Sculptures to highlight LDS Danish emigration

ALPINE, Utah — As Church members in Denmark prepare to observe the 150th anniversary of LDS missionary work in Scandinavia, two bronze sculptures by an LDS artist are being shipped to Denmark to depict the drama of Mormon emigration from that country.

Dennis Smith, Highland (Utah) 4th Ward, whose numerous works include the Relief Society "Monument to Women" in Nauvoo, Ill., created the sculptures.

One depicts his own great-grandmother, Kristina Beck, who as a girl in 1866 left her native Jutland, Denmark, with her family to unite with the Latter-day Saints. That piece will be placed and unveiled July 6 at the harbor in Copenhagen — about two blocks from the famous sculpture of Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid" — at a location called Amerikakajen, which means "the America pier." That was the departure point for many emigrants to the United States.

The other work depicts Kristina's family, consisting of father, mother, brothers, sister and grandmother. It is to be presented on July 4, U.S. Independence Day, at the entrance to Rebild Park, site of the annual Danish-American celebration that has taken place every July 4 since 1910.

Though the sculptures depict Brother Smith's Danish ancestors, they are meant to have a broader representation, the artist said in a recent interview at the Alpine Arts Center, where the work of casting was being completed.

He noted that this is not just the sesquicentennial of missionary work in Scandinavia but on the continent of Europe itself, missionaries previously having labored in the British Isles.

"The works represent not just my family but all of us who had ancestors come not just specifically from Denmark but from other locations as well," he said, "so that when you look at it, you're kind of brought in touch with your own family. This acknowledges the return of the heart to one's roots."

Brother Smith plans to be present as the sculptures are unveiled, along with many other visitors from the United States. (The annual meeting of the Mormon History Association will take place in Denmark the week before.) Among dignitaries expected to be there are Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, who has Danish roots, and the United States ambassador to Denmark, Richard Swett.

The sculpture presentations will be part of a string of events planned to commemorate the sesquicentennial.

"In fact, a Danish crew has been here shooting video of the sculptures for a documentary piece that will run on Danish television about the time that we have the unveiling," Brother Smith said. The crew taped an interview with Elder Nelson and with Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop, who has Danish ancestry.

Brother Smith became involved with the project through his membership in the Danish Scholarship Society at BYU. The society funds scholarships for a Danish and a Norwegian student to come to BYU every year and funds the visits of government officials and other prominent people from Denmark to Utah occasionally.

The Kristina sculpture was actually created 20 years ago as a small piece. About 10 years ago, a larger version of it was placed at the BYU Museum of Art. Visiting Danish dignitaries became aware of it there. It was originally intended that a casting of it go to Rebild Park, but Danish authorities felt it would be better to place it in Copenhagen. So overnight, Brother Smith came up with a wax-figure prototype of the sculpture of Kristina's family to be placed in Rebild.

Some poignant memories surround the latter piece. Among the figures depicted is Kristina's 4-month-old brother, who died and was buried at sea during the voyage to America. "One of the things my mother remembers about her grandmother is her recollection of her little brother's body being dropped from the side of the boat and how traumatic that was for her," Brother Smith said.

The sculpture also depicts the family's grandmother sitting with her back to the rest of the family as though she were gazing back toward Denmark. "For me personally it has great meaning," Brother Smith said, "because Kristina's grandmother came with the family, but her grandfather stayed behind in Denmark. We often talk idealistically about the pioneers' coming. But there were a lot of conflicts and things that didn't get written in the histories. I've often wondered, what was it? Why did he stay and why did the grandmother come?

"So she's included in the sculpture as a symbol of the remembrance of the life before. And going back to Denmark now is kind of neat because the sculpture is kind of an acknowledgement of coming back home again."

Creation and placement of the sculptures are being funded through private donations with cobblestones bearing the names of donors to be placed around the sculpture at Rebild. Call Descendants and Friends of Denmark at (801)-378-6433 for information.

R. Scott Lloyd's e-mail: [email protected]