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KENSINGTON, Md. — Dorothy Galloway couldn’t stop smiling after she was asked about the new artwork in the Washington D.C. Temple.
“As soon as I walked in I saw, to my left, a Black person, which I hadn’t seen before,” said Galloway, a Black member of the Washington D.C. 3rd Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Then as I walked down the hall, to my left, there’s a father and son, a Black father and son.”
“To make a long story short,” she said brightly, “It’s reflecting the flock. It’s reflecting our membership.”
At a time when President Russell M. Nelson has increased the total number of the church’s temples by 55%, leaders want to reflect the global church membership in artwork in new and renovated temples, church historian Emily Utt said.
Church members in and around Washington who got early looks inside noticed it immediately when they walked into the newly renovated Washington D.C. Temple over the past couple of weeks.
It was the first thing Nowah Afangbedji told his pregnant wife, Stephanie, when he got home from a tour he took to train as a volunteer for the upcoming, six-week temple open house. The doors open to the general public Thursday for the first time in 48 years.
“The artwork is different,” Afangbedji told the Boston woman he married in front of only six other people at the height of the pandemic. “This is a new temple in a way. I’ve never walked in any temple that reflected the church, as it is today, as this temple does.”
Goal accomplished, Utt said.
“In the last few years, the church is making a really concerted effort as new art is commissioned for temples, that the art reflect really our global membership,” she said. “A number of new artists and a number of new pieces have been commissioned to hang in the temples.”
One of those artists is Elspeth Young. Both of the paintings Galloway mentioned, the Black woman and the Black man exercising the priesthood, are works by Young.
There are others, said Afangbedji, who was born in Togo and is a research assistant at the Howard University Center for Sickle Cell Disease.
“You see this Asian woman here, and you see this Black man giving the priesthood to his son or another Black boy, and then you see the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and you look at the angels that are announcing his Second Coming being of all colors,” he said.
That painting is “His Return,” by Dan Wilson.
Wilson’s painting is at the end of the bridge from the temple’s doors into the actual temple.
“That is the church today,” Afangbedji said. “That’s how I envision the kingdom of heaven will look like. I’m glad that whoever made those decisions was very, very, very inspired, especially being in D.C., where it’s so multicultural, very diverse. This is ... you feel home. You feel that you are seen.”
Wilson’s painting replaces “The Last Judgment,” the large John Scott mural commissioned for the temple’s opening in 1974.
“That painting is currently being conserved, being cleaned, and we are working to find the right home for it,” Utt said. “When that is finalized and approved, we will be sharing where it’s going with the public.”
The diversity in the artwork fits the Washington D.C. Temple’s place in the church, she said.
“Washington D.C. really is an international temple,” she said. “It is a global temple, not only because it reflects the diversity of Latter-day Saints who live in Washington, D.C., it reflects the diversity of people that come to Washington, D.C. Because it is the nation’s capital, you have people literally from every country on earth coming to visit. Having a diversity of people within the temple art really reflects, I think, who we are, that we want to represent all people.”
Other visitors also appreciated the art. National and regional journalists noted the large number of paintings of Jesus Christ.
Many representatives of international relief organizations that partner with Latter-day Saint Charities were among the invited guest who went on tours last week. One was Rachel Steinberg, managing director of Global Cause Partnerships for UNICEF USA, who took an Amtrak train down from Brooklyn, New York.
She also noticed the temple’s artwork.
“I saw a number of pieces of artwork that had a mother and child in them, and every time I see those, of course, that for me shows there’s this deeper connection between UNICEF and the values of the church,” she said.
For Galloway, seeing her reflection on the walls of the temple was unforgettable.
“There were a lot of prayers and a lot of inspiration about the art in the temple,” she said.
Utt has helped host tours for invited guests over the past two weeks.
“As I’ve taken people through, I’ve said, ‘See if you can find yourself in the temple, or see if you can find someone that looks like someone you love,’” she said. “I think that’s what the temple is really supposed to do, that the diversity of art in the building should represent those that we love and those that we see.”
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