More than 170 years ago, portraits of the pioneer apostle George A. Smith, his wife, Bathsheba W. Smith, and his mother, Clarissa L. Smith, hung in the celestial room of the original Nauvoo Temple.
Now those three portraits belong to the Church History Museum thanks to the generosity of the Smith Family descendants.
On Dec. 13, the L. Stephen Richards Jr. family passed ownership of the oil paintings to the Church during a small ceremony at the museum. Elder Marcus B. Nash, a Seventy and the assistant executive director of the Church History Department, presided at the event.
Mary R. Durham, a great-great-granddaughter of George A. Smith, said the portraits had been passed down from generation to generation since being pulled from the walls of the temple. The family agreed that the portraits could be enjoyed by a larger audience if owned by the Church.
“We feel privileged to be able to donate these paintings,” she said.
Elder Nash said the portraits captured the countenances of “very significant historical figures in the Church.” The generosity of the Smith/Richards’ family, he added, “was borne of the Spirit.”
The three portraits date to the 1840s and, according to a description included in a pioneer journal, hung in the celestial room alongside portraits of Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young and other members of the Twelve. The artist of the paintings is unknown.
Elder George A. Smith was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a cousin to the Prophet Joseph Smith. His wife, Bathsheba Bigler Smith, was a founding member of the Relief Society in 1842 and later became the Relief Society’s fourth general president, serving from 1901-1910.
Clarissa Smith was the mother of Elder Smith and the wife of John Smith, who served as Church Patriarch when the Nauvoo Temple was dedicated in 1846. A portrait of John Smith was donated to the Church History Museum several years ago by another branch of the Richards’ family. Now the portraits have been reunited for the first time in years.
Clint Christensen, an acquisition specialist in the Church History Department, called the donations “treasures to the Church.” He learned of the paintings while surveying records of L. Stephen Richards Jr. with daughters Mary R. Durham and Irene R. Rytting.
“While going through boxes of Richards family papers, Mary Durham handed me an envelope with the portraits and notes by (George A. Smith granddaughter) Irene Richards stating the oil paintings hung in the Nauvoo Temple,” said Brother Christensen. “It was like a priceless ‘Antiques Roadshow’ moment of heavenly design,” he added, referencing the popular television program. It’s uncertain how the portraits will be displayed in the future.