The story of the Latter-day Saints and Native Americans is kept alive in inispiring artwork.
When Latter-day Saints arrived “in the top of the mountains” (Isa. 2:2) in 1847, a number of Native American tribal groups already lived in some of its valleys. Regarding their new neighbors, President Brigham Young taught that kindness and cooperation were the goals. Among the Shoshone Indians near today’s Utah-Idaho border, missionaries found some success, and Chief Washakie was one of those baptized. In addition, some Utes, Piutes, Gosiutes, and Navajos joined the Church in the years ahead.
In the 1860s, President Young sent Jacob Hamblin and others to southern Utah to begin missionary work among Native Americans. The missionaries, including some new Piute converts, taught the gospel to the more populous Hopi, Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo tribes of Arizona and New Mexico.
Hopi leader Chief Tuba and his wife were among the earliest Hopi converts. They spent several months in pioneer settlements of southern Utah seeking to learn from the Latter-day Saints. Subsequently, Chief Tuba invited some of them to bring their families and settle next to his village of Moencopi in what is now Arizona. The pioneers named it Tuba City in honor of this faithful Hopi convert.
Today the American Southwest is one of the great art-producing areas of the world. Native American art includes pottery, weaving, and jewelry. Among the most talented artists are Latter-day Saints who express their testimonies through their work.
Following is some artwork focusing on the story of the Latter-day Saints and Native Americans.
C. C. A. Christensen, Temple Hill in Manti, November 1849. In fall 1849, Ute Chief Wakara invited Latter-day Saints to settle in this area of the Sanpete Valley, resulting in a settlement of more than 200. We see a Ute Indian village in the foreground and, in the distance, a hill before the Manti Temple was built on it.
Gary Polacca (Hopi), My Testimony Pot, 1994. Motivated by his testimony of the Book of Mormon, Brother Polacca shows the brother of Jared holding up a basket of stones as the finger of the Lord touches and illuminates them for use in the Jaredite barges.
Tammy Garcia (Pueblo), Lehi’s Vision of the Tree of Life, 1994. This clay pot telling the story of Lehi’s dream was created by Sister Garcia, a leading Santa Clara potter, using primitive methods. She dug clay from the surrounding hills, rolled it into long pieces, coiled them on top of one another, and smoothed them into a pot. She then carved the story into the newly formed clay pot and fired it in a wood fire.
Winfred R. Geisler, Proselyting the Indians, 1984. Missionaries, sent north from Salt Lake City by President Brigham Young in 1855, taught the Wind River Shoshone Indians, including Chief Washakie. He and some others were baptized.
Merrill Gogan, Meditation, 1971. We sense the power of sincere introspection in the face of this aged Native American.
Leta Keith (Navajo), Missionaries on the Reservation, 1985. Baptized in 1966 in Monument Valley, Sister Keith honors the missionary effort in this rug. She not only created the design but also sheared the sheep, then carded, spun, and dyed the wool before weaving it into a rug.
Thomas Polacca (Hopi), “My Son, Await the Coming of the Mormon Missionaries,” 1990. The artist shows himself kneeling in prayer, as shown by a feather coming from his mouth. The feather is a Hopi symbol of prayer because birds, like prayers, connect earth and heaven. The Holy Ghost appears in the form of a bird hovering nearby.
John Jarvis, Jacob Hamblin and Chief Tuba, 1982. Before crossing the Little Colorado River on their way to Salt Lake City in January 1863, Jacob Hamblin and Chief Tuba prayed together. Brother Hamblin said of the event, “To me the whole ceremony seemed humble and reverential.”
Joe Oreland (Navajo/Ute), Ute Family, 1994. The continuation of family bonds for eternity is the message of this alabaster sculpture.
Les Namingha (Hopi/Zuni), Three Degrees of Glory Bowl, 1994. Christ is in the center of this design with the sun behind His right hand, the moon above the sun, and a star overhead.
Leta Keith (Navajo), Arizona Temple Rug, 1990. Temple worship is central to the gospel. Sister Keith regularly travels more than 200 miles to this temple in Mesa, Arizona, where she can worship in Navajo.
Phil Sekaquaptewa (Hopi), Three Degrees of Glory, 1991. This silver jewelry shows the sun, moon, and stars, respectively representing the celestial, terrestrial, and telestial kingdoms of heaven. Note its featherlike shape symbolizing prayer.
Excellence in Art
“We must recognize that excellence and quality are a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and about life and about God. … Real craftsmanship … reflects real caring, and real caring reflects our attitude about ourselves, about our fellowmen, and about life.”—President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), “The Gospel Vision of the Arts,”
July 1977, 5.
[illustrations] Courtesy of Museum of Church History and Art
Richard G. Oman is a member of the East Mill Creek Sixth Ward, Salt Lake East Millcreek Stake.