14 Nauvoo Temple Portraits


                                                           William Warner Major


Jill C. Major, Author

Fall to Winter 1845

Mormon persecuted heated up in the fall. On September 22, 1845 an article appeared in the Quincy Whig which demanded that the Mormons "leave the state as speedily as possible."1 When the Prophet was killed only one story

of the temple was completed; eleven months later, May 24, 1845, the capstone was laid. The interior was worked on day and night. Part of interior plan included hanging portraits of prominent Church leaders painted by William Warner Major and Selah Van Sickle. 

Nauvoo Temple

Nauvoo Temple 1847



During summer 1845, the joint studio of Major and Van Sickle was busy.  Brigham Young commissioned Van Sickle to paint the portrait that served as the centerpiece of the celestial room, a life size portrait of Brigham Young standing by a table, holding a book.  The portrait was called, "Delivering the Law of the Lord" and is now housed in the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum.  Brigadier General Charles C. Rich, who held many positions of leadership in Nauvoo, and his wife, Sarah Pea Rich, posed for the William Warner Major.  Their paintings hung in the Nauvoo Temple on the right and left sides of a borrowed portrait of Hyrum Smith. 


 Below:  Charles Coulson Rich                                                                 Below:  Sarah Pea Rich













Used by permission of the International Society-Daughters of the Utah Pioneers 


Other Temple Portraits

Other portraits that Major may have painted for the Nauvoo Temple were of Orson Hyde, Willard Richard, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, L.N. Scovil, Bathsheba Bigler Smith, George Miller and Catherine Miller (Jill C. Major, Artworks in the Celestial Room of the First Nauvoo Temple, BYU Studies Vol. 41, No. 2, 2002).    


Ordinance work began in the attic story on November 30, 1845. Heber C. Kimball mentioned in his diary:

"Sartaday the 6 [December 1845] The weather More Mild...Returned back to the Temple, put up the Looking glasses, and Maps and potrats. As William W. Majors brought som up from his chop [shop] to Adorn our room."

Two days later Kimball recorded,

"Monday the 8...went to the Temple, Found G. A. Smith, Br. Wick, Br. Magor, Chars Rich, David Candel. This was 10 Oclock [a.m.]. We commenced putting up Potrates." 2


Of particular interest is that Major was paid over $180 by the Nauvoo Temple Committee in goods (wagon, yoke of oxen, cowbells, shoes, boots, socks, corn, oats, and flour). 3  If even part of this amount represents payment for art work, then Major may be responsible for many of the paintings hung in the Nauvoo Temple. "The Nauvoo Temple Committee Daybook gives some indication of how much a portrait cost in nauvoo.  George Miller, the Second Bishop of the Church, and his wife, mary Catherine Miller, paid for their portraits with a cow and a cord of wood from Temple Committee funds.  These goods were worth about fourteen dollars. In mid-nineteenth century Illinois, indiviudal portraits painted with oil on canvas cost from fifteen to twenty dollars" (Jill C. Major, Artworks in the Celestial Room of the First Nauvoo Temple, BYU Studies Vol. 41, No. 2, 2002).  


 Endowment sessions in the Nauvoo Temple began on the evening of the 10th of December, 1845; ten days later, Sarah and William Major received their endowments.5 The leaders hurried to perform as many ordinances as possible before they were driven out of their beloved city.