Outsiders to History
I know that I should not be surprised considering that Latter Day Saints make up such a unique historical and cultural minority, but I was still a bit shocked by the complete lack of any mention in documents, exhibits or art of the Latter Day Saints or our historical perspective. I went to the National Gallery, National Archives and the American History Museum. I did not find even the slightest scrap or mention of Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, Salt Lake City, and Brigham young or even the specter of polygamy and negative stereotypes that have been perpetuated over the years.
Latter Day Saints unfortunately do not figure prominently in any of the major artistic movements of the 19th or 20th century. Thus, the lack of representation in the National Gallery was expected. Saints have mostly stuck to devotional art as their artistic contribution. Perhaps our most well known artists would include Arnold Friberg whose work on B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments brought him attention, or renowned sculptor Avard Fairbanks. Neither these nor any other artist that I know of have done much to bring LDS emotions, perspectives and views together as a distinct form that has been observed by outsiders. I’d love to see a renaissance of LDS involvement in the art beyond the realm of devotional works. If you know of any artists that are doing this (working within mainstream movements but maintaining uniquely LDS identities or themes) or have any comments on this notion, feel free to comment.
I was much more surprised to see the complete absence of the pioneer perspective at the American History museum. The museum seemed to take efforts to include exhibits covering a wide variety of minorities. Jewish immigrants were featured in at least two distinct places. The 19th century focused on abolitionism and the fighting in Kansa and Nebraska but never mentioned any of the varied restoration movements. Considering that Mormons are now a substantial religious group in America, I guess I really feel like some mention of our past and shared history should be included. Do you think this trend of exclusion has changed in recent years? How has the involvement of the church in high profile political situations such as proposition 8 or the Romney run for the Republican Nomination impacted the need for public engagement with the unique Mormon narrative? It seems to me obvious that our history of persecution and lack of government protection does not neatly fit into the preferred narrative of American History.