12 Nauvoo Spring to Summer 1845

                                                           William Warner Major


Jill C. Major, Author


There were other artists and art enthusiasts in Nauvoo at the same time as William Warner Major resided there. Sutcliffe Maudsley (1809-1882) was a immigrant from Lancashire, England. There he worked designing patterns for calico and cotton cloth printers and weavers. Maudsley, a Nauvoo resident from 1841, created several profiles of Joseph Smith, employing his pattern-making skills. Sutcliffe Maudsley  Robert Campbell (1810-1890) arrived in Nauvoo sometime between 1842 and 1843. At different times he provided services as a copperplate engraver, draftsman, map maker, and stone lithographer. When an artist was needed, he tried his hand at that too.2 Selah Van Sickle was another portrait painter. Van Sickle apparently was popular in Nauvoo and painted a life-sized portrait of Brigham Young.3 Philo Dibble, who was a close friend and a bodyguard to Joseph Smith, became a historical lecturer and commissioned several church history panoramas.4 William Warner Major collaborated with this unique group of men who were consciously and feverishly working to preserve and record a pictorial Mormon history.

Painting: Joseph and Hyrum at Carthage

The martyrdom was the theme of Major's first recorded American painting which was completed and placed on display for public viewing. Hosea Stout wrote on Friday, March 7 that he went to "see Br Major who was painting the scenery of the murder of Joseph & Hyrum at Carthage..."5 This was an amazing undertaking, since the mural was painted on a 128 square foot canvas!6


mob shooting at Joseph Smith at Carthage

The mob at Carthage (artist unknown)

      A month later the Journal History noted on Friday, April 4,"Brother Wm W. Major exhibited a painting of the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith by the mob at Carthage."7 The exhibition was held in the Masonic Hall and included a painting of "Jesus raising Lazarus and other like Paintings" which had been brought from New York.8

     In a time and place where visual entertainment was limited, an exhibition of art was an exciting event. The Masonic Hall was visited for days by the leaders and members of the City of Nauvoo; furthermore, since the timing of the exhibition coincided with General Conference, people from many surrounding cities attended the art show. Willard Richards accompanied his wife Jennetta, and his plural wife Ann Fox on April 6 and then returned a second time on the evening of April 11.9 Hosea Stout indicated that the police were invited "by the proprietors." He pronounced that "it was an entertaining display of art."10

     At another showing of the panorama the following advertisement appeared in the Nauvoo Neighbor:


On Wednesday next, August 6th, at the

Masonic Hall, the splendid Painting representing


In Carthage Jail, June 27th, 1844.

Doors open from 4 till 9 P.M.

Good music will be in attendance.

Admittance 12 1/2 cents.

N.B. Those having "the cash," are

particularly invited to attend.


     Philo Dibble commissioned the paintings and retained ownership of them. According to Dibble, Robert Campbell made the preliminary design for this painting and a later scene of "Joseph addressing the Nauvoo Legion" by "making himself acquainted with all the essential matters and facts as they may connect themselves with historical painting." Dibble also mentioned that "Many painters have made a sacrifice of time in responding to my calls upon their labors," indicating that there were others who worked with Major and Campbell.12 Hosea Stout mentions several visits to Maudsley's and Campbell's studios, showing these two artisans collaborated on projects.13 Selah Van Sickle may have also worked on this mammoth enterprise, since he shared studio space with Major in the newly completed Seventies Hall.14

    The martyrdom scene continued to inspire Church members in times of great tribulation. Just before leaving Nauvoo for Winter Quarters, Patty Bartlett Sessions recorded in her daybook on February 11, 1846: ..."in the evening went to the Hall to see the scenery of the massacre of Joseph and Hyrum Smith 12 this morning Br. Dible gave me a ticket to go in to the scenery any time."15 Philo Dibble exhibited this painting at Winter Quarters and throughout Utah.

Art Teacher

     This exhibition encouraged at least one person to explore a new talent. Soon after the display opened, twenty-three year old Bathsheba Bigler Smith, the wife of George A. Smith, eagerly sought out Major for a teacher. She announced in a letter written to Phebe Carter Woodruff on Sunday, April 13, 1845 that "I am agoing to school to Br Major a Portrait painter from London..."

     Art materials were scarce in the Midwest, so Bathsheba asked a favor from her friends, Wilford and Phebe Woodruff in England: "I want some drawing paper and pencils I wish Brother Woodruff could send me some." Barter was the greatest means of obtaining goods, so Bathsheba promised, "I calculate to send you a scetch of Joseph when I can draw a little better."16 Major taught portraiture, and it appears that creating a painting of Joseph Smith was a cherished lesson. Later, Bathsheba Smith carefully packed her treasured portraits of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, her husband George A. Smith, and pictures of her parents and transported them by covered wagon to Utah.17


Profile of Joseph Smith, Jr. (circa 1845) drawing by Bathsheba W. Smith,

art student of William Warner Major

Birth: Joseph Smith Major

     William and Sarah loved and respected the martyred Prophet. Not only did Major paint Joseph's picture, and teach others to create a portrait of the prophet, he also named his first America born son, Joseph Smith Major. Joseph was born April 23, 1845 in the small room above the red brick store.18