CHRISTENSEN, CARL CHRISTIAN ANTON
Handcart Pioneers, C.C.A. Christensen
Carl Christian Anton Christensen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in
1831, and studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen from 1847 to
1853. He converted to Mormonism in 1850 and served three LDS missions to
Scandinavia: from 1853 to 1857; from 1865 to 1867; and from 1887 to 1889.
He translated the lyrics for many LDS hymns into Danish; some are still
in the LDS Scandinavian hymn book. In 1857 he emigrated to America from
Liverpool aboard the Perpetual Emigrating Fund ship and then pulled a handcart
across the plains to Utah. Settling in Sanpete County, he homesteaded in
Mt. Pleasant, Fairview, and finally in Ephriam, where he also worked as
a house and decorative painter. He married two Norwegians in polygamy--Elise
Scheel Haarby in 1857 and Maren Petterson in 1868.
Christensen was an ardent champion of Scandinavian culture and taught Danish
as well as drawing at Sanpete Stake Academy (later Snow College) in Ephriam.
He served as a reporter and later as editor for the Bikuben, Utah's
Danish/Norwegian newspaper. In 1901 he began working in the LDS Church Historical
Department, compiling the history of the Scandinavian Mission. Christensen
is not only a very important nineteenth-century Utah painter, he also wrote
extensively and eloquently about art theory, Mormon history, theology, and
rural Utah social life. Many of his writings still exist in original form
in the archives of the LDS Church Historical Department.
In 1900 he painted Handcart Pioneers (in the collection of the LDS
Museum of Church History and Art), which has become the most widely published
painting of the Mormon pioneer experience by an actual pioneer. He painted
murals in the St. George and Manti temples and in the Ephraim tabernacle.
He is most famous for his twenty-two (originally twenty-three) paintings
of pre-Utah Mormon history. These large (7'x10') paintings, painted over
several years beginning in 1878, begin with Joseph Smith's early religious
experience in New York State and end with the entry of the Mormon pioneers
into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. They were sewn together in a scroll and
presented along with a historical lecture in towns and cities in Utah, Arizona,
Wyoming, and Idaho. In this manner Christensen was able to overcome the
limited patronage base for art in pioneer rural Utah. The "Mormon Panorama,"
as it is known, has become a most significant visual representation of the
early period of Mormon history, and has been published and widely exhibited,
for example, at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1970. This panorama along
with more than seventy-five other paintings by Christensen establish him
as the most important visual historian among all nineteenth-century painters
in Utah as well as one of the two (along with Danquart Weggeland) most important
Scandinavian artists in pioneer Utah. Christensen was a passionate historian
who painted with a much broader social intention than simple self-expression.
This paragraph about his "Mormon Panorama" is typical of his writings:
"The old generation who bore the burdens of the day in the persecutions
in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois will no longer be with us a few years hence.
History will preserve much, but art alone can make the narrative of the
suffering of the Saints comprehensible for posterity."
See: Jane Dillenberger, "Mormonism and American Religious Art,"
Sunstone 3 (May-June 1978); Richard L. Jensen and Richard G. Oman,
"C.C.A. Christensen, 1831-1912: Mormon Immigrant Artist," An Exhibition
at the Museum of Church History and Art, Salt Lake City, 1984; Carl Carmer,
"A Panorama of Mormon Life," Art in America (May-June 1970);
William Mulder, "Man Kalder Mfg Digter": C.C.A.Christensen, Poet
of the Scandinavian Scene in Early Utah," Utah Humanities Review
I (Jan. 1947).
Richard G. Oman