Unlikely sculpture that stands atop LDS temples was created by Springville artist
Feb 08, 2020 10:57AM
● By Ed Helmick
Whatever your religious preference, if you live in Utah you are aware of the beautiful LDS Temples, including the new Payson Temple. All the LDS Temples have a golden Angel Moroni statue at the top of the Temple. It turns out that sculpture was not the work of an LDS church member. It is the work of a world renown artist and sculpture, Cyrus Edward Dallin. Here is the back story of this amazing individual.
Cyrus Dallin’s grandfather, Tobias Dallin, and father, Thomas were sail-makers in England and were converted to Mormonism in 1849 by a missionary by the name of Cyrus Wheelock. Thomas Dallin and Jane Hamer, who was also a Mormon and would become Thomas’s wife, emigrated to Utah with a group of Mormon pioneers in 1851.
It is reported that they left the Mormon church because Thomas was excommunicated for supporting non-Mormon political candidates. They settled in Springville and had nine children, the second of which was Cyrus, born on Nov. 22, 1861. Cyrus was named after the missionary that baptized his father.
Cyrus attended a neighborhood school where he became known for drawing sketches rather than studying. He then attended the community school operated as a mission project of the Presbyterian church in Springville.
At age 12 he became known by local townspeople for clay sculptures that included Joseph and Hyrum Smith. At age 18 he worked at a silver mine in the Tintic Mining District, where he found a vein of clay that he molded into the life size heads of a man and a woman.
These two art pieces were displayed at the fall 1879 territorial fair in Salt Lake City. This attracted the attention of several businessmen who committed to financing young Dallin’s education at the T.H. Bartlett school of sculpture in Boston in April of 1880. In Boston Cyrus Dallin denied any association with the Mormon church.
In 1883 Cyrus entered a competition for an equestrian statue of Paul Revere for the city of Boston and our young man from Springville won the competition. Then it was discovered that he was “a 22-year-old novice.”
He made at least two revisions and the committee accepted it as the best submission each time. The challenges went on for many years before his monumental Paul Revere statue was finally erected in Boston.
In September 1883 he wrote LDS President John Taylor proposing he be commissioned to create a memorial statue to Joseph Smith. It is unknown if President Taylor responded. On Jan. 13, 1884 Cyrus wrote a second letter to President Taylor offering his services and it is uncertain if he received a reply. In 1887 Cyrus traveled to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux Art and at the Académie Julien.
It wasn’t until 1891 when he began doing work for the Mormon Church. Despite not being a member of the church, LDS President Wilford Woodruff asked Cyrus Dallin to create a statue for the central spire of the Salt Lake City Temple. Sculptor Cyrus declined at first and then accepted the offer. He believed that the angel Moroni with a trumpet welcoming the second coming of Christ would be the perfect symbol of the church. That work was completed in 1893 and Cyrus is quoted as saying “My angel Moroni brought me nearer to God than anything I have done.”
That piece of artwork has become the model for all LDS Temple spires.
In his lengthy career Cyrus Dallin created at least 260 sculptures. Many are famous and in significant locations in various locations around the United States.
More than 30 pieces of his works are on display at the Springville Museum of Art. The Dallin House at 253 South, 300 East, in Springville is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Cyrus had the house built as a gift to his parents, Thomas, and Jane Dallin.
Designed and built by Lewis J. Whitney in 1905, it was constructed beside his parent’s previous residence, a two-room log cabin, which has long since been removed.
He was dedicated to taking care of his parents and had a close relationship with his mother. He was fascinated with the sculptured mountains of the Wasatch Mountains and said that they influenced both his life and art. (Helmick is a Serve Daily contributor.)