The art of Joseph Smith’s First Vision
Apr 3, 2020, 10:14 AM | Updated: Apr 5, 2020, 3:40 pm
PROVO, Utah — The art of First Vision can be found all across the world.
On the dining room wall of the Doyle home is a 9 ½ foot by 6 foot hooked rug. It depicts a 14-year-old Joseph Smith praying in the Sacred Grove before his First Vision.
Jennifer Doyle made it by hand.
“I was feeling like I needed to do something with my craft that was meaningful. And that was the thought that came to my head,” she said.
She hand-dyed the fabric, cut it into strips, and pulled each strip through the holes in the canvas.
“My kids saw me dragging the large heavy project around the house for 5 years. They saw me carrying it around. I worked on it while they practiced piano or ate breakfast or watched a movie. It was part of our life, and gave me the opportunity to say how important it was for me,” said Doyle.
The Art of First Vision Strengthening testimony
Doyle says this project strengthened her testimony of Joseph Smith.
“I just found myself, as I was trying to do these worn-looking pants, thinking about those pants kneeling and asking God. I thought about, what would his face look like, or how were his hands.”
The hooked rug is seen on the wall from the front door. It has become a conversation piece for visitors to their home, and a way for Doyle to talk about Joseph Smith in new ways with her family and others.
Artist Anthony Sweat did a painting called “The First Visions.” It is on display right now in the BYU Harold B. Lee Library. Sweat says he pluralized the title because he took from all 9 accounts.
The painting shows a column of yellow fire coming down, instead of a soft white light usually seen in other depictions.
“Multiple accounts use that word, fire. So I wanted in my image to depict more yellow old testament type of fire. Orson Pratt says Joseph thought the whole grove would be consumed,” said Sweat.
It shows the Father turning to introduce the Son, and angels in the background, which Joseph mentioned in different accounts. There’s also a dark line in the left corner showing Satan being cast out.
“There are only a few paintings that depict the adversary to Joseph’s prayer,” said Sweat.
Different artistic depictions of First Vision
There have been many paintings, drawings, sculptures and even stained glass windows done of the First Vision.
Sweat says many church members are used to seeing the art of First Vision. It’s become symbolized to them as a boy in a white shirt and brown pants in a pose looking up at two beings.
Video depictions over the years also show a green and leafy grove. Joseph Smith says he went to pray in early spring, when the grove was probably more brown and barren.
Sweat says that’s the drawback of art.
“It helps us learn, but also limits our learning if we rely too heavily on artistic expression,” he said. “That’s why we also need to get into the actual words of Joseph in his official accounts and contemporary accounts.” Those accounts can be read at the Joseph Smith Papers Project or in the Gospel Library.
The artwork takes people where they cannot go
But art does help people connect with the place where the restoration began, especially when they can’t go to the sacred grove historic site themselves.
Other church members are also learning more about the 1820 event through books, firesides, articles, lectures and podcasts.
Sheena Perron, who runs the Facebook group, “Seek Christ Daily” from her home in Idaho, says she and her teenage daughter listened to the First Vision Podcast on their drives. And it led to discussions about the gospel.
“At times we can get down on ourselves. But one of the biggest things we can do is pray ourselves, and then look for opportunities to teach our children. Those little moments go so much further. You are bearing your testimony, you are sharing your thoughts with your family,” she said.
Doyle gives away prints of her first vision scene to people, like primary children and missionaries, to have with them or hang on their walls. She says others can find different ways to teach about the First Vision.
“It doesn’t have to be this one big thing you do,” Doyle said. “Parents can say one thing they’ve read or thing they loved about the whole restoration of the gospel. That makes the whole difference for children.”
KSL NewsRadio’s Mary Richards will have much more on the First Vision Bicentennial from upstate New York in our special coverage during General Conference on KSL NewsRadio.