Temple centennial: Unsigned excellence

From foundation stone to capstone, the Salt Lake Temple was built of the best material and crafted by the best artisans in the territory. Much has been written about the expertise of the stonemasons who fashioned the massive exterior of the Salt Lake Temple. However, the artisans who completed the interior also exhibited a collective expertise, though unsigned, that was perhaps unmatched by their peers.

Artisan masterworks within the temple are numerous, and range from spiral staircases and carved woodwork to the intricately engraved doorknobs, the murals and ornate paintings, stained-glass windows and artistic cornices.Much of the detailed finish work remained in the 39th year of construction as the capstone was laid in 1892. At that time, Elder Francis M. Lyman of the Council of the Twelve issued a challenge to "complete the temple at the earliest time possible, so that the dedication may take place on April 6th, 1893."

Among those who accepted the challenge was William S. Muir, "boss lather" of the temple.

The son of Scottish converts who crossed the plains in 1853, he grew up during the early years of the territory. He started putting on lath in his early teens and continued until his late 70s. Lathing entails nailing thin wooden strips to which net wire is attached, and then plaster is troweled on and finished. In his prime, Muir regularly nailed 1,200 lath, or strips of wood, in four hours.

It was under his direction that the lath and plaster of the artistic cornices were placed. In a Church News article by President Gordon B. Hinckley on Dec. 1, 1943, Muir was described as "carefully selecting his lath, then cutting it in width, soaking it, and bending it. Then, with the aid of galvanized wires, he formed the base for the plaster which for endurance has been a fitting complement to the granite walls of the building."

Muir and the army of "mechanics, masons, plasters, carpenters, glaziers, plumbers, painters, decorators, artisans and artificers of every kind" completed their work of excellence by the deadline, wrote Elder James E. Talmage in House of the Lord.

In later years, Muir returned often to the dedicated facility to do temple work. Now, a century later, the lather's finish work is among the best of the unsigned excellence throughout the interior of the great temple. - John L. Hart

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