The “Handcart Pioneers” statue, familiar to most Latter-day Saints and to millions of visitors to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, is now part of a permanent display in a national museum in Norway. The statue is a bronze replica of the original 1926 version (a heroic-size version was later placed on Temple Square), sculpted by Norwegian-born Latter-day Saint sculptor Torleif S. Knaphus (1881-1965). It was donated by his descendants, who wanted to share with people in his native land one of his most acclaimed pieces. (Please see Feb. 7, 2009, Church News for advance article about the donation.)
The public unveiling of the statue took place June 7 at the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Ottestad, two hours north of Norway’s capital of Oslo. More than 200 people joined nine Knaphus Family Organization representatives from Utah to see the ceremony. Local dignitaries, including city and community leaders, the Norway Oslo Mission Presidency, the Oslo Norway Stake presidency and other local Church leaders, missionaries and members also attended the event.
The piece depicts a family of early Church converts representing those who between 1856 and 1860 traveled from the end of the westerly railroad line in Iowa and Nebraska to the Salt Lake Valley. Almost 3,000 Latter-day Saints made the trek in 10 companies of pioneers pulling handcarts. Members of the seventh company were mostly from Scandinavia.
Upon inquiry with the Norwegian Minister of Art and Religion concerning the potential donation to Norway, the family organization was informed of the purpose and mission of the Norwegian Emigrant Museum in Ottestad. The museum explores the history and emigration patterns of Norwegians throughout the world. It also collects and preserves relevant historical buildings and artifacts and encourages research through publications, exhibitions, lectures and other media.
The museum has an outdoor portion that displays reconstructed farmhouses and buildings erected by Norwegian settlers in early America. It was felt this environment is ideal to inform the public about the Mormon handcart pioneers and is of particular interest since the sculptor was born in Norway.
The “Handcart Pioneers” statue is placed within a semi-circle clearing along the pathway between the main museum building and a rebuilt 1897 church originally constructed by the Lutheran Church in Norway.
President Lynn J. Poulsen of the Norway Oslo Mission said of the new addition: “We anticipate there will be many questions about the Church as people see this exhibit and ponder the reason of Norwegians’ early emigration.”
Ottestad Mayor Nils Rohne, who was also at the ceremony, explained that in the early days the Church was not recognized as a Christian church and the members were persecuted, the reason why there were a lot of emigrants to America.
At the unveiling ceremony, a short program commenced in the main museum building with Velsmoy Fluge Berg, a well-known soprano in Norway and wife of the second counselor in the Oslo mission presidency, who set the tone of the ceremony with a song called “Ved Rondane” by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.
The Norwegian National Railway Band performed in the old church with a combination of songs and a photo presentation taking the audience from Norway across the ocean to New York City, then on to Chicago, Ill., where many emigrants journeyed.
Museum director Knut Djupedal presented a new and informative indoor exhibit regarding LDS Church history, Mormon handcart pioneers and Torleif S. Knaphus. This indoor exhibit will remain throughout the summer season at the museum.
Mr. Djupedal told the American visitors that, while Torleif Knaphus is their family member, he is now a member of the museum’s family, too. He also said that the Mormons now will be a featured topic at the museum.
Once outside, program attendees were directed to the permanent site of the statue. One of Brother Knaphus’ grandsons officially presented the donated exhibit to the museum and community, while mentioning the family’s gratitude for its Norwegian heritage. Mr. Djupedal accepted the exhibit. Sister Berg then sang the well-known LDS pioneer hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” in Norwegian.
The new exhibit has been under way for five years by the Knaphus Family Organization.