SALT LAKE CITY — The Museum of Church History and Art kicks off this year’s celebration of the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s birth with a new exhibit, Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration, that opens on Saturday, 5 February 2005.
 
The exhibit explores how Joseph Smith, who organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830, was prepared, called and tutored to complete his prophetic work. Original documents and artifacts (some never before exhibited), re-created settings, artwork, audiovisual presentations and activity stations will give visitors new insights into the prophet’s life.

Exhibit materials have been drawn from the extensive Joseph Smith collection in the Church History Library and Archives. Rare and historically significant items from the Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections at Brigham Young University and from the Community of Christ Special Collections Library in Independence, Missouri, are on loan for the exhibit.

One of the most significant items in the exhibit is an original Book of Mormon manuscript page containing Joseph Smith’s handwriting.

“This page is unique,” explains exhibit designer Kirk Henrichsen. “Most of the text is written in Oliver Cowdery’s hand as Joseph Smith dictated it to him. However, 28 words of the text are written in Joseph’s own hand.”

Several documents in the exhibit have never been on public display, including original copies of section 10 of the Doctrine and Covenants, a Book of Moses manuscript, the Word of Wisdom revelation and a letter on baptisms for the dead that was later published as section 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Numerous artifacts and documents tell the story of Joseph’s childhood and youth. The family record book used by his paternal grandparents, Asael and Mary Duty Smith, to record Joseph’s 23 December 1805 birth in Sharon, Vermont, will be displayed. Asael and Mary’s family Bible is also included to emphasize the homegrown legacy of faith that shaped Joseph’s early years.

Surgical instruments from the period are used to recount young Joseph’s faith and bravery when he endured a painful leg operation without anesthesia at the age of 7.

A portion of the Smith family’s log home in Palmyra, New York, where Joseph spent his teen years, is re-created in the exhibit. Never-before-exhibited artifacts uncovered during excavation and reconstruction at the Smith log home site are included.

A lifelike setting in the exhibit reconstructs the circumstances in which Joseph translated the Book of Mormon. Included in this setting is a first edition Book of Mormon that belonged to Martin Harris.

Other rare artifacts include stone fragments from the Nauvoo Temple baptismal font, wall fragments from the Liberty Jail and Joseph’s Nauvoo Legion cloak.

A painting by well-known Latter-day Saint artist Gary Smith adds a sense of tragedy to the exhibit as it captures the pathos and drama of the scene at Carthage Jail when the incarcerated Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob. One of the most poignant items in the exhibit is a fragment from the vest Joseph was wearing when he was killed.

Museum visitors will see rare 19th-century busts of Joseph and Hyrum sculpted in England in 1850 under the direction of John Taylor as memorials to the prophet and his brother.

Mark Staker, exhibit curator, hopes people will gain a greater appreciation of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and labors.

“Standing in the museum, surrounded by documents, artifacts and images from Joseph’s life, strikes me with a sense of wonder and reverence,” he said.

Visitors can see Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration at the Museum of Church History and Art through Sunday, 15 January 2006. The museum extends a special invitation to Spanish-speaking guests to enjoy this exhibit. All information is presented in both English and Spanish.

The museum is open Monday through Friday 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 will be open on Presidents’ Day, Monday, 21 February. Located at 45 North West Temple Street in downtown Salt Lake City, the museum is a half-block north of the Temple Square TRAX station. Admission is free.