"If we can't document it, we don't use it" was the rule-of-thumb used in decorating the new Nauvoo Illinois Temple, said Bruce R. Finlinson, manager of interior design for the temple in the Temple Construction Department.
In other words, every sofa, chair, carpet, rug, drapery or light fixture either comes from or is a replica of the decor prevalent during the early Nauvoo period in Church history, he explained.
"We wanted to be sure it was from that period," Brother Finlinson said during an interview. The new Nauvoo Temple, he added, "has significance, it really anchors our heritage. This is where they came from."
With this emphasis in mind, soon after President Gordon B. Hinckley announced during the April 1999 general conference plans to rebuild the historic temple, Brother Finlinson began researching what might have been in the 1840s edifice.
"We were running from the day it was announced," he added, sitting in his office in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City. Stacked on floors and on cabinets were carpet samples, models of light fixtures and designs. The task to decorate the temple was not simple, though, as there are no known records or journal entries describing the interior decor of the early edifice.
"We have no idea what was there," Brother Finlinson said. "The only thing was there was a kind of bill of lading of about 1,800 pages that listed so many pounds of linseed oil, so many pounds of dye, so many running feet of this trim and that trim. But we don't know what the trims were."
One thing they did know was furnishings were probably sparse, as early Church members in Nauvoo did not have time to decorate the new edifice while preparing for the exodus. "We figured the walls were probably white and [there were] wood floors," Brother Finlinson said. Had the early Latter-day Saints been able to stay in Nauvoo five or 10 years longer, they would have furnished the temple "in a wonderful way," he added.
That, then, would be how the new temple would be decorated — "in a wonderful way."
Brother Finlinson and others traveled throughout the United States, including Kirtland, Ohio, the east coast, and to the halls of Europe, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, to document period pieces from about the 1790s through the early 1840s. American Empire was chosen for furnishings, with its classic, colonial lines. Early members, Brother Finlinson said, would most likely not have used the Victorian style, which emerged in the 1840s. Pieces would have been "very simple, very honest and nothing ornate and gaudy," he added.
The new Nauvoo Illinois Temple has three types of wood — mahogany, walnut and merbau, Brother Finlinson said. Furniture is made from the first two, the floors are merbau with a dark finish. Actually, he said, the original floors of the Nauvoo Temple would have been fir or pine, but merbau is more scratch-resistant and yet closely resembles what would have been the original grain.
"One of those little miracles" was Brother Finlinson's description of how the Church's acquired merbau, which is milled in Indonesia. With one half of the Church's order ready at the manufacturer's plant, an uprising led to the closing of mills in Indonesia. The flooring company contracted by the Church told Brother Finlinson, "There's half of what we need going to Holland on a ship."
When the flooring company reminded the manufacturers a deposit had already been made on the other half, "They turned the ship around and brought that load into New Orleans," Brother Finlinson said.
Visitors to the new Nauvoo Illinois Temple will also find the color scheme different than other temples throughout the world. While most temples have light colors and cremes, the Nauvoo temple, as per 19th century style, has "jewel" colors — reds, purples, blues, browns, with some cremes, Brother Finlinson said.
For example, many of the carpets, which were custom made and hand-tufted, in the temple have reds and purples. The large rug in the celestial room is a darker creme with suns, moons and stars in the design. The carpet in the bride's room is a garnet color with a pattern called "foliage grow." The design is from 1844. Sealing rooms have a star and shell pattern with flowers from 1825.
The carpet company, Brother Finlinson said, was established in 1790 and, thus, has a database of designs from that period and the actual date of their creation.
Five furniture manufacturers made custom period pieces for the new temple and were "just thrilled and excited" to be part of such a historic undertaking. In the temple entry, four wood benches greet visitors. One, he said, was already owned by the Church and may have actually been in the original temple. Three additional matching benches were constructed.
The sofa in the matron's office was discovered on the east coast. It has engraved on it the name of the artist, place and period it was made — Palmyra, N.Y., during the late 1820s or early 1830s.
Maybe it's one more of those "little miracles."
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