessons from the Life of Nephi” series otherwise illustrated only by Christensen; I did not find a color image to scan.)

“Our lesson teaches us the power and efficacy of fervent, heartfelt prayer. Nephi knew that no one could deliver him but God, and he sought that deliverance in fervent supplication. God heard that prayer, the answer came at once; the loosened cords fell from his body, slipped from his hands, and he confronted his brethren free and unshackled, delivered by a power that was more than human, for neither man nor woman had touched the cords that bound him. Again, the repentant prayer of his assailants brought forgiveness from heaven. Happy would it have been for them and their posterity had this repentance been lasting, but unfortunately it was transitory – it affected them but a short time, and very soon we read of them again acting as cruelly and murderously as on this occasion.”

 

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Nephi’s Vision

“This lesson proves to us that known unto God are all His works from the foundation of the world to the end of time; and that when it pleases Him He reveals His designs to faithful ones among His servants and shows them things that have not yet come to pass. One of the means He uses for this purpose is to grant these favored ones visions, by which they are shown the future, somewhat after the manner that we can look at pictures of the past. Lehi and Nephi were among those who were greatly blessed in this manner, as have also been many of the Priesthood and members of the Church in the present day.”

 

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Nephi Finding the Liahona

“Our lesson teaches us that God’s ways are not always man’s ways, and that by simple, and sometimes apparently insignificant methods, peculiar to Himself, He brings about the most perfect results; by small means God can accomplish great ends.”

 

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The Building of the Ship

“The great truth that this lesson impresses, is that all things are possible to those that have a living faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God or fulfil His purposes. By faith Noah, being commanded of God, built the ark; by faith Jared and his brethren built the eight barges which brought them to this land; and by faith Nephi constructed the ship that answered the same purpose as Jared’s barges.”

 

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Nephi Making the Plates

“Nephi’s whole life is an example to us all and in every department of life. He was a dutiful son, an affectionate brother, a firm friend, a wise leader, an honorable man and a faithful servant of heaven. There are few characters in all history so perfect in all its parts, few lives so completely, so admirably spent in the service of God and to the good of their fellow man.”

Lehi Offering Sacrifice

(This painting is apparently no longer to be found in the Church’s collection; whether it is extant elsewhere is unknown.)

“Our lesson today presents many points for thought. Particularly is our attention drawn to the power of God’s servants over the elements. At Nephi’s prayer the storm was stilled; and Jacob, his brother, says: ‘We truly can command in the name of Jesus, and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.’ No doubt Nephi prayed that the storm might cease in the name of Jesus. The Savior, on more than one occasion, when on earth, stilled the tempest; the winds and waves obeyed His voice, more readily than did the hearts of men.”

 

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Lehi Blessing His Posterity

“The Lord honors those who honor him; He inspires their words, He fulfills their prophecies. He did so with Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Jacob and Moses and He did so with Lehi. He does so, also, with His servants today. The spirit of prophecy is given to the patriarchs, when they pronounce blessings on the heads of the people, and those blessings are sooner or later, but all in God’s time, fulfilled. The end is not yet, though thousands of years have passed, of the events foretold by Enoch and Jacob, by Moses and Lehi.”

 

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The Nephites Seeking a New Home

“One lesson we can learn from the foregoing is that the purposes of God are not to be thwarted by man. When the wicked array themselves against His work, He finds ways of escape for the righteous to fulfill His law.

“Another lesson is that it is ofttimes better to suffer wrong than to too stoutly assert one’s undoubted rights. Nephi and his people gained by giving up their homes to their hard-hearted brethren. They gained a better inheritance, they obtained peace, and withal the blessing and approval of God.

“To remain as one people meant contention, bloodshed and grievous sin; to separate, though apparently at a sacrifice, promised peace, happiness, prosperity and righteousness.

“They stooped to conquer, fled to gain new strength.”

 

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The Building of the Temple

“The zeal of Nephi’s people in building a temple to the name of the Most High God is an example that all God’s covenant children can wisely follow. Their faith, union and perseverance in this noble work are worthy of the highest praise, and prove how much can be accomplished by a united people, no matter how few their numbers. It is an example of courage, patience and devotion that we all do well when we imitate.”



26 Comments »

  1. There’s something about the artwork that really appeals to me, although I can’t articulate it. The bright colors? The earnestness?

    Comment by Julie M. Smith — March 10, 2009 @ 7:55 am

  2. I love the writing of George Reynolds and have used his commentary on the Book of Mormon for years. C.C.A. Christensen is one of my favorite church history artists, but I was unfamiliar with these BofM pictures. Thanks for the introduction of them!

    Comment by Inthedoghouse — March 10, 2009 @ 8:04 am

  3. When Richard Jensen wrote about these paintings for a Museum exhibit a few years ago, he noted that the poses were not stylized, classical poses — no matter how inexpertly CCAChristensen may have drawn them, he observed more closely than his classically trained contemporaries. In “Lehi Preaching to the Jews,” for instance, he pointed to the young man sitting on the right with his ankle resting on his knee — no classical painter would have done that, yet it’s an utterly natural pose. Same for the children in “Lehi Blessing His Posterity” — one little boy is straining to pull away from his mother, a little girl has buried her face in her grandpa’s robe — not classical, but the result of observation.

    I like your word “earnestness,” Julie. He paints as though he genuinely believes these people were real and these events took place, as completely as he believes that a young man would cross his ankle that way.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 10, 2009 @ 8:04 am

  4. Glad to have you make their acquaintance, Inthedoghouse! I’m a lot more familiar with his handcarts and pioneers, too, than with his Nephites.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 10, 2009 @ 8:05 am

  5. The color versions are really fun to look at — thanks for putting them up here.

    You might have seen that BYU Studies recently spotlighted these as well in vol. 47 no. 2 (2008):

    http://byustudies.byu.edu/Products/MoreInfoPage/MoreInfo.aspx?ProdID=2108&Type=6

    Comment by john f. — March 10, 2009 @ 8:08 am

  6. Ooooh – Nephi’s Vision is my favorite. With Mary holding the Holy Child, while colorful rays of light emanate from her, it’s so . . . wonderfully Catholic.

    If a picture is worth a thousand words, these colored versions are worth a thousand more. They’re lovely. So, I may have missed it, but what is the story of the color version? The black and whites were printed in the Juvenile Instructor, right? When and how did the color versions happen?

    Comment by Hunter — March 10, 2009 @ 8:15 am

  7. No, john f., I hadn’t seen that until just now. Noel Carmack concentrates chiefly on the 1888 Story — he reproduces two of those from this 1890 series, but attributes them to George Ottinger. To me (and to Richard Jensen, and to Ron Read) there is no doubt that they are Christensen. I’ll have to read the article today.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 10, 2009 @ 8:16 am

  8. Hunter, the color versions came first, according to some sources as part of an art competition sponsored by the Deseret Sunday School Union (I don’t know anything more about that, but am looking). The paintings couldn’t be easily reproduced for mass distribution, so were engraved for printing in the magazine. The Sunday School did send the paintings to a company in Boston to have lithographs made, for poster-size color images to be used in Sunday School classes. The images were completely redrawn by the Boston artists — same subjects, people in the same general arrangement, but completely redrawn in classical poses rather than Christensen’s primitive style — and the colors were changed considerably, mostly to make them full of sunshine and smiles.

    The original paintings, or most of them, are now owned by the Church and are in the Museum in Salt Lake.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 10, 2009 @ 8:25 am

  9. The Carmack article in BYU Studies reproduces (in black and white) “Lehi Offering Sacrifice,” which is clearly reproduced from the original rather than from this Juvenile Instructor engraving — Carmack’s shows details that are not present in the engraving. So evidently the original does still exist, and I have to do some work to resolve the contradictory sources.

    (That’s a warning to enjoy the pictures and think about how they might have struck an 1890s audience, but be aware that there’s a LOT that I can’t vouch for as to the history of the paintings.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 10, 2009 @ 8:30 am

  10. Christensen’s paintings are lovely and striking. Thanks for posting the great images.

    Comment by Justin — March 10, 2009 @ 8:53 am

  11. I, too, like the quality of Christensen’s figures. And it’s nice to see them in “real life” situations (although that camel caravan buggy looks more like something from Area 51).

    By the way, this is the first time I’ve seen any of these (i.e., not pioneer) Christensen images. I think they deserve to be reprinted in some of our manuals, magazines, or as lesson supplements. I wonder when is the last time they were printed? Anyone else seen any of them reproduced anywhere since the 1890s?

    Comment by Hunter — March 10, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  12. This is wonderful, Ardis. I also was struck by the “realness” of the paintings, and I really like your description:

    He paints as though he genuinely believes these people were real and these events took place, as completely as he believes that a young man would cross his ankle that way.

    I couldn’t have said it that well, but it’s precisely the feeling I had looking at them.

    Comment by Ray — March 10, 2009 @ 9:36 am

  13. RE: Hunter #6. When I saw the image of Nephi’s vision, I, too, thought it looked quite Catholic. I expected the Holy Child to be holding this thumb and first two fingers in the sign of the trinity. :-)

    It is interesting the evolution of Church art from the CCA Christensen to Arnold Friberg to Del Parsons. Several years ago, my in-laws gave me the book Images of Faith (I believe it was called) a coffee table book the chronicled LDS art up to the present. It’s worth a look.

    Comment by Steve C. — March 10, 2009 @ 9:48 am

  14. Ardis,

    Didn’t C.C.A. Christensen also do a series of paintings on large rolls of canvas and travel around showing the paintings of church history and the Book of Mormon from the back of a wagon, rolling the paintings in from one pole to the other? I had also recently read the BYU studies article on The Story of the Book of Mormon and its illustrations.

    I also found out that he returned from his mission to Norway and traveled west with a handcart company in 1857 that included a couple of my ancestors.

    Comment by kevinf — March 10, 2009 @ 11:17 am

  15. That’s right, kevinf — his “panorama” was a great draw in the small towns of Utah. I remember that as being church history alone, though, without scriptural scenes. I think it’s those church history scenes from the panorama that have stuck in our collective conscious.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 10, 2009 @ 12:04 pm

  16. The painting style reminds me of Henri Rousseau’s work. His most famous was The Sleeping Gypsy from 1897. I wonder if they had a common influence.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — March 10, 2009 @ 6:57 pm

  17. I believe that C.C.A. Christensens’s work would likely be classified as ‘naive’, and therein lies it’s seeming veracity. The above comments regarding the true to life poses of some of the characters portrayed in his scenes are insightful and absolutely correct. One could well imagine the excitement that Christensen would generate when he came to a small settlement or town with his narrative panorama. It is easy to visualize the row of kerosene lamps in front of his scrolled scenes in a darkened room filled with children and adults. Likely the closest the pioneer Saints came to experiencing television. This would have been a faith promoting event that would have been talked about for weeks afterward.
    I have often wondered about Christensen’s consistently skewed perspective that somewhat flattens his scenes. Could this be, as it was in the case of Monet, and indication of an eye problem? Perhaps astigmatism. Nonetheless, it does not distract from the impact of his work, which stands as a great testimony to his devotion to the Faith. Would to God that all of the modern descendants of the pioneers exhibited similar faith and dedication.

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — March 10, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

  18. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    I appreciate comments that have articulated what people have liked and felt, because I can’t articulate what I like, but I really like these paintings.

    As a less insightful comment, I wonder why Nephi has a beard in some paintings and not in others. Could that be a way to portray the passage of time?

    Comment by m&m — March 10, 2009 @ 10:40 pm

  19. Thanks for sharing, Ardis. You, Richard, and Ron, are probably right about the Juvenile Instructor images. My article paid special attention to the Story images, but I did not examine the Instructor paintings as closely. You were fortunate to have found (and examined) the originals. Stylistically, they do appear to be Christensen’s work–an identification that is not as easy to do with poorly engraved reproductions. Kudos to you for bringing them to our attention, and showing them in their colorful splendor!

    Warmest regards,
    Noel

    Comment by Noel C. — March 11, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  20. Thank you, Noel, for coming by. I read your article last night and find it fantastic — so much so that had I been aware of it earlier, I probably wouldn’t have written this post. Or at most I might have made only the point that the reproductions, as poor as they are, met a need that I think most of us feel to visualize the past — for church members away from the center, these engravings were all they had along that line.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 11, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  21. Thank you for the kind works, Ardis. I am glad that you brought the Juvenile Instructor images to our attention, nonetheless. They were an important follow up (part II, if you will) to what Reynolds started with his Story project. I think our generation forgets that, prior to Arnold Frieberg, there were other artists who had illustrated the Book of Mormon and their work had an impact on how BOM readers–especially children–envisioned the narrative.

    Comment by Noel C. — March 12, 2009 @ 9:43 am

  22. FWIW, I found a few DN articles on the art competition:

    To the Artists of Utah (p. 23)

    Sunday School Union (p. 33)

    Comment by Justin — March 12, 2009 @ 5:06 pm

  23. Chili?

    Comment by Eric Boysen — March 15, 2009 @ 7:38 am

  24. I have an original copy of the 1888 “The Story of the Book of Mormon”. Does anyone have an idea approximately how much it’s worth?

    Comment by Max — April 8, 2009 @ 10:51 pm

  25. You can look it up on ebay or Amazon. Various editions are listed from about 25 dollars to 75 dollars. Of course, the price of any given book depends on factors such as the edition, the condition, and whether someone’s willing to buy it.

    Comment by Researcher — April 9, 2009 @ 6:44 am

  26. I’m working on my family history and found that this artist was in my g-g-g grandmother’s handcart company. I feel that by learning about Brother Christensen and viewing his art, I can also learn something about my own history…especially his art of early Church history and especially as I learn of my grandmother, his handcart company art give my insights. I also appreciate learning about this art and the stories you have shared in this post.

    Comment by Kris Barlow — July 12, 2013 @ 11:02 am

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