SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — Two paintings caught the eye of Sister Joy D. Jones, the LDS Church's Primary general president, as she walked through the newly renovated Jordan River Utah Temple as the general public will have the opportunity to do beginning Saturday.
The first, which hangs in the foyer of the main entrance, is a large depiction of the Savior Jesus Christ standing next to a little boy, a copy of Danish artist Carl Bloch's "Christ With Boy."
The second is displayed in a hallway near a new grand staircase. This tall piece of art, one of three new original works in the temple, shows Christ and a girl who is feeding chickens. It is titled, "As a Hen Gathereth," and was painted by artist Jeff Hein. It brings to life the Savior's words, "How oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens" (3 Nephi 10:4-6).
Sister Jones said she could spend hours admiring these paintings because both reflect her love for Jesus Christ and children.
"The picture of the Savior with the little girl, 'How oft I would gather thee,' can I say that’s my favorite? That painting is powerful. I could sit there for hours in front of that depiction of the Savior. I just love that," Sister Jones said. "(When I see it) I feel his power and his glory, but I also feel his tenderness, standing there with this little girl, I just feel his love."
Sister Jones serves with Elder Larry Y. Wilson, a General Authority Seventy and the executive director of the faith's Temple Department, on the LDS faith's Temple and Family History Executive Committee. During a media tour of the Jordan River Temple Monday, Elder Wilson added his thoughts on the significant message of Hein's painting.
"He’s inviting all to come to him and be gathered into the household of God. We look at the temples as that great gathering place where eternal families are formed, where we connect the generations," Elder Wilson said. "I think this is so beautifully appropriate for the temple. We will be making copies of this and put them in other temples, but the original will be here in Jordan River."
These paintings are among a long list of new things to see during the Jordan River Temple open house that takes place from Saturday, March 17, to Saturday, April 28. Free tickets are available at templeopenhouse.lds.org.
The Jordan River Temple is one of about a dozen temples in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints scheduled for or undergoing renovations. Temples are typically remodeled and upgraded every 30-35 years, Elder Wilson said.
"We did a complete refreshing of the interior of the temple. I think it’s fair to say that the Jordan River Temple today is even better than when it was new," Elder Wilson said. "It has new finishes, new furnishings, new artwork, carpet, paintings, murals, and it’s just absolutely beautiful."
This list includes some of the new features and furnishings visitors will find at the Jordan River Temple open house.
The Jordan River Temple is named for the Jordan River that flows one mile east of its central Salt Lake Valley location, Elder Wilson said.
Another of the three new original paintings in the temple depicts the Jordan River and a scene of the local environment. Utah artist John Hughes created the painting that hangs in the marriage waiting room.
The Jordan River Temple is one of only five temples in the LDS Church to have a statue of the Angel Moroni, a Book of Mormon prophet, sculpted holding the gold plates. The other four temples include Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Seattle and Mexico City, according to LDS.org.
The third of three new original paintings is found in the main entrance. It depicts a stream in Utah County's Hobble Creek Canyon, by Robert Marshall, a retired BYU art professor.
"What a nice thing to come out of the hustle and bustle of the outside world and come into the temple and see a beautiful piece of art like this," Elder Wilson said.
In addition to the three new original paintings, more than 40 pieces of art from the Jordan River Temple dedicated in 1981 will remain. Most of this artwork is a copy of an original painting that hangs in another temple, Elder Wilson said.
When asked about the process for selecting art for a temple, Elder Wilson said a team of qualified people selects from a temple art catalog with more than 600 pieces of artwork, most of which are only used in temples. The team then determines the best spot for each image, such as paintings of Jesus Christ being baptized by John the Baptist in the temple baptistry.
Temple artwork can be sorted into two categories: First, there is artwork of the Savior, scenes from his life or scenes from the scriptures. Second, there are paintings depicting beautiful landscapes, often reflecting the local environment, Elder Wilson said.
In the new entrance to the baptistry, Elder Wilson pointed out two paintings, copies of originals at the church's Priesthood Restoration Site in Pennsylvania. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are shown receiving the priesthood from John the Baptist in one and the two men receiving the higher priesthood from ancient apostles Peter, James and John in the other.
"These are both interesting in that the landscape portion of each of these paintings was done by one artist, Linda Curley Christensen, and the figures are done by a different artist, Michael Malm," Elder Wilson said.
Later in the tour, Elder Wilson pointed out two paintings by Russian Latter-day Saint artist Emin Zulfurgarov depicting Jesus Christ healing a woman and teaching from the steps of the temple in Jerusalem, as well as a mural of the Garden of Eden and other landscapes.
"I think (this artwork) helps to focus your mind on the Savior and what he did for us, who he is, what he represents, how we can become like him. The whole purpose of the temple is to help us become better people, more like Jesus Christ and acquire his attributes," Elder Wilson said.
"And so as you see images of him in the temple, and scenes from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, it helps you to think about how you might improve aspects of your life to be more like him. It also helps you to appreciate the beauty of the creation. There are many beautiful landscapes in the temple that help us appreciate this beautiful valley and these incredible mountains and the other marvels of nature around us."
Walking throughout the temple, Elder Wilson also drew attention to several paintings depicting women and children of various ethnicities in the process of prayer and worship that broaden the dimensions of beauty in the temple and give added appreciation to all of God's children, he said.
In the brothers' dressing room in the baptistry is a painting of Daniel in the lion's den. In the sister's dressing room is a painting by artist Elspeth Young that depicts a young pioneer girl, Mary Wanless, whose mother died and left her to care for a disabled father and two younger siblings. Despite falling behind the wagon company and often traveling alone, Mary got her family to Utah with faith and determination, an inspiring example for today's young women, Elder Wilson said.
Sister Jones believes women coming into the temple will appreciate these and other paintings of women.
"In such beautiful and tender ways, I think the sisters will come through and note these beautiful pictures depicting scenes from the scriptures and from women’s experiences," Sister Jones said. "I hope and pray that it will be meaningful to them, that it will draw them to the temple and be recognized that in the temple men and women work side by side. They are both essential to this work."
Colorful art glass, part of the original temple, is found in windows on the two upper levels and tower of the Jordan River Temple. There are only a handful of temples with this kind of art glass, Elder Wilson said.
In the refurbished bride's room, decorated with crystal chandeliers, white furniture and elegant full-length mirrors, brides will prepare for their marriage ceremonies.
"I think it’s very special to make this room memorable for these young women to capitalize on what a special day it is to be sealed to their companions for all eternity. I can imagine my own daughters, I remember them in special rooms like this and what it meant to us," Sister Jones said. "I just feel the excitement and the happiness that will take place in the days to come. It’s wonderful."
Is there a place set aside in the temple for grooms?
"For the men in the group, take a good look because you'll probably never be in here again," Elder Wilson quipped. "I am sometimes asked if there is a groom’s room. I tell people, 'Yes, it’s those metal lockers in the brothers' dressing room.'"
New bride's exit
A new bride's exit and plaza have been added to the backside of the temple to be able to accommodate wedding parties, Elder Wilson said.
"In the past, before the renovation, the brides and grooms were going out the front of the temple, and all their friends and family were waiting for them there just as other people were trying to come in the entrance of the temple. It was a big bottleneck," Elder Wilson said. "This will greatly improve the flow of things for us here in the temple."
As part of the renovation, the Jordan River Temple has "refreshed landscaping," Elder Wilson said.
"We've added 10,000 perennials to the grounds," Elder Wilson said. "That sounds like a lot of plants to me."
Because it's the fourth-largest temple in the church, and one of the busiest with 200,000 members in the district, the Jordan River Temple will keep its full-service cafeteria.
Not only is the church not building cafeterias in new temples, but it is taking them out of many old temples during renovations and converting them to break rooms with vending machines and using the extra space for other practical needs. The Mesa Arizona is one temple in the renovation process that will lose its cafeteria, Elder Wilson said.
"This cafeteria is a wonderful resource that we don't have in many temples," Elder Wilson said. "As big and as busy as this temple is, this (cafeteria) will be humming during the day. ... People always worry when their temple is being renovated: ‘Am I losing my cafeteria?’"
Sister Jones admitted she was nervous when she learned the church was closing the Jordan River Temple for renovations in 2016.
Since moving from California to Utah more than 20 years ago, Sister Jones had created many special memories by serving in the Jordan River Temple with her family. She hoped the upgrade wouldn't erase the tender feelings she and her family had come to cherish within its sacred walls.
After taking one of the first tours, Sister Jones smiled as she joyfully declared it still feels like the Jordan River Temple.
"As I’ve toured the temple and appreciated the beauty, the renovation that has taken place, the facelift, if you will, of the temple, it has been glorious, and I hope you will recognize its beauty," Sister Jones. "But also, I want you to know I felt the familiarity. It still felt like the Jordan River Temple, and I know that will mean so much to members of this area who have lived here and loved this temple for so many years."
While all the new artwork, interior design and beautiful furnishings serve to enhance the temple experience, they are secondary to its true purpose, Elder Wilson said.
"All of this is secondary to the most important aspect of these temples, which is the worship," Elder Wilson said. "We regard temples as the holiest places upon earth. We view them as places where we make sacred covenants with God, where eternal families are formed, where we can go for peace and heavenly guidance as we face the problems of life. And so we’re especially happy for our members of the church who will be able to come here again and worship in this sacred place and gain the spiritual strength and the spiritual power that comes from being in the house of the Lord."