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J. Kirk Richards, Rose Datoc Dall, Megan Knobloch Geilman, Sarah Winegar, Hildebrando de Melo, Caitlin Connolly, José de Faria, Annie Poon, Kathleen Peterson

Approaching the Tree: Interpreting 1 Nephi 8

January 12 - May 3, 2024

Auditorium Gallery, Level 1

This collection of new artworks was commissioned for "Approaching the Tree: Interpreting 1 Nephi 8." Published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University, this book is an invitation to view again one of the Book of Mormon's best-known texts. From the fresh interactions of an array of artists and scholars from Angola to Portugal and BYU to Oxford, the theological significance of Lehi's dream emerges anew. Together these able guides show, once again, both book and dream to be rich and deep, and worthy of repeated reflection. "Approaching the Tree: Interpreting 1 Neph 8" is co-edited by Jennifer Champoux, Benjamin Keogh, and Joseph M. Spencer.


Rose Datoc Dall, A Father’s Plea, oil and metal leaf on panel, 43 x 23.5 x 3 inches, 2020.

March 14, 2024 06:52 AM
In this depiction of Lehi’s Dream, Lehi is pleading to his sons Laman and Lemuel to partake of the fruit of the tree of life, which is the love of God. However, they unfortunately "would not come... and partake of the fruit” (1 Nephi 8:18). Lehi "exceedingly feared for Laman and Lemuel; yea, he feared lest they should be cast off from the presence of the Lord. And he did exhort them then with all the feeling of a tender parent, that they would hearken to his words, that perhaps the Lord would be merciful to them, and not cast them off” (1 Nephi 8:36-37). I chose to focus on Lehi's expression of concern and earnestness. This dream gave him great foreboding, and I chose to portray not only the anxiety for his sons but the love he has for them, as any parent would have for wayward children. -Rose Datoc Dall Read Full Story

Megan Geilman, Adaptations of Desire, photographic print of mixed media collage, 16 x 20 inches, 2021. Photography by Samantha Zauscher.

March 14, 2024 06:52 AM
With so much of the imagery surrounding Lehi’s dream being narrative in nature, I wanted to explore the psychological underpinnings of this visionary scripture. The surrealists seemed like an appropriate vehicle for that thesis, and Salvador Dalí’s Accommodations of Desire fit the bill. Although the painting was exploring Dalí’s anxieties about a lover, I wanted to appropriate that into Lehi’s desire for his children to partake of the fruit. The ceramic figs, a clear reference to the white fruit of the tree, are also a reference to the New Testament account of the Savior's parable of the fig tree. The fig has become, for me, a symbol of beckoning, an exhortation to pay attention to what is being presented. The bonsai helped with the scale of the display, while its undulating curves are reminiscent of a surrealist vision and anchor the composition as the central figure of the tree in the vision. Other trees and other gardens come to mind, especially with the lion figure—a reference to Asherah and her exile as referenced in Kathryn Knight Sonntag’s “The Tree of Life” poem, while also hearkening back to the original work where Dalí used a repeated image of a lion. The layout of the cloth, delineating a landscape, places the great and spacious building outside the frame, reminding the viewer that rather than falling into an “us vs. them” rhetoric, we should be sensitive to how often we might find ourselves in that large edifice. The moth—a symbol of decay placed on a mossy stone—is a foil to Joseph Smith’s self-description of a “rough stone rolling," and is placed where we might expect to find the “river of filthy water” and/or the “mists of darkness” in a traditional image of Lehi’s dream. Other symbols of eggs and seer stones, drawing to the allusions of divine parents and prophetic inklings, lend to this surrealistic and unconventional approach to Lehi’s dream imagery. -Megan Knobloch Geilman Read Full Story

Caitlin Connolly, Lehi’s Dream, pencil sketch, 7 x 9 inches, 2020.

March 14, 2024 06:52 AM
While thinking about this dream for a period of time, I was consistently drawn to and curious about the emotion Lehi was experiencing in this scene. I see him not as just a seer or prophet, but also as a man and a father experiencing vulnerability and fear about the wellbeing of his children - and I see him trying to express love and fear to his children in the messy way parents often do. Rather than viewing the dream and “the way” to the Tree of Life through a singular or conceptual one-point perspective - I began considering other perspectives, too. What did Sariah think? How did Sariah feel? Would she have been influenced by Lehi’s fears? Or would she have comforted his fears and shared a different perspective for him to consider? As I drew, I noticed that as I gave Sariah a face and a voice and I offered her an empowered perspective to this scene - this allowed me to feel more peace in the continual conflict between the children and the posterity of Lehi and Sariah. And this feeling inspires me to consider how I might use my own voice and share my perspective in my own family and with my children as well. -Caitlin Connolly Read Full Story

José de Faria, Lehi’s Dream, oil on canvas, 35 x 27 inches, 2020.

March 14, 2024 06:52 AM
At the window, you can see Lucifer and his followers who are invited to enter the strange, large and spacious building. The flames and smoke coming out of the chimney of the big house symbolize the fire of hell. The dense and misty atmosphere of the painting is intended to reflect the obscured and dramatic tone of the scene. Sam, Sariah, Lehi, and Nephi eat the fruit and do not let themselves be intimidated by the unbelievers who make fun of them, also trying to lead them on the way of the great and infernal house. Crowds also eat the fruit of the tree and, feeling ridiculed, they let themselves be carried on to hellish paths walking in a long line towards the building that seems to hover high above the ground. The figure in red with his finger pointed at the house is an angel of Lucifer's hosts who also routes the crowds to dangerous paths. The figures who cling to the iron rod seem to walk with difficulty, but eventually mingle with the people who descend from the tree of life towards the crowd that lines up from the source of the river, all in a great mess. Laman and Lemuel stand still (on the left side) and don't seem to take the initiative to walk towards the family. The tree of life is a fundamental element in the scene. Very few approach it and eat its precious fruit, not fearing any kind of temptation. The other trees, the city in the background, the fish, etc. are figures of my imagination that have a very specific symbolism. -José de Faria Read Full Story

Kathleen Peterson, A Father and Two Sons, oil on mahogany wood panel, 12 x 39 inches, 2020.

March 14, 2024 06:52 AM
During his marvelous vision, Lehi partakes of the beautiful white fruit of the tree of life and is filled with exquisite joy. When he invites his family to also partake of the fruit and share in his joy, only Sariah, Sam and Nephi respond, and Lehi finds to his sorrow that Laman and Laman will not. This painting depicts the passion of a loving father pleading with his sons to open themselves to the light and love of God. Lehi was trying to convey to his sons the importance of holding to truth and loving God and each other. Laman and Lemuel are typical young people trying to find their own voice and independence. They do not really want to be told what to do. It is possible Lehi did not have skills of persuasion, but it is very clear he loved his family and wanted what was best for them. The tree of life with its white fruit is represented in the background as the love of God, and the fruit on the sides represent life and growth. I have painted other depictions of Lehi’s dream but this one was focused on the particular personal nature of father and sons and love. -Kathleen Peterson Read Full Story

Annie Poon, The Dark and Dreary Waste, photographic print of mixed media (clay, tape, wire, paper, fabric), 2021.

March 14, 2024 06:52 AM
While we celebrate Lehi’s dream for the beautiful imagery of the tree, I am often preoccupied with verses 7 and 8 of 1 Nephi 8 in which Lehi must first pass through a dark and dreary waste. My heart breaks when I read that he walked for hours before he began to “pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me.” It reminds me of my own struggle with being afraid of the dark. From my childhood until a few years ago, I had hallucinations each night of jagged black ghosts as shards from the shadows in the corners of my bedroom. They danced and flickered and made tiny rustling sounds trying to prevent me from falling asleep. Like Lehi, Joseph Smith, Alma the Younger, and so many women I have spoken with, sometimes we cannot see the deliverance that waits just around the corner. Instead, we feel forever trapped in the darkness. At times, even the Holy Ghost seems to have left our side. Lehi’s dream teaches us that despite this, a celestial being is always present and guiding us on our long and difficult journey, even when we cannot focus our minds enough to see him there. I decided not only to make Lehi’s environment spooky, but also to make him look like a phantom himself. His form reflects the torment I once felt each night: disoriented, hyper-alert, vulnerable, and traumatized. For Lehi’s eyes I used “safety eyes,” which are regularly used in stuffed animals. They bulge as he struggles to see, like a mole in the dark groping along. To create the puppet of Lehi I used a very crude armature of wire, tape, paper and clay. I tried to heighten the feeling of trauma by leaving the wires and tape exposed in many places. Even his naked chest lacks the protection of his clothing. I omitted ears and hair to make Lehi more stark and skeletal. For the black ghosts I hung paper cutouts on wires and shook them so they danced for the camera. -Annie Poon Read Full Story

J. Kirk Richards, Pulling up the Iron Rod, oil on panel, 14 x 16 inches, 2020.

March 14, 2024 06:52 AM
Nephi tells us the iron rod from his father’s dream is a representation of the word of God. It’s the word of God that leads to the tree of life and its fruit, the love of God. The more familiar I become with the experiences of life as they relate to God’s word in written scripture, the more material the rod becomes. It is heavy. There is a weight to the word of God. The world has changed dramatically in the last twenty-five years. The first time I understood what email was, I was serving a mission in Italy. My grandmother passed away during the final months of my mission, and my parents sent an email to a branch member to notify me of her passing. Letters took weeks to travel to and from Europe, so these instant messages seemed miraculous. Today, I receive dozens of emails every day. I interact with thousands of people on social media with a few imprints of my finger on a hand-held sea of glass. Information is not only at the tips of our fingers, but constantly presenting itself to us even when we don’t go looking for it. Do the words spoken by ancient prophets apply to us today? Do the words spoken by prophets thirty years ago apply to us today? I’m grateful for the ninth Article of Faith: God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to His kingdom. Another scripture says we will be given new things as quickly as we are able to receive them. It’s hard work preparing as a group of people to receive change. I think about all of the hearts and minds that grew in preparation for the revelation restoring priesthood and temple blessings to Latter-day Saints of color. The iron rod is weighty. As the world grows up around us—remaking itself into a new world as quickly as new generations replace the old—we are tasked with lifting the weight of the word of God. We must wrestle with the application of scripture to our present context. How do I live the two great commandments in 2023? When creating this painting, I also thought about the words of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “Lift where you stand.” It’s not enough to maintain where we stand. It’s not enough to keep the status quo where we stand. This thought is echoed in the words of Christ himself, in the injunction to take up our cross and follow Him. Being a disciple means to lift the weight of wood, the weight of iron, the weight of words, the weight of others, and in turn be lifted by the charity of those pulling up the iron rod next to us. -J. Kirk Richards Read Full Story

Sarah Winegar, Rod of Hands and Feet, relief print, 26 x 26 inches, 2020.

March 14, 2024 06:52 AM
When Nephi asked the angel to know the interpretation of the tree from Lehi's dream, the angel showed him Mary, the mother of Jesus. When Nephi saw a child in her arms, the angel asked "knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?" (1 Nephi 11:21) and Nephi said "yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men, wherefore it is the most desirable above all things" (1 Nephi 11:22). Nephi learned the meaning of the dream when he saw a mother and her child. Likewise, it is through loving relationships that a child comes to know the meaning of the love of God. The rod that leads us home is one made of flesh, not iron. -Sarah Winegar Read Full Story

Hildebrando de Melo, Tree of Life “LDS” (Lehi’s Dream Series I, II, III), acrylic on canvas, 35.45 x 35.45 inches (90 x 90 cm), 2020.

March 15, 2024 07:15 AM
When I started to think about this project and began reading about Lehi´s dream, I realized that there was a relationship with what God had previously announced. The tree in Lehi’s dream may be the same tree of life that God has repeatedly mentioned throughout the aeons, or eternity. Being a sacred symbol, the tree connects with the whole. This idea hovered in my mind for some time as I thought about producing a work with a new approach to Lehi’s dream. On a recent trip to Portugal, I lay on the bed, exhausted after my arrival, and while looking at the ceiling I had an epiphany. I thought of the acronym “LDS” that stands for “Latter-day Saints” and realized it could also stand for “Lehi’s Dream Series.” It was like a revelation. When thinking about the tree that appears in the middle of paradise as the same symbol that appears in Lehi's dream, I thought inwardly, "This tree is very much described by God, Christ and the Bible.” Then the painting process followed, the production of the work. I wanted an immediate process, for the idea not to escape me. As I typically work with acrylic on canvas and spatulas that give a corporeality to painting, this engagement for me was excellent. I wanted this work to be a series—a multiplicity of painting and probability, “Sequence-Cause-Effect.” Why is it not representative of my most abstract form? I had to navigate between representative figuration and abstraction, because it made more sense in this plastic discourse and with this subject matter to be more figurative. The perception of color results in a similar chain of events, so I didn't use green just like traditional trees. Instead, I used the mind suggestion trick (the green color isn’t there, but the viewer immediately thinks of it). The ebullient formal vitality in this context works to show there are no mutable truths in this tree of life, so that in the end the subject and God would speak for themselves, not the artist. -Hildebrando de Melo Read Full Story