New sculpture memorializes handcart Saints

In their faces one reads a sense of valiance, faith and determination that might be displayed in the countenances of embarking pioneers and missionaries of all ages.

They are a family of handcart immigrants depicted in a recently completed sculpture that is to grace the entrance of the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters near Omaha, Neb.The center was dedicated a year ago this month by President Gordon B. Hinckley, (see Church News, April 26, 1997) but the life-size bronze work, then not finished, had not been placed on the round, concrete pedestal just outside the entrance doors.

Now completed and ready for shipment, the sculpture was exhibited April 17-18 at the Metal Letters foundry in Lehi, where the finishing work was done.

Depicted are a father, mother, two children and two grandparents.

Sculptor Franz Johansen described his work as "didactic"; that is, intended to be morally instructive. The viewer notices at once that the sculpture represents a handcart family, but there is more to be perceived through deeper observation.

"Clearly, they are embarking on a new experience," he said. "They have a sense of excitement; they are determined."

The figures lean forward, with their feet barely touching the ground. The feeling portrayed is appropriate to the location where it will be displayed, Brother Johansen said. Winter Quarters was the point from which many Latter-day Saint immigrants, full of anticipation and faith, began their arduous westward trek to Zion in the Rocky Mountains.

In that sense, the sculpture contrasts with the well-known Handcart Pioneer monument on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. (See Church News, Sept. 6, 1997.) The figures in that work by Torleif S. Knaphus appear weary and haggard, reflecting the sacrifice they had made to gather to Zion. It also is appropriate to the location where it is displayed, as the Salt Lake Valley was their point of destination.

A member of the Provo 6th Ward, Provo Utah Edgemont Stake, Brother Johansen taught art at BYU for 33 years, specializing in the human figure. Thus, he was able to create the figures in the sculpture without a model reference.

He and his wife, Ruthie, had desired to serve a proselyting mission for the Church but were unable to do so because of the necessity of caring for her elderly mother. But Brother Johansen was pleased with the opportunity to use his talents to serve in another way when called on a Church service mission to create the sculpture.

Other works he has done includes a bronze bust of President Brigham Young, now on display at the Mormon Trail Center; the cast-stone facade over the entrance to the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City; the bronze plaques on the doors and gates of the Washington D.C. Temple; and the bronze relief on the Joseph Smith Building on the BYU campus.

He is working on a life-size sculpture honoring the early settlers of Huntsville, Utah, his hometown.

But the handcart has become an icon that most people associate with the entire Latter-day Saint pioneer movement.