In landmark year, museum officials reflect on the past, look to the future

Officials at the Museum of Church History and Art are reflecting on accomplishments and laying plans for the future as the popular attraction across the street from Temple Square nears its 10th anniversary in April.

A three-year museum action plan for future exhibits and a long list of other options promises a varied and inspirational experience for museum visitors, now numbering around 400,000 a year.The popular exhibits on the early history of the Church and on presidents of the Church will remain anchors in the museum's future exhibition program, according to museum director Glen M. Leonard.

"These long-term exhibits display some of the most important artifacts in Church history and tell the central stories of the Restoration of the gospel and growth of the Church," Brother Leonard said. Other long-term exhibits feature treasures from the Church's historical and Native American art collections.

"Besides these long-term installations," he said, "temporary exhibits allow us to tell other stories from Church history and share other priceless gems from the museum's collection of 50,000 artifacts, art and memorabilia."

From time to time, he said, museum exhibits celebrate significant Church anniversaries. In 1992, the museum commemorated the sesquicentennial of the Relief Society. An exhibit of photographs, architectural drawings, and artifacts that celebrated the centennial of the Salt Lake Temple closed in February. This year, a special exhibit will examine the contributions of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Patriarch Hyrum Smith on the 150th anniversary of their martyrdom.

Other temporary exhibits look at more recent accomplishments in Church history. During the past few years, the museum has offered attractive displays on the origins and activities of the Church in Panama, Indonesia and West Africa, and the importance of daily work in the lives of Church members worldwide. A recent exhibit featured folk art depicting temples in countries around the globe.

Brother Leonard said that future exhibits with an international focus will help visitors better understand the growth of the Church in the 20th century.

A recent addition to museum offerings is an annual exhibit supporting the Gospel Doctrine curriculum of the Church. Exhibits on "Women in the Bible" and "Stories from the Old Testament" opened in January. Exhibit teams are already selecting pieces for a "Life of Christ" exhibit in 1995 and a Book of Mormon theme exhibit for the following January.

Through its art competitions every three years, the museum director said, the museum encourages Latter-day Saint artists to express gospel values and stories in new works of art.

"This new Latter-day Saint art is being used in subsequent museum exhibits and appears regularly in Church periodicals," Brother Leonard explained. "We are encouraged that Church members with artistic talents are willing to express their testimonies in this way." He said the art helps others understand Church history, internalize scriptural teachings, and strengthen gospel living.

The museum's Third International Art Competition will open March 26. Built around the theme "Living the Gospel in the World-wide Church," it will highlight new Latter-day Saint art from more than two dozens countries.

That exhibit will close on Labor Day and be followed in October with a major interpretive exhibit drawn from art created by some of the finest Latter-day Saint artists among the Native Americans in the Southwest. The religious values inherent in that art and the history of missionary work among Indian peoples will be part of the exhibit's story.

An exhibit especially for Primary children will open in late September. Its interactive learning stations will encourage parents and children to learn together how children can follow the example of gospel living by the Savior when He was a child. Smaller seasonal displays greet visitors in the museum's entrance foyer each Easter, Pioneer Day and Christmas. The Easter display features the Savior's Last Supper, while the Christmas display offers a selection of Nativity scenes from various cultures. The 1993 Pioneer Day exhibit displayed models of farm machinery created by a retired Idaho farmer to preserve his family's history.

Even though exhibits are the most visible product of the museum's work, staff members are involved in a number of other related activities.

During the past few years, the museum has completely automated its catalog of its collection of art and artifacts. It is possible now to search the computerized files for information on each of the items, its description, donor and location.

The collection began in 1869 with the old Deseret Museum and was expanded while the collection was displayed for a half century in the old Bureau of Information on Temple Square. Current acquisitions policy emphasizes art with Latter-day Saint themes and artifacts from throughout the Church, including those associated with contemporary Church activities.

Since its opening almost 10 years ago, the museum has developed several specialized educational programs. One of the most popular with children is a puppet show featuring children in a pioneer handcart company. It is offered each weekday at noon and 7 p.m.

Each July and December, costumed volunteers present free historical programs to the public in the museum's 190-seat theater. These same Church service missionaries greet visitors during the summer months on the plaza adjacent to the museum, where they explain pioneer crafts near the 1847 log home.

The museum takes several historical and art programs into public schools in the Salt Lake Valley, including popular presentations on pioneer transportation and Southwest Indian art. Besides its active exhibition and education programs, the museum participates in the restoration and marking of Church historic sites and assists in maintaining the artifacts and art treasures at these sites and in historic temples.

Staff members assist the Missionary Department and Nauvoo Restoration Inc. in preparing information that is presented at historic buildings open to visitors in New York, Ohio, Illinois and Utah. Museum specialists help restore, furnish and conserve these important historic structures and their furnishings. Nearing completion is the restoration of a complex of buildings at historic Cove Fort in southern Utah, while other projects are in the planning stages.

Museum conservators have cleaned and stabilized historic murals in several temples in Utah, Alberta, Hawaii, Arizona and Washington, D.C., and have retrofitted surplus meetinghouse murals for installation in new temples. They recently conserved the bronze statuary on Temple Square and at other locations in Salt Lake City and at Winter Quarters, Neb., including the Brigham Young monument on Main Street. At Nauvoo, they have cleaned symbolic stones from the Nauvoo Temple for a new display being installed there next year.

At the museum, the work of developing, installing and maintaining the museum's first-rate exhibits, caring for its priceless collections, assisting with historic sites, and serving hundreds of visitors daily involves the skills of 25 staff members and more than 200 Church Service missionaries.

The volunteers staff an Information Desk and Museum Store, which offers prints, posters, notecards, books, and other items related to exhibits. Docents (museum teachers) conduct tours for prescheduled groups, present costumed interpretations near the log home on the adjacent plaza, and take outreach programs to schools.

For first-time visitors, the museum offers an optional short orientation film. An updated version of this presentation, "A Journey of Discovery," will be available in April. "Visitors will just need to ask one of the volunteers at the Information Desk to see this or other media presentations," Brother Leonard said.

The museum building itself was designed to meet the needs of a first-class modern museum. Exhibit and storage rooms are carefully monitored to keep temperature and humidity as constant as possible. State-of-the-art security systems and roving security personnel help protect the valuable collection.

Even though the museum collection and exhibition programs are fast outgrowing the 10-year-old facility, Brother Leonard said that the next decade promises a fascinating array of offerings to strengthen Church members and introduce others to the Church's history.

The museum is open on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturdays, Sundays, and most holidays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Recorded information on current exhibits is available by telephoning (801) 240-3310.

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