SALT LAKE CITY, Utah —The Salt Lake Tabernacle: Gathering the Saints under One Roof, a new exhibition at the Museum of Church History and Art, will open to the public on Saturday, 31 March 2007, and run through Sunday, 11 January 2009.
The opening of the exhibition coincides with the reopening of the newly renovated Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square and tells the story of one of America’s most widely recognized nineteenth century architectural masterpieces.
During the Tabernacle renovation, the museum coordinated with construction engineers to obtain historical items found or removed during the reconstruction process.
The exhibit features many of these original artifacts, historic photographs, timelines, documents and architectural drawings, and works of art. Several detailed models are on display including one of the old tabernacle, a predecessor to the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and one of the Jordan River bridge (which influenced the design of the Tabernacle).
One of the oldest items on display is a large rough-hewn log found under the choir area, where it had served as an original floor joist. Tree ring dating indicates that the log was harvested in 1847. It is believed to have been used as a support beam for several of the early boweries — the original open-air meeting places where the Saints gathered for conferences and other meetings — before being reused in the new tabernacle in the 1860s.
Handmade, sun dried adobe bricks and original plaster wall fragments recovered during the renovation have been installed in the exhibit. They demonstrate how the walls of the Tabernacle were made and finished. One of the plaster fragments is painted gray and white and reveals the original interior color of the tabernacle wall.
Other original Tabernacle objects include a piece of rawhide used to bind cracks in timbers, square-headed nails, benches, a hand-forged bolt for securing joints where roof timbers came together, a wooden bucket filled with rocks and used as a window counterweight, a wooden trim ring that protected the small ceiling ventilation holes, a pulley mechanism for suspending objects from the ceiling, and original lattice beams used to make the roof trusses.
Describing the complexity of the installation procedures used to mount this exhibit, curator Richard Oman said: “The story of the construction of the Salt Lake Tabernacle is so unique that we pulled out every stop possible to do it justice. We haven’t installed an exhibit with this many complex exhibit techniques and messages since our Salt Lake Temple centennial exhibit back in 1993.”
Roof tours of the Tabernacle were conducted during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Now, the roof is closed to the public. Since few people today will ever see the interior of this massive structure, the exhibit team decided to bring the roof to the visitors by creating a full-size section of the roof trusses.
Oman said, “The full-size roof section is the ‘wow’ part of this exhibit. Everyone who has watched us construct it has been astonished that we would even attempt to recreate a part of the roof in the gallery!”
This massive structure made of huge timbers exactly the same size as those in the Tabernacle roof, measures 10 feet deep by 16 feet wide and 16 feet high. Some of the original Tabernacle lattice-work timbers, removed from the roof during the renovation, were used.
The Tabernacle was built to provide a place for the Saints to gather to hear the words of Church leaders. Visitors can stand at a full-size reproduction of one of the original Tabernacle pulpits and imagine Brigham Young speaking from it to the vast congregation gathered for the Tabernacle dedication, which some sources estimate at well more than 10,000 people.
A short video presentation plays segments of talks given by Church Presidents to emphasize the Tabernacle’s importance as a place where Latter-day Saints have gathered for 140 years to hear their prophets speak. Some of the video footage is extremely rare and has not been seen by most Church members.
The exhibit explains Brigham Young’s influence on the design of the Tabernacle and pays tribute to the three architects whose pioneer ingenuity made its construction possible — William Folsom, Henry Grow, and Truman O. Angell. Documents, architectural drawings, and models help explain their roles in the Tabernacle’s design and construction.
The exhibit also explains the influence of congregational music in Tabernacle meetings and honors Joseph Ridges, the carpenter who built the Tabernacle organ, and Joseph Daynes, the original Tabernacle organist. Several of the original organ pipes built by Ridges are on display as well as a small, historically significant portable piano, called a harmonium, brought across the plains by Joseph Daynes.
The Salt Lake Tabernacle: Gathering the Saints under One Roof can be seen at the Museum of Church History and Art weekdays from 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. and Saturday, Sunday and most holidays from 10:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. The Museum is located at 45 North West Temple Street in downtown Salt Lake City, just one-half block north of the Temple Square TRAX station. Admission is free.