C. C. A. Christensen’s Untitled Panorama

This article originally appeared in Vol.66, No.1 (2019) of Pioneer Magazine.
BY LAURA ALLRED HURTADO Former Global Acquisitions Art Curator, Church History Museum

Referring to the recently discovered 22-foot painted panorama by C. C. A. Christensen, Steven L. Olsen, former managing director of the Church History Department, said,

“This may be the single most important ‘discovery’ of Latter-day Saint art in my thirty-year career.”1

Later, Olsen made an even bolder claim:

“The soon-to- be-acquired scroll painted by pioneer artist C.C. A. Christensen is one of the most important works of art collected by the Church History Department in this generation.”2

Utah art gallerist David Eric- son believes the panorama is “the most important nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint doctrinal visual document that I have seen or that has been discovered in the last thirty years. It is priceless.”5 Robert Davis, past curator far the Church History Museum, judges the scroll to be of “the greatest significance, rarity, and usefulness.”4

Just what is this “priceless” find of “this generation”?

It is a dramatic eleven-panel panorama or scroll painted by C. C. A. Christensen in the early 1870s after receiving a commission from Dimick Huntington, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.5 This newly rediscovered scroll was apparently untitled by the artist, but it is now officially known as Untitled [Huntington/Lamanite Panorama]. Huntington and fellow missionary George Washington Hill had been called to share their faith with members of the Gosiute, Ute, Faiute, and Shoshone (Western and Shoshone-Bannock) nations. The scroll was jointly used by the two missionaries to teach Native Americans the biblical history of the world and events of the Restoration, starting with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and ending with Joseph Smith receiving the gold plates from the angel Moroni

The scroll’s creator, C. C. A. Christensen, was a Danish convert who served missions in Denmark and Norway before immigrating to Utah with his wife, Elise Rosalie Sternhjem Sched, in the 7th Handcart Company in 1857, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in September of that year and ultimately settling in Sanpete County. Before his immigration and missions, Christensen studied art at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts at Charlottenborg Palace, first while apprenticing as a carpenter in the evenings, and then under painter Carl Rosent who was best known as a decorative artist. At the Academy, Rosent was essentially an adjunct faculty member and taught easel, decorative, and house painting. Christensen, within the apprentice process, rose to the level of perspective drawing but then stagnated, never rising to live-model drawing. His arrested artistic development may have been caused by his religious conversion, or, given the narrow expertise of his mentor, it may have been the logical end of his apprenticeship.5 For whatever reason, his training was limited even though Christensen studied at one of the most significant art schools in Denmark during the “global age of Danish painting.” Indeed, his works have a particular flatness to them, created in folkish and naive style. His figures lack modeling and a rich understanding of anatomy, but his colors are warm and his subject matter significant Had Christensen stayed in Denmark and not converted to the Church of Jesus Christ his artistic the American Indian nations for whom it was created.15

But how exactly does a scroll like this go “undiscovered” for so long? Kept and passed down by the Hill family (after it was transferred to Huntington’s former missionary companion, George Washington Hill, following the death of Huntington), the scroll was stored in a variety of locations, including under a waterbed. Apparently it was also used, on occasion, as a racing surface for Matchbox cars. It was ultimately inherited by Virginia Hill Beus Hipwell, a granddaughter of George Washington Hill. Hipwell’s daughter- in-law happened to mention to Church Historian and Recorder Elder Martin K. Jensen—during the planning of their sixty-year high school reunion—that the family owned a scroll signed by artist C. C. A. Christensen. Offers of valuables “found in Grandmas attic” are common to most collecting institutions, museums, and libraries. But rare and significant indeed is a nineteenth-century work of art by a well-known artist—a work with such unique subject matter, historic meaning, and dear provenance; a work preserved by the family who inherited it but lost to scholars.

Significant praise is owed to the Hill descendants, who not only were responsible caretakers of the panorama, but maintained the scroll intact and (despite light “racetrack usage”) in good condition for decades.

Painted panoramas were an extremely popular dement of mass culture from the late eighteenth century through the late nineteenth, and were used for entertainment, education, travd lectures, and propaganda. They are thought of today as a precursor to motion pictures in that they employed moving painted scenes in the delivery of performative narration. Like films today, panoramas created an illusion of “being there,” capturing particular historical moments through visual images and accompanying oral narrative. Some panoramas were very large, nearly the size of theater sets.16 The showing of such panorama paintings was usually set to a narrative script and paired with performances, lighting, sound, and a whole host of other theatrical elements. For the viewer, it was a carefully designed, fully immersive experience for its time.

While panoramas came in a variety of forms (dioramas, circle panoramas, and cycloramas, to name a few), Christensen, like many other artists in the United States, used the moving panorama form. This form employed a long, canvas-backed scroll and was based loosely on Chinese traditions. Either end of the scroll was attached to a large vertical roller. A frame or stand held the scroll so that its separate pictures could be displayed one at a time as assistants turned the rollers to change the image. Through panoramas, each nineteenth-century viewer was “casually changed from a passerby to an eyewitness of highly significant events.”17

Because of the tremendous size and ephemeral nature of many panoramas, because of wear-and-tear deriving from their repeated handling and being transported long distances, and because of the advent of motion pictures, very few panoramas have survived into the twenty-first century. Of those that have survived, many have been cut into separate pictures or sections—with portions lost—or have excessive conservation issues that render them undisplayable.

The Untitled [Huntington/Lamanite Panorama] is unique in its relatively small scale compared to other panoramas of its era, measuring only twenty-two feet long and eighteen inches wide. The size alone suggests that, even in its heyday, it didn’t have the same visual bravado or immersive theatricality of larger-scale panoramas. The historical context suggests that, in size and use, the scroll was more a missionary flipchart than an entertainment spectacle: it illustrated significant spiritual principles or doctrines through relatively small depictions of religiously significant moments in time. It was designed for use with small, intimate gatherings; of such audiences, Kesler wrote that “each picture was Explained unto them,”18 While perhaps lacking in drama, the scrolls compact size made it more easily preservable and more readily transportable, so that it could be shared with audiences in the remotest parts of the Utah Territory. Indeed, it is the only extant complete panorama by a nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint artist.

In closely examining the subjects of the scroll, gallerist David Ericson felt that “doctrinally, this panorama has many visual references to the Temple Endowment” and he suggested relevant themes corresponding to each of the eleven subjects of the scroll.

But such a reading assumes viewer understanding of the temple ordinance. Put differently, it assumes a particular audience of knowing members. While it is true that the scroll was likely created after Shoshone Chief Sagwitch and his wife Beawoachee had been endowed and sealed in the Endowment House in early 1875, its primary function was as a proselytizing tool that enabled potential converts to learn fundamental gospel doctrines and teachings.19

Collectively, the scroll taught a land of overview of Judeo-Christian history. Individually, however, its carefully selected pictorial subjects taught focused spiritual (and political) messages to the members of the Shoshone and other American Indian nations who viewed it and heard the accompanying narrative: violence is fraught with problems: peace is dependent upon unity; obedience brings blessings; ordinances and accompanying covenants are vital to happiness and growth; America is a Promised Land whose inhabitants are obliged to worship the true God; Jesus Christ and his atonement should be at the center of the individual human life; and—perhaps most intriguing—European American settlers and Native American peoples have familial connections. Certainly, Latter-day Saint outreaches did not constitute the first exposure of the Shoshone or other indigenous peoples to proselytizing or to biblical history. Yet, the missionaries perspective of American Indians—as first taught by Joseph Smith—was surely unique: that they “are a part of God’s chosen people, and are destined, by heaven, to inherit this land in common with them.”20

Nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints often used the terms Indian and Lamanite interchangeably to capture the sentiments and perspectives contemporary to the period. Nevertheless, Lamanite specifically refers to a civilization and people central to the Book of Mormon, a people believed to be “among the ancestors of the American Indians.”21 Historian Ronald W. Walker said that the Book of Mormon was not just “a record of the Lamanites or Native American people, but a highly unusual manifesto of their destiny?22 Historian David Grua emphasizes the importance of millennialist belief to nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints, noting that their conception of the end of the world was often paired with the arrival of the “Day of the Lamanite2’ Within this context, the panorama functioned as a tool of conversion as well as a type of propaganda; in both roles, the panorama uniquely targeted a specific population and highlighted specific Latter-day Saint concerns—such as the importance of tolerance, peaceful coexistence, and physical/spiritual security.

Several of the panels support these themes. For example, panel two depicts the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Abel’s wounded body lies gruesomely in the foreground, while Cain, whose face is unseen by the viewer, retreats. The story of Cain and Abel holds a particularly relevant warning for nineteenth- century Latter-day Saints and their Native American neighbors: fraternal relationships are fatally severed through conflict and violence.24

Drawing on a Book of Mormon story about the righteous Nephi being tied to a ships mast by his rebellious brothers, panel five also depicts sibling violence. The peaceful and boyish-looking Nephi, bathed in a gentle light, is portrayed in stark contrast to the shadowed figures—and the surrounding storm—that oppose him. In embryo, this scene depicts the family division at the heart of what would become a gulf between the two great nations of the Book of Mormon, the Nephites and the Lamanites. Accordingly, the panel suggests the nineteenth-century necessity of healing and reconciliation, of the bringing together in one society and faith America’s indigenous peoples and European American pioneers.

Baptism and, by extension, obedience to God’s commandments, are also recurring themes. The image of baptism is first suggested by panel three (Noah and the Ark) and then underscored in panel seven (Baptism of Jesus). The story of the Flood is a cautionary one. Only those who obey God’s commandments and follow his prophet survive the earth’s tumultuous baptism. Viewers of the panel are thus urged to get on board. With the threat of annihilation looming for American Indian nations, this message would have been tangibly—and perhaps offensively—clear.

Jesus’s exemplary baptism, as depicted in panel seven, diffuses the potential ethnocentrism of panel three by its forwarding the example of Christ and its underscoring the importance of having and obeying God. Regardless of one’s position, ethnicity, nationality, or perspectives, one best discovers joy through loving and serving God. Through Christ, even the terrible violence of the crucifixion is made holy, enabling mortal redemption and salvation.

Panel six (Lehi’s Family Arriving in the Promised Land) introduces the American continent as the “promised land” described in the Book of Mormon. Panel nine (Christ and His Disciples in the New World) creates America as a Holy Land where, as in Palestine, Christ taught, performed miracles, and established his Church.

Panels ten and eleven connect religious histories of the past to the nineteenth-century present Panel ten shows Moroni, a Book of Mormon prophet hiding the plates that recorded the spiritual history of his people, the Nephite and Lamanite civilizations. In panel eleven, Joseph Smith is shown receiving those same plates from the same Moroni, now a resurrected heavenly messenger. Thus, the panorama emphasizes that it is through the restored Church of Jesus Christ that American Indians—as descendants of Book of Mormon peoples and as inheritors of priceless birthrights—can understand and reach their great potential.

As documented in letters and journals of the time period, Huntington, Hill, and other Latter-day Saint missionaries were successful in teaching and baptizing many Shoshone, Bannock, Ute, and other American Indians. Although relationships between European American Latter-day Saints and their Native American converts are not without sometimes serious flaws, the first American Indian converts played crucial roles in early Latter-day Saint history throughout the West, and their lives and faith continue to inform the culture and makeup of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.

Outside Bishop Reiser’s journal, it is difficult to know the precise impact of Christensen’s scroll on early Latter-day Saint missionary work among indigenous peoples, and the impetus of conversion among early American Indian Saints—while heartfelt-remains layered. That Christensen continued making panoramas, however, supports his apparent belief that the medium had unique powers to tell compelling stories and to capture the essence of what it meant to be a Latter-day Saint.

  1. Steven L. Olsen,’C. C. A. Christensen Panorama,’email to McClain Bybee, 2 Dec 2010.
  2. Steven L. Olsen,’C. C. A. Christensen Scroll: Proposal for a Strategy of Professional Care,’unpublished text, 20 Apr 2017, Untitled [Huntington Lamanite Panorama] object file, Church History Museum.
  3. David Ericson,’C. C. A. Christensen Doctrinal Panorama Appraisal,’22 Jun 2010,1.
  4. Robert O. Davis, “Background Data from C. C. A. Christensen’s Newly-Discovered Eleven-Panel Panorama: Providing Context to Evaluate the Recently Found Collection of 11 Paintings,’unpublished text, 7 Sep 2010, Untitled [Huntington/Lamanite Panorama] object file, Church History Museum.
  5. Several secondary sources mention Dan Weggeland as one of the painters of the Untitled [Huntington Lamanite Scroll], either as creator or collaborator with C. C. A. Christensen.The advertisement fora 2003 exhibition of both the Mormon Panorama and the “Huntington scroll” at the BYU Museum of Art con ects Weggeland to this scroll without attribution. The artists knew each other and had collaborated on projects early in their careers. However, the primary evidence points only to Christensen. The scroll itself is signed on the back by C. C. A. Christensen, and Dimick Huntington’s journal does not mention Weggeland. The author of this article makes no other claim for or against Weggeland’s possible role.
  6. Richard L. Jensen and Richard G. Oman, CCA Christensen, 1831-1912: Mormon Immigrant Artist (1984), 5. Jensen and Oman say that Christensen’s conversion indirectly caused his ‘arrested developments an artist, given that his baptism and subsequent missionary service troubled the patrons that supported his study, perhaps leading to a withdrawal of funds. Christensen himself wrote that his “dreams of becoming an artist suddenly seemed to be destroyed or overthrown for good since we anticipated that the end of the world would come within a few years. C. C. A. Christensen’s Levnedslob,’337).There are undoubtedly other causes of Christensen’s stalled training, including the tutelage of his craft-based mentor, the biases of his patrons, and an underdeveloped natural skill.
  7. ibid91.
  8. ibid.
  9. Jane Dillenberger,’Mormonism and American Religious Art]Reflections on Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels, ed. Truman G. Madsen (1978). A pioneer art historian, Dillenberger was among the first to explore relationships between modern art and religion, authoring such books as The Religious Art of Pablo Picasso and The Religious Art of Andy Warhol.
  10. Dating based on the date on the obverse of the panorama, contemporary photographs, and primary source references.
  11. Ericson 1.
  12. Davis 1.
  13. ‘Acquisition Case Statement: C. C. A. Christensen’s ‘Gospel Through the Age? Panorama,’unpublished text, Church History Department, 1 Mar 2011; Untitled [HuntingtonA-amanite Panorama], object file, Church History Museum.
  14. Diary of Frederick Kesler, 1859-1874, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, as dted in Jonathan Stapley,’From the Archives: Native Americans and Frederick tester? Juvenile Instructor website, 4 Dec 2013, online.
  15. Lamanite is in no means a neutral term now, but within nineteenth-century Latter- day Saint contexts, was coded positive. For more about Church usage of the term Lamanite, see Michael R. Ash,’Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith :The Double Meaning of the Term ‘Lamanite,”Deseref News, 3 May 2010.
  16. Christensen was not the only panorama painter in Utah. According to Jensen and Oman, Ruben Kirkham, Alfred Lambome, and William Armitage also painted panoramas; see John F. McDermott, The Lost Panoramas of the Mississippi (1958) and Dolf Sternberger, Panorama of the Nineteenth Century {1977).
  17. Sternberger 1.
  18. “From the Archives: Native Americans and Frederick Keslerf op. cit.
  19. Steven L. Olsen attaches a uniquely “Book of Mormon reading* to the panorama, particularly as referenced in Moroni 103, which invites faith-seekers to remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things and ponder it in you hearts.’
  20. Latter day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate (Aug 1836), 354.
  21. The phrase comes from the introduction to the Book of Mormon, which summarizes the text as providing an account of two great civilizations… known as the Nephites and the Lamanites.’Admittedly, both Indians and Lamanites are, for many today, loaded and vexed terms.
  22. Ronald W. Walker“Seeking the Remnant: The Native American in the Joseph Smith Period,’ Journal of Mormon History 19.1 (1993): 5.
  23. David Grua,’Painting the Mythical and the Heroic Joseph Preaches to the American Indians] Juvenile Instructor website, 19 Nov 2013,online.
  24. “Race and the Priesthood,’Topics ChurchofJesusChrist.org, online

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