Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Cody Mural
 


The Cody Mural

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 08, 2009

Despite the nearness of Cody, Wyoming, to the Mormon Corridor, the Church was relatively late in establishing a presence there: In 1936 and 1937, when three remarkable men settled in the town established by and named for Buffalo Bill Cody, the Church had only a Sunday School, not even a full branch organization, there.

One of the trio was Lloyd Taggart (1891-1974), a community booster, patron of the arts, and the first branch president and first bishop in Cody. The next was Glenn E. Nielson (1903-1998), who built the Husky Oil fortune from the ground up, a counselor to Branch President Taggart and Cody’s first stake president. The third was Edward T. Grigware (1889-1960), an artist who had spent his youth in Saginaw, Michigan and Spokane, Washington, who had become a prominent commercial and fine arts painter in Chicago, and who had come to join Cody’s thriving artists’ colony. All three men, although newcomers to the area, thrust their roots deep into Cody’s soil and contributed their time, talents, and resources to building the town.

Taggart and Nielson were especially concerned with building an LDS chapel in Cody, and in making of it “something special,” something that would serve not only Cody’s ward members but would also introduce the gospel to the thousands of tourists passing through Cody on their way to and from Yellowstone National Park. At first the low membership numbers in Cody prevented their building; then wartime restrictions of the early 1940s interfered. By 1948, though, Taggart and Nielson were ready with their plans, and building commenced. The Cody chapel was built in 1949.

Completed? Well, not quite. The building was built, but the “something special” the men had in mind had not yet been installed. They had had LDS architect Douglas W. Burton design a chapel with a dome – 36 feet in diameter, 18 feet high from the base to the top – with one smooth, continuous surface, waiting to be decorated. The decoration of that space was to be Nielson’s gift to the Church, “something special” indeed.

The men approached Grigware, who, although not a Latter-day Saint, immediately caught the vision of what they had in mind. “I stood in the entrance of the church,” Grigware said, “looking up at the location for the mural. The space provided was completely round with no break in it, and I was filled with a feeling of forever and ever, without beginning or end. I wanted that feeling in my mural.”

For eleven months, as the chapel was being built, Grigware read everything he could find, or that his friends could provide, about the Church, its message and its history. Then he began to make his sketches, and then to paint. First, he divided the dome into eight equal sections, painting the figures of the (to that date) eight presidents of the church, as pillars supporting the structure of both the dome and the Church. Then he filled the spaces between, beginning with Joseph Smith as a boy receiving the plates for the Book of Mormon, following the church’s movements through Kirtland and Missouri and Nauvoo and across the plains, through settling the west and culminating in the building of the temple at Salt Lake City. He ended with a symbolic scene of the world’s people approaching the light and glory of the Lord, with that light merging into the light of the Angel Moroni delivering the plates at the beginning of the story, so that there is no obvious beginning and ending. Near the bottom of the mural – which begins just over the heads of tall viewers – is a ribbon briefly identifying the subjects portrayed. Above the images, the dome rises to a sky from which peer the suggestion of approving faces.

The mural was conceived and supported by Bishop Taggart, made possible through the generosity of President Nielson, and executed by a sympathetic and sensitive artist (who, incidentally, after his experience with this mural contributed murals to both the Los Angeles and Laie temples). After almost 60 years, the Cody mural continues to draw crowds of tourists, who visit what has become both a working chapel and a full-fledged visitors’ center staffed by local members.

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15 Comments »

  1. I’d been aware of Edward Grigware and his art since coming into contact with the Church, it often having been used in Church publications and classes, but until now I had no knowledge of his personal story or the astonishing achievement of such a fresco. Now I want to visit!

    Comment by Alison — December 8, 2009 @ 10:49 am

  2. I’ve seen it and I was impressed. Thanks for the story behind the story.

    Comment by John Willis — December 8, 2009 @ 11:02 am

  3. I’ve got a friend who grew up in Cody, but he’s never mentioned the chapel or mural. However, he hasn’t been in that chapel, or any other that I know of, for about 40 years, so that may explain it. I love that there are still a few of these older, more unique buildings still in use in the church. If I recall, there was another church with dome still in use in Wellsville, Cache Valley, at least until a few years ago. If I ever get to Cody, I’ll have to look this up.

    However, my favorite old church building is the Paris, Idaho Tabernacle.

    Comment by kevinf — December 8, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  4. It is fascinating to see what he considered events important enough in Church History to include in his mural. It would mostly be the same if made today, with a few small changes. For example, the Sweetwater will forever be associated the handcart crossing. But in his mural they are distinct. Sweetwater is portrayed as a covered wagon crossing, which was certainly true. The event representing the handcart companies is the failed attempt at crossing of South Pass.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — December 8, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  5. Thanks for this. I love hearing about (and seeing!) original Church art.

    Comment by Hunter — December 8, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

  6. Now I have a reason to go to Cody Wyoming. Thanks again, Ardis!

    Comment by Mommie Dearest — December 8, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  7. These pictures are great, and the background story makes the mural even more intriguing.

    Comment by Maurine — December 8, 2009 @ 5:29 pm

  8. Isn’t the “Cody” one of the cookie cutter stake center designs? Too bad they didn’t mean this instead!

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 8, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  9. This is a great story. I’ll have to make a side trip on my summer vacation to Yellowstone. So did Grigware ever become a member? “One of a trio” made me think initially that he was, but then later in the story you mentioned he wasn’t.

    If he wasn’t, he was certainly one of those jack mormons (19th century usage) that have done their part to advance the Kingdom from outside.

    Comment by Clark — December 9, 2009 @ 9:04 am

  10. No, Grigware was never a member. I consider them a trio because they moved to town about the same time and shared ideas on putting Cody on the map. Grigware was certainly a friend among the Saints.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 9, 2009 @ 9:35 am

  11. Our friend is a Taggart. When I sent him this story, he wrote this back:

    Lloyd Taggart was my great uncle (great story about him: he put in F. Burton Howard’s missionary papers without Howard knowing about it). I home taught Glenn Nielsen (for the longest time he sat on or chaired the church investment committee). And Grigware (as it says in the story, he also did murals in the LA and Laie Temples).

    There are a few reasons to stop in Cody: The Murals (they are a treat), the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (five world-class museums–it’s a must see), Yellowstone Park (you have to go through to Cody to get to the park from the east), and the Sunlight Basin and Beartooth Highway (which leads to the park from the Northeast).

    …The other church building in Cody is the Stake Center, and it is the first of the so-called Cody buildings.

    This all makes me want to go to Cody!

    Comment by m&m — December 17, 2009 @ 12:34 am

  12. Church News, 2 February 1957, 7:

    Cody Chapel Attractive to Tourists

    Lovell, Wyoming. — During the past tourist season members of the High Priests Quorum of the big Horn Stake and their wives have given yeoman services as missionary guides at the Cody Ward Chapel.

    Because of the church history murals pained on the walls and foyer of the chapel by the artist Edward Grigware, the meeting house is rapidly becoming a tourist attraction and during the tourist season hundreds stop to view the paintings.

    During the four-month period from June to September of 1956, 2,640 tourists registered at the chapel. The guides on duty sold 288 Books of Mormon and distributed 3,000 tracts to the interested visitors.

    Members of the quorum and their wives received their assignment from the bishopric of the Cody Ward who worked on a weekly or bi-weekly schedule which insured that someone was on constant duty to greet and instruct travelers who called to view the murals.

    “The spiritual value of the project to those who participated and indirectly to the entire quorum is immeasurable,” declared quorum President Morrill B. Tew.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 12, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

  13. Ardis,

    Thought you might enjoy knowing that my aunt is heading to Cody on a mission this summer. Had you not written this, I would have not even known there was something to see in Cody. Now I’m hoping to plan a trip there!

    Thanks for what you do.
    Michelle

    Comment by Michelle (m&m) — May 16, 2010 @ 9:02 pm

  14. I’m amazed (and pleased) at the number of old posts that struck a chord this weekend. Michelle, if you do make the trip, I’d love a guest post about your reaction to the mural, or anything else you’d care to share.

    Keepa’s best to your aunt!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 17, 2010 @ 9:36 am

  15. I’ve been to Cody several times and never fail to stop at this chapel. In fact a couple years ago I organized a little trip for three other couples and my wife and me and Cody was a MUST stop, as none of the other six people had been there. They were all very impressed with the visit.

    Comment by Darrell Jones — September 13, 2011 @ 9:42 am

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