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Historic Manti Temple murals get a reprieve from LDS leaders — at least in part

After more than a week of protests, petitions and phone calls arguing passionately against destroying hand-painted murals inside the historic Manti Temple, leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offered an olive branch Wednesday to preservationists and concerned members.

“The artwork in the Manti Temple includes murals painted by Minerva Teichert, which are valued not only for their beauty,” President Russell M. Nelson and his two counselors said Wednesday, “but also as a treasured remembrance of the faith, talent and dedication of the artist.”

Turns out that the Teichert murals originally were “painted on canvas, which was adhered to the plaster walls,” the governing First Presidency said in a news release. “The church’s intent is to separate the canvas or portions of the canvas from the plaster and preserve the murals for future restoration and display in a public setting. We are seeking the advice of international experts in the field of art preservation during this process.”

This comes just 12 days after the Utah-based faith announced it had removed historic murals in the iconic Salt Lake Temple — some that were painted by Mormon artists sent to study in Paris in the 1890s — and had discontinued the use of live religious rituals in the building. The structure is in the midst of a massive four-year renovation and seismic protection project.

Those murals were “carefully photographed and documented before removal,” the church leaders wrote, “and some of the original portions are being preserved in the church’s archives.”

At that time, leaders said the same plans were in place for the pioneer-era Manti Temple, which is poised to undergo renovation later this year and houses the “world room” mural painted by the Teichert, who studied at the Chicago Art Institute in the early 20th century.

In the intervening days, nearly 4,000 heartbroken members signed a petition, “Save the Manti Temple Murals.” Others wrote letters to the church’s general authorities, called the faith’s public affairs office, or wrote anguished letters to the editor, condemning the desecration.

A “Gathering of Remembrance” was planned for Sunday, April 11, in Provo’s Memorial Park, where participants would be invited to “fast that day in solidarity with preserving what cultural icons we still have in the Manti Temple.”

Teichert’s murals “are a masterpiece and a crowning accomplishment of her career. They are arguably the single greatest artistic achievement by an LDS woman,” Margaret Tarkington wrote on the By Common Consent blog. “No amount of photographing can replace actually experiencing Teichert’s murals, which are vast in conception, scope, vision, and size (the room is 28 feet tall, 50 feet long, and 25 feet wide). The murals cover nearly 4,000 square feet.”

The ambitious painter “portrayed the pageant of human history in a fallen world” on sides of the giant hall,” Tarkington, a law professor at Indiana University, wrote, “culminating in the gathering of the early Latter-day Saints to the North American continent and their efforts to build Zion, portrayed on the front wall.”

She concluded her essay by asking: “If the church is going to remove and/or destroy Teichert’s masterpiece, could they at least ‘undedicate’ the temple for a period of time before the renovation/construction begins and allow the general public to see Teichert’s work in its original setting and design?”

Given its location in Manti and inside the temple where only faithful members can see it, she said, “many people have never had the opportunity to experience Teichert’s visionary masterpiece.”

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