Saturday, August 30, 2008

Statues in the Square

(A short note before the pictures: I have been touched by the latest comments! Thank you for sharing that you are enjoying seeing my pictures from my adventures in my new town, and enjoying my writing as well. If I have brightened your day it was well worth the time it took to post because the comments in turned brightened my day tremendously as well!
And dear Marie...just remember to wear a really great hat while you walk with a sandwich board advising people to by my Houston house. I have been smiling like crazy every time I imagine how you would look doing this. Friends like you are the greatest!)

This post is part three of my walk through Temple Square on Thursday morning of this week. The first two parts: flowers and fountains are viewable after this post below.

Anyone out there remember this photo from my Christmas in Salt Lake posts?

The children danced in snowfall then, their rejoicing illuminated by the colorful lights in the trees.

Their joyous dance has continued!

Winter became spring, and spring became summer.

And their joyful laughter is now echoed in the exuberant flowers.

The young girl contemplating the family's baby....a moment captured and frozen both in bronze and snow.

The baby is as happy as ever, still so sweetly pulling himself up on his mother's shoulder.

The mother is listening...seeing something afar...unaware of her daughter behind her.

I just love this statue!

It tugs at my heart, and makes me smile, and get choked up a tiny bit too. The sweet face of the baby, the face of girl who yearns to one day be a mother too, and the mature knowing expression on the captures the significant transitions of a woman's life.

I find this statue less emotionally satisfying. While still artfully done, the woman's expression looks comedic, and the boy looks slightly crushed. While the mother is doing all she can to hold her son and to watch over him as he matures, his face is turned from her, looking afar for someone or something else. Her expression looks out of touch with what is going on in the young man's mind.

The placement of his hands speak a defiance, and he has one hand on his hip in a gesture that says "I would rather not be held."

When I see this sculpture, I feel as though he is looking for his father. The boy looks old enough to be by his father's side in daily life; yet he is still being held onto by his mother instead.

So often in industrious families the mother is charged with "holding the fort" and the dad works long hours away from home to provide the income needed in the home.

Sometimes it is understandable arrangement; often it is the only choice available to young families if they are to financially survive. It is a sad reality for some families, and we ourselves have been there.

But for other families dad's long hours away from home is merely a means of accumulating more status and things. Many working men (and now working women) confess that they felt easier at work than at home. Raising children is a messy business; at least at work life runs in a regular fashion without the trials and tribulations of childish squabbles and wails.

Whether dad is gone from the home from necessity or preference, or if the mother is a single mom, I know that every young boy would rather have time with his dad than anything else, and that is what I see when I look at this statue.

The first time I saw this statue years ago I rather liked it. The husband and wife seemed connected; the postures were drawn to each other as though they were leaning into each other in agreement about something.

I loved the details of her clothing and hairstyle; characteristic of the time circa 1840.

How well dressed he is too. Curiously he is holding her upturned hand and placing a coin into it.

The face is serious, determined, yet calmly kind.
(If you are having flashbacks to the Jane Austen movies, that is because the man's clothing is from the same clothing style era, even though the books were written in the first two decades of the 1800's...the man does look like he should be the lead in Sense and Sensibilities to me!)

A close up of the hands and the coin.

It is a beautiful statue.

It is also an excellent example why the Reformation was necessary.

You see, before the Reformation, Christians were dependent on priests to interpret scripture for them; they could not read it for themselves. Because many people were illiterate anyway, this wasn't an all together bad aspect of the time. To further aid the illiterate and to reinforce key points of church history and faith there were sculptures, tapestries, paintings and stained glass windows created.

Such art was, (and still is) quite beautiful.

The problem is how such art is interpreted.

The sculpture above is better understood once you read it's interpretive plaque: this is a statue of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and his wife Emma.
The concept of Joseph being supportive of the Women's relief society seems quite commendable.
The statue suggests a respectful interplay between Joseph and Emma.
However, at the time that Joseph would have been placing such a coin in Emma's hand, he was the husband of THIRTY THREE wives. (Click here to see official records of Smith's marriages from the LDS website. Click here to read more about this subject.)
Of those women, eleven were between the ages of 14 and 20 when he married them. And no, during the 1840's it wasn't considered the "norm" for old men to marry young teens. At the time, puberty was commonly occuring later in girl's lives; ages fourteen to sixteen was average, and most families that lived in well settled areas would not allow their daughters to wed until they were 17.
Joseph and Emma had been married twenty years when Joseph declared polygamy to be a "godly" life style.
Emma was devastated to find her husband holed up with other much younger women. Joseph was well aware of her anguish, writing letters to the younger wives explaining how he must be careful not to let Emma find him with together in their "secret" marriage trysts.
One of Joseph's wives named Prescendia testified later that she was unsure if one of her children was the child of her relationship with Joseph or with her husband. She was not the only woman to have a child with Joseph while legal wed to another.
The LDS today fervently disavow polygamy; but still state that in heaven there will be polygamy, mindful of the fact that for at least half a century there were polygamous marriages that were proclaimed to be "sealed in heaven for eternity" would be most distressing to the subsequent wives to find themselves merely toyed with by a bigamist once they got to heaven.
The LDS fervently disavow polyandry, yet there are multiple church records showing where a woman was "sealed for eternity" to more than one man, due to Brigham Young's ruling that a woman may divorce a man (even if she was "seal" to him) and then could marry yet another with the same ceremonial sealing.
I think there's gonna be a lot of explaining to do up there in Mormon heaven one day.
Of course Joseph only had 33 wives.
Brigham Young acquired 55 in his life time, including two of Joseph Smith's widows.
A few of his wives divorced him too...
Joseph Smith had many problematic lifestyle issues. That strongly charismatic men should also have some really odd episodes in the lives should not come as a surprise to anyone.
Today Smith's words concerning polygamy are disavowed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (commonly known as Mormon, they prefer being called LDS)
Smith's words are still a snare in our world today: the Fundamentalist LDS of Texas are under investigation for child molestation; Warren Jeffs declares that Smith DID hear from God, and to not be polygamous is to risk damnation.
Tough call...abide by our laws and go to hell. or defy our laws and go to jail.
I'll be writing more about polygamy and our current times later.
But for now, I just wanted to be a true to both my Reformation traditions and Librarian calling, and provide the reading necessary to accurately interpret what is portrayed.


Lovella said...

Jill, I so enjoyed seeing the the statues during the different seasons. . hearing of the history just made me feel like I had been on a field trip.
I look forward to more of your research and reaction to the culture into which you have moved.

amyletinsky said...

Thanks for sharing the history and the interpretation of that statue. I love how such a simple statue like that can be so rich with meaning. It's a good lesson on why we need to be culturally literate and good at reading all sorts of "signs."

I'm really looking forward to any sorts of history of the Mormon church you can provide while you're living over there. I love that you're giving it from your unique perspective, rich with librarian knowledge and biblical insight.

Not having visited the area myself (yet), you're getting to be my tourguide!

Sara said...

The statues do show beautifully many aspects of family life. And I enjoyed the contrasts between snowy winter and flower-filled summer. They look more happy/free in the summer, and more bonded together (against the elements perhaps) in the winter.

I wonder, did JS and Emma really look that handsome/beautiful in real life?

Oh yes, there will be much explaining to do one day, only the explanations won't be worth much, I'm afraid.

I look forward to learning more.

Vicki said...

If Marie will wear a placard to advertise your house, do you think she could find someone to advertise mine in such a fashion??

The statues are so beautiful...I love seeing the playfulness and relationships. It was disappointing when I got to the story behind that statue, however. I guess I was feeling wistful and romantic...until...

I appreciate the background. My knowledge of the Mormon history is very limited. In fact, like Lovella said, I look forward to more from you!

Ladygrande (Texas Marie) said...

You can be sure I'll wear a gorgeous hat - with flowers and feathers and glitz and glam!!

Jill, you are such an inspiring friend. I love your history lessons - makes learning fun.

Looking forward to more.


Elizabeth said...

I love the idea of a lot of 'splainin'" to do in Mormon heaven.........
The dancing statue was a delight

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if instead of bashing Mormonism for something that was practiced so many years ago and is no longer legal - you could focus on the good things about the religion. All religions have positives & negatives - I don't see anything about the Inquisition or the Crusades or the burning of "witches". If you are going to tear one apart you need to tear all apart as all religions are equally guilty of some form of ugliness over the centuries.