Lehi's dream of the Tree of Life, recorded in 1 Nephi 8, has been inspiring Latter-day Saint artists worldwide.
Many renditions of the scriptural account are captured in a new display at the Museum of Church History and Art, "A Shared Vision: Lehi's Dream of the Tree of Life." It opened Jan. 20 and will remain open until February 1997.Curator Mark Staker said the 26 art pieces in the display, made by artists from 13 countries as well as the United states, "highlight the importance of Lehi's vision to the Book of Mormon."
He called the art proof that "although members of the Church come from diverse backgrounds, they share some things in common: a common belief and testimony."
Lehi's dream, an allegory of the spiritual history of God's children on earth, begins in a dark wilderness. He is led by the Spirit of the Lord to a tree where he eats sweet, white fruit and is filled with joy. His wife and two youngest sons also eat the fruit.
After this, Lehi sees a river coming out of a fountain and flowing to the tree. Along the bank of the river is an iron rod. In the field Lehi sees throngs of people. Many try to get on the path by the iron rod. Only those who hold firmly to the rod are able to get through the mists and eat the fruit. Some who taste the fruit become ashamed and join those who wandered off the path, and end up in a large building high above the ground where people mock those who eat the fruit.
In the museum exhibit, different pieces of art highlight different aspects of the dream. A Japanese artist shows nothing in his painting but a fruit-laden tree, symbolizing the love of God. An artist from Sweden interprets the field in Lehi's dream as a huge globe, made of carved and painted jelutong wood. And an oil painter from Denmark reduces his rendition of the dream to one single element - the iron rod.
The iron rod is also the topic of other works of art on display, such as a 1894 Deseret Sunday School Song Book, opened to the song "The Iron Rod." The hymn's text, written by Joseph Townsend, and music, composed by William Clayson, focus on Nephi's interpretation of his father's dream - that the iron rod is symbolic of God's word.
In a hand-carved table top, an artist from Ecuador places Lehi's dream in a mountain setting with buildings reminiscent of a twentieth-century Latin American city, and a Sierra Leone artists illustrates, in applique on fabric, an examination of the nature of the interaction between individuals and the "Tree of Life."
Brother Staker said he hopes the display will encourage other LDS artist to look toward the Book or Mormon as a source for their work.
The Museum of Church History and Art is located at 45 West Temple. For more information regarding this and other exhibits, call 240-3310. Museum hours are Mondays-Fridays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturdays, Sundays and holidays 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Admission is free.