The Church’s angel Moroni statues have come to symbolize for Latter-day Saints the restoration of the gospel in these latter days. Images of the statues have been used on Book of Mormon covers and Church pamphlets. For many, these statues herald the gospel being preached “to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6). (See related article, page 25.)
Of the 67 temples operating as of 31 December 1999, 52 are adorned with statues of the angel Moroni. The following is a brief history of the use of these statues.*
The Nauvoo Temple was the first Latter-day Saint temple to be graced with a “gilded angel.” When Thomas L. Kane visited the Nauvoo Temple site in 1846, he said of the Saints who stayed behind to finish the temple, “They had completed even the gilding of the angel and trumpet on the summit of its lofty spire.”1 This horizontal-flying angel apparently represented the angel in John’s vision in the New Testament book of Revelation: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth” (Rev. 14:6).
The Salt Lake Temple, dedicated in 1893, was the first temple topped with an angel that was formally identified as Moroni. When President Wilford Woodruff asked non-LDS artist Cyrus Dallin to create a statue, Dallin declined, saying he “didn’t believe in angels.” Knowing that Dallin’s parents had once been active Latter-day Saints, President Woodruff encouraged him to consult with his mother.
Cyrus Dallin was born in Springville, Utah, on 22 November 1861. His ancestors converted to the Church in England and immigrated to Utah in 1851. Once there, however, Dallin’s parents joined the Presbyterian Church. As a child he loved sketching and modeling with clay. Eventually he studied art in Boston.
“I consider that my ‘angel Moroni’ brought me nearer to God than anything I ever did. It seemed to me that I came to know what it means to commune with angels from heaven.”3
In the early 1930s, Church leaders asked Torlief Knaphus to fashion a replica of Cyrus Dallin’s angel Moroni for the spire of the Washington D.C. Ward chapel. The statue, a casting of hollow aluminum weighing 645 pounds and covered with 23-karat gold leaf, rested on a marble ball 160 feet above the ground.
It is now owned by the LDS Motion Picture Studio and was used in the 70mm film Legacy and in the video Mountain of the Lord.
In 1976 the statue on the chapel was removed from the spire and is now on display in the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City, Utah. Later, LaVar Wallgren, a Latter-day Saint craftsman and artist (see page 36), made two castings of the Knaphus replica. One was placed on the Atlanta Georgia Temple; the other was placed on the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple, with the use of a helicopter.
Torlief Knaphus was born in 1881 in Norway. By age five, while caring for sheep in the hills, he began to create wood carvings of birds and people.
At 14 he went to sea. “Art was driven into my soul by the beautiful summer nights spent as a sailor on the Arctic Ocean. When our little vessel was tossed around by giant blue-green waves under the most dramatic sky in the great Atlantic zone, I decided firmly to be an artist.”4
In 1902, at age 21, he joined the Church. He helped Avard Fairbanks sculpt the 12 oxen supporting the baptismal font in the Laie Hawaii Temple. Later, he crafted oxen for the Cardston Alberta Temple, Mesa Arizona Temple, and Idaho Falls Idaho Temple.
In 1934 the Church again commissioned Torlief Knaphus to create a monument depicting the angel Moroni, this time for the Hill Cumorah in New York state. He made seven sketches but could not decide which one was the best representation. He hiked to Salt Lake City’s Ensign Peak, where he prayed and asked to know which of his sketches was acceptable to the Lord. Brother Knaphus said he saw a finger of light point to a particular sketch and was impressed that Church leaders would choose the same one, which they did.
By the summer of 1935, a 65-ton granite obelisk was placed on the north crest of the hill. A bronze plaque on each side of the shaft depicts an aspect of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. On top of the 30-foot shaft stands a 10-foot-4-inch bronze statue. This angel Moroni has one arm to the square and the other arm holding the gold plates.5
The Los Angeles Temple, dedicated in 1956, was the second temple to be dressed with an angel Moroni statue. Millard F. Malin made the plaster casts of his 15-foot-5-inch statue in Salt Lake City. These casts were sent in five pieces to New York City, where they were cast in aluminum and welded together. The statue was made of aluminum instead of bronze to meet the Los Angeles building code. Even so, the statue weighed 2,100 pounds.
The figure had Native American features, wore a cloak of Mayan design, and held an eight-foot trumpet to its lips and a replica of the gold plates in its left arm.6 It was placed on the 265-foot tower of the Los Angeles California Temple on 10 October 1953.
Millard F. Malin, born in Salt Lake City on 25 October 1891, served a mission to New Zealand between 1909 and 1912. In 1914, he entered medical school at the University of Utah, where he studied human anatomy. Eventually, he turned his attention to art and studied in New York City.
“Of my own efforts in art and science, I would say … if my life and work are found to have any value, give the glory to God.”7
The Washington D.C. Temple, dedicated in 1974, was the third temple to be topped with an angel Moroni statue. Nine sculptors submitted designs. Avard Fairbanks’s design of a graceful angel holding a trumpet to its lips and a replica of the gold plates in its left arm was selected. He sculpted a three-foot model that was taken to Italy to be enlarged, cast in bronze, and covered with gold leaf.
When the clay enlargement was finished, Brother Fairbanks invited the temple architects to Italy to see it. One of the architects, Keith W. Wilcox, mentioned that the angel looked like it was drinking from the horn rather than blowing it. Brother Wilcox demonstrated how a trombone player “buzzed” with his lips to make a tone, and with Brother Wilcox posing, Brother Fairbanks changed the angel’s mouth.8
Avard Fairbanks was born into a family of artists in Provo, Utah, on 2 March 1897. Brother Fairbanks, as a boy of 12, sculpted a model of his pet rabbit for the state fair and won first prize. When the judge discovered that it was the work of a child, he refused to award the prize. Young Avard then resolved to become an accomplished sculptor to prove his work.
“I wanted the angel Moroni statue to conform to the spirit and architecture of the temple, that of aspiring upward. I wanted the feeling of that upward reach, accomplished by the stress of vertical lines.”9
In 1978 the Church commissioned Karl A. Quilter to fashion a new angel Moroni statue. Together Karl Quilter and LaVar Wallgren developed a process of casting fiberglass that made it possible to create lightweight statues less expensively.
In Samoa, when workers couldn’t find a crane high enough to lift the statue, they lifted it with manpower. Since the gold-leafed statue couldn’t be touched by bare hands, the workers wore white gloves and wrapped the statue in flannel.11
Karl A. Quilter, born in Castle Gate, Utah, on 27 April 1929, studied sculpture under Avard Fairbanks at the University of Utah. Between 1949 and 1951, he served in the Northern States Mission. Later, he helped create the oxen for the Los Angeles California Temple baptismal font, and he also taught seminary.
“I remember a classmate asking, ‘What do you really want to do after graduation?’ I said, ‘I would be more honored than anything if I could sculpt an angel Moroni for the temple.’”10
LaVar Wallgren, born 13 August 1932 in Midvale, Utah, is a highly skilled craftsman who specializes in the casting of fiberglass. He has created most of the Karl Quilter angel Moroni statues in his Kearns, Utah, studio.
“The most wonderful thing that ever happened to me is when I received a testimony of the Church,” says Brother Wallgren. “The opportunity to create these statues is very humbling.”12
In 1998 the Church again commissioned Karl Quilter to design an angel Moroni statue—this one for use on the smaller temples. It is 6 feet 10 inches and covered with gold leaf. The angel is similar to the other Quilter statues, but it has a more massive build, it is turned slightly to show action, and the left hand is more relaxed. The new design is based on a 24-inch fiberglass statue designed by Quilter as a memento for his grandchildren if they read the standard works within one year.
Occasionally building codes, possible cultural misconceptions, or architectural designs preclude the use of an angel Moroni statue. The following 15 temples do not have a statue: St. George Utah, Logan Utah, Manti Utah, Laie Hawaii, Cardston Alberta, Mesa Arizona, Bern Switzerland, Hamilton New Zealand, London England, Oakland California, Ogden Utah, Provo Utah, São Paulo Brazil, Tokyo Japan, and Freiberg Germany.