The new Museum of Church History and Art was dedicated April 4 with a prayer by President Gordon B. Hinckley, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, that it might be “a house of thine, designed to present before us and future generations beautiful expressions of the hands and minds and hearts of thy sons and daughters who have magnified those talents which have come from thee.”
The dedicatory prayer was the culmination of ceremonies marking the opening of the new museum, across the street from Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The 63,500-square-foot building houses exhibits tied to the history of the Church, along with works of art by Latter-day Saint artists of the past and present.
The new building is part of a complex that will eventually include a genealogical research library, now under construction immediately to the south.
In remarks preceding the dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley explained that the museum is designed to help visitors appreciate the good that others have created, as well as the potential within themselves.
“Unnumbered multitudes of people will visit this museum in the years to come. Their appreciation for the builders of the past will be enhanced. There will be stirred within them a desire to seek for the good and the beautiful, and to preserve it for the future. They will be motivated to cultivate their own talents,” he said.
In the dedicatory prayer following his remarks, President Hinckley expressed thanks for those who had roles in the museum’s planning, design, construction, and furnishing, and then asked for the blessings of God on those who will now run it. He prayed for the protection and preservation of the building, and then continued:
“We look upon this structure as a significant addition to the magnificent buildings erected on the square to the east of us—thy holy house, the temple of God, the great Tabernacle, and the restored Assembly Hall with all of their surroundings. We pray that this building, added to those on Temple Square, may become an attraction to great numbers of people, not only to members of the Church, but to legions of others in this community and visitors from far and near, and that out of their experiences within these walls will come an increased appreciation for thy work and those who have sought to advance it, and a greater love for thee and thy Beloved Son.”
President Hinckley was the concluding speaker on a program that began with remarks by President Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve. President Benson noted that the museum will help visitors “better understand the vision of our forebears, which is the basis of our sacred heritage.”
He explained that “as a Church, we do not ordinarily build monuments to memorialize our progenitors. We build to lift the spirit of mankind. We build to give people an opportunity to reflect on the purpose of life, to teach, to meditate. We build to provide a moment of respite from a world of discontent, and to hopefully add a beneficial influence to the communities in which we live,” he said.
“I can see in my mind’s eye myriads of people—the curious and the critics, the young and the old, the sophisticated and the humble—passing through the doors of this edifice.
“They will pause and contemplate the manner of religion that brought this Church from obscurity to recognition.
“They will sense the kind of people Mormonism has produced.
“They will see that the Church draws from cultures throughout the world, yet unifies them by a common theology.
“They will sense that it is the doctrine of the Church that provides inspiration to their artistic works and endeavors.
“They will also sense that our faith permeates everything we do: our work ethic, our sense of beauty, and our outlook on life,” he said.
“Above all, we hope all will sense that we as a people are truly dedicated to the proposition that ‘if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.’” (A of F 1:13.)
Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve also spoke at the dedicatory services, recalling: “Someone has said that from the altars of the past we should take the flame and not the ashes. There are those who stir in the ashes and find themselves covered with soot and grime. They get cinders in their eyes, and no longer see by the light of faith. They miss the purpose of it all.
“This museum is dedicated to a little spark of faith that was kindled more than 150 years ago. It ignited a light that now burns across the world and will spread to every nation.
“Interesting, is it not, that faith burns the brightest in very ordinary places. In the museum, you will find a piece of plaster from the Logan Temple. When it was wet, a worker had etched into it this message: ‘We are here several nationalities with the best of feeling to all men.’”
He described another artifact in the museum which bespeaks the faith of the early Saints—a small wooden box which once held money women of the Church contributed to the building of the Nauvoo Temple. They gave a penny a week, he noted, “at great sacrifice.”
“The box came west with one of them in 1847. They had lost the temple, but they kept the faith.”
Those forebears whom we honor in the museum are not only a part of our past, he explained, but also a part of our future, for the gospel teaches that we will meet them again. “God grant that we may be worthy to join the faithful of the past, to see them and to know them, and have a place with them, and that we may come to see and know him who is our Lord and our Redeemer,” he said.
“We shall be very glad that we built this museum. For then our children will know that from the altars of the past we kept the flame, not the ashes. They shall know that we kept the faith.”
Elder G. Homer Durham of the First Quorum of the Seventy, managing director of the Historical Department, noted that “the Museum of Church History and Art has long and tender roots. They lie deep in the aspirations and labors of our people.” He cited several examples of exhibits which represent the best aspirations of Latter-day Saints.
“Now may this museum, incorporating evidence of Church history past, inspire present and future generations to move further towards the higher ground and ideals” embodied in the revealed knowledge that “the glory of God is intelligence, or … light and truth (D&C 93:36),” he said.
Florence S. Jacobsen, director of the Church’s Arts and Sites Division, expressed thanks for the Church leaders who gave support and direction to the museum project, to stake historical arts correspondents who have helped fill it, to volunteers “who have given countless hours of devoted service,” and to the museum director, Glen Leonard, and staff. Without their dedication to make “a personal achievement of quality, the museum would be only a building instead of a home to house our heritage,” she said.
The dedicatory services were held in the museum’s 178-seat auditorium, immediately following outdoor ceremonies at which the cornerstone was sealed, with President Hinckley and President Benson applying the first mortar to the stone. A polished copper box containing copies of the standard works, Church periodicals, newspapers, and other items that will be artifacts of our times was sealed inside the cornerstone.
As the museum opened, it included a number of “first-phase” exhibits, some “permanent”—designed for long-term display—and others, designated as “temporary,” designed so they can be easily changed after intervals ranging from a few weeks to several months. The permanent exhibits include “Presidents of the Church,” with oil portraits, artifacts, documents, and photographs pertaining to each president’s life; “Leaders of the Church,” a collection of oil portraits of members of the Council of the Twelve from its beginnings to the present; and “Masterworks,” a selection of art treasures from the Church collection of paintings and sculpture by LDS artists.
Among the temporary exhibits were: “C. C. A. Christensen,” a collection of works, including the artist’s twenty-two historic paintings titled “Mormon Panorama”; “Western Americana,” art and artifacts reflecting history and culture of the western United States; and “Paintings and Prints by Contemporary Latter-day Saint Artists,” a selection from the Church collection and the first in a series of changing exhibits on art and photography.
The “Presidents of the Church” and “C. C. A. Christensen” exhibits were previewed during the week of general conference, then closed for completion. They will be formally opened later.
Behind the exhibits are a number of facilities for staff work and research, as well as public service. There is a small reference library, design studio, storage rooms and vault, conservation laboratory, cataloging room, exhibits fabrication shop, and store.
In addition to its exhibits, the museum will offer structured educational experiences to the public periodically. These will include lectures, demonstrations, and other programs.
The facility also provides opportunities for approximately three hundred Salt Lake-area Saints to give voluntary Church service. They meet the public as guides and in other roles, or assist the professional staff behind the scenes.
In order to serve the needs of a wide variety of visitors, the museum will be open seven days a week, except on Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day. Its hours are 9 A.M. to 9 P.M. weekdays and 10 A.M. to 7 P.M. on holidays during the summer, fall, and spring. From January through March, it will be open from 10 A.M. to 9 P.M. on Mondays and Thursdays, and from 10 A.M. to 7 P.M. on all other days. Admission is free.