LDS artist's sketches grace trail panels

When Mormon Trail enthusiasts in Iowa needed an artist to do sketches for interpretive panels along the trail, L. Matthew Chatterley was the right person in the right place at the right time.

Brother Chatterley's sketches depicting events of the Saints' trek are the central element in each of the panels placed at 26 sites on the trail across southern Iowa.The panels were placed in 1996 as a joint venture between the National Park Service and the Iowa Mormon Trails Association. In line with Park Service criteria, each 30-by-40-inch panel consists of printed material pressed between fiberglass layers designed to endure the elements of nature for 50-75 years.

The association was founded three years ago by residents living near the trail in southern Iowa. Together with the Park Service, the association chose the 26 sites it wanted to memorialize with the panels. There are two in each county the trail passes through, with one extra placed at each end of the trail in Iowa, near the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Brother Chatterley, a member of the Des Moines 2nd Ward, became involved through his wife, Ruth, who was on the Des Moines Iowa Stake public affairs council and who later became Church public affairs director for all of Iowa.

"I was kind of dragged along to the meetings because of my experience with newspapers and knowing what kinds of things are interesting to the media," said Brother Chatterley, who is art director at the Des Moines Register. Thus, he became acquainted with Elder William and Sister Sidney Price, public affairs missionaries serving at that time in Nauvoo, Ill., and coordinating the Church's participation in the Iowa Mormon Trail commemoration of 1996.

"The Iowa Mormon Trails Association had contracted with a designer in Chicago who was working with the National Park Service on the panels," Brother Chatterley explained. "They had not found an artist. Both groups felt the ideal thing would be to find one who was an Iowan and a member of the Church and thus could understand the significance of the trail to the Church. Bill and Sid

PriceT said they knew just the person."

That person was Brotherly Chatterly.

"I may have gotten the duty by default, but it was a privilege," he said.

He decided to approach the task from the standpoint of an artist who might have been making sketches while on the trek in 1846. "They are meant to appear as works in progress, having the immediacy of someone witnessing the events."

Among the sketches that have special meaning to him are ones depicting the crossing of the Mississippi River from Nauvoo, Ill., to Montrose, Iowa; the miracle of September 1846 in which members of the Latter-day Saint poor camps near Montrose were saved from starvation when exhausted quail descended among them; and the founding of two semi-permanent settlements at Garden Grove and Mt. Pisgah, Iowa.

It was at Mt. Pisgah last year that the Des Moines Stake erected a log cabin replica to observe the sesquicentennial. To raise funds for the project, the stake sold a poster of Brother Chatterley's sketches.

One of his favorite drawings commemorates William Clayton writing "Come, Come, Ye Saints" at Locust Creek Camp #2 near present-day Seymour, Iowa.

"In the last couple of years, our family has had a lot of trials to face," he said. "Perhaps some of them were obstacles placed by the adversary to try to stop our participation in this project, which was needed and important. I think the blessing of being able to work on this project was a result of trying to do what is right and being here and wanting to serve."

One of the blessings in connection with it, he said, has come from "dragging" their six children back and forth along the Mormon Trail in Iowa, thereby giving them an appreciation for the trials the Saints endured.

Brother and Sister Chatterley are both natives of Orem, Utah. Their fathers both taught at BYU, where Matthew graduated in 1983 with a master's degree in painting and drawing. He has been working for the Des Moines Register for 10 years.

The Park Service has plans to place other information panels along the rest of the trail. "There was some feeling that, as in Iowa, they should find a Nebraska artist and a Wyoming artist," he said. "But the Park Service suggested it would be nice to have continuity across the trail. The decision has not yet been made."

Meanwhile he is working on other projects, including a brochure covering the 26 sites and a book on the trail being published by Iowa University Press. He would also like to finish his sketches into paintings to be given as gifts to the 12 counties in Iowa along the trail.

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