"I will here say, before closing, that two weeks before I left St. George, the spirits of the dead gathered around me, wanting to know why we did not redeem them. Said they, `You have had the use of the Endowment House for a number of years, and yet nothing has ever been done for us. We laid the foundation of the government you now enjoy, and we never apostatized from it, but we remained true to it and were faithful to God'
"These were the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and they waited on me for two days and two nights. I thought it very singular, that notwithstanding so much work had been done, and yet nothing had been done for them. The thought never entered my heart, from the fact, I suppose, that heretofore our minds were reaching after our more immediate friends and relatives."I straightway went into the baptismal font and called upon Brother McCallister to baptize me for the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and fifty other eminent men, making one hundred in all, including John Wesley, Columbus, and others." – Elder Wilford Woodruff, in a discourse given Sept. 16, 1877, in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. (Journal of Discourses, 19:229.)
The remembrance of this sacred manifestation to Apostle Wilford Woodruff, who was president of the St. George Temple, has been captured on canvas by LDS artist Harold I. Hopkinson, and the portrayal was placed in the foyer of that temple during a Feb. 3 ceremony attended by several hundred people.
Before being put in the temple, the painting was viewed by the First Presidency in the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City and then displayed at the Temple Square North Visitors Center.
In an October 1987 general conference address, President Ezra Taft Benson expressed poignant feelings for the Founding Fathers and the experience of Wilford Woodruff:
"Shortly after President Spencer W. Kimball became president of the Church, he assigned me to go into the vault of the St. George Temple and check the early records. As I did so, I realized the fulfillment of a dream I had had ever since learning of the visit of the Founding Fathers to the St. George Temple. I saw with my own eyes the record of the work which was done for the Founding Fathers of this great nation, beginning with George Washington.
"Think of it, the Founding Fathers of this nation, those great men, appeared within those sacred walls and had their vicarious work done for them.
"After he became president of the Church, President Wilford Woodruff declared that `those men who laid the foundation of this American government were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits
. . . andT were inspired of the Lord.' "
The depiction of President Woodruff's experience was encouraged by the Church's Constitutional Bicentennial Committee, chaired by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Council of the Twelve. Other committee members are Elder Robert L. Backman and Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, both of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
"It seems so natural to me that this man of God, George Washington, when he was exposed to the gospel, would be anxious to have his ordinance work performed for him," Elder Perry told the Church News.
"We hope that this beautiful painting will be a reminder of the sacrifice of these first early leaders of this great nation, who gave us a land of the free and made possible a place where the gospel could be restored in its fulness."
The service prior to the unveiling of the painting was conducted in the chapel of the St. George Temple, and included remarks by Elder Pinnock, temple president Thomas Lavoy Esplin and the artist. In attendance were former temple presidents and ordinance workers, members of area stake presidencies and their spouses.
Elder Pinnock expressed gratitude for those who had served faithfully in the temple, and for those who have gone before, including the Founding Fathers.
"Having learned the truth in the spirit world, the Founding Fathers returned to Wilford Woodruff and asked if he would have their temple work done for them so they could have in their lives the same blessing the people living on earth enjoyed," explained Elder Pinnock. "The gospel provides the potential for exaltation for us all. It incorporates all truth, and we must have the vision of this great work and what it does for mankind – both the living and the dead."
Pres. Esplin recounted the visitation to Elder Woodruff, and Hopkinson related his experience producing the piece, which required 1,500 hours to complete.
"We are very pleased to have this painting," said Pres. Esplin. "It adds greatly to the history and spirit of the temple."
The unveiling was in the foyer of the temple. Enclosed in a gold frame, the painting was unveiled by Anne Pinnock, wife of Elder Pinnock; Phoebe L. Esplin, wife of Pres. Esplin; Vivian Hopkinson, wife of Harold Hopkinson; and Luree S. Schmutz, an ordinance worker.
Hopkinson, 70, a former bishop, high councilor and stake president – said he was pleased to complete the painting before embarking on a full-time proselyting mission in mid-March with his wife.
"It was a lot of work." Hopkinson admitted. "But I had a lot of help. I've really felt that the Lord gives out these talents, and that we ought to use them to encourage people to search the scriptures."
The artist spent two months researching and gathering materials before wetting a brush.
"I read all I could find about President Woodruff's stories, his background and how he looked in 1877," Hopkinson explained. "I found people with body structures similar to those in the painting. I used our ward choir director, who had a beard and was about the stature of President Woodruff. Our bishop was the model for George Washington."
Using the models, Hopkinson painted figures on small illustration boards. He then viewed those boards while doing the final painting. To maintain proper perspective, he researched the height of everybody in the piece.
"It was a special experience for me," Hopkinson expressed.