10 Nauvoo 1844
21 Heading West
England and Nauvoo
Great Salt Lake Valley
Parishort or Leap of Elk, Chief of the Corn Creek, 1852
Wash'echick, Chief of the Shoshomas Tribe, ca.1852
In England William Warner Major was a miniaturist, an artist who painted photograph-sized portraits. While growing up in London, he idolized great artists, such as Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788 ) and Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and tried to imitate their styles. Then he and his sister and brother met the Mormon missionaries and all three families were baptized within a week of each other. Thus started a journey from London to Nauvoo to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to the Great Salt Lake Valley and back to London where Major died serving his 3rd mission.
Nine days after his death, William Warner Major’s missionary companions, William Henry Kimball and James Marsden, wrote a one page history of their friend (Marsden/Kimball History of William Warner Major). This valuable resource has been reworded, reworked, and published numerous times (Articles that mention W.W. Major ). There has been little new information about Utah’s first professional artist in over 150 years! Research has produced a 3-page journal and five letters written by Major. There are also notes of a speech about manners delivered by this cultured London emigrant to his unrefined Western friends while camping out in the wilds of Nebraska. Because Major was a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in England and America, his activities were recorded in the London Conference Records and the Journal History. Furthermore, since Major associated, labored, nurtured, served, and sketched portraits of numerous pioneers, his endeavors were noted in their personal journals and diaries. From these mineable sources emerge the story of a colorful, devoted, talented leader and his faithful, adventurous wife, Sarah Coles Major.
William Warner Major and Sarah Coles Major joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1842. Until his death, Major occupied leadership positions. He sat in the "Presidency of Elders of London Branch" with William Lewzy, the man who baptized him. Major served three missions: two in the London area and one in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. In Winter Quarter's Nebraska he was called to the Municipal High Council. Later, he was a member of the Great Salt Lake High Council.
After he arrived in Nauvoo in 1845, he functioned as an official artist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Major’s paintings are prolific and diverse. From 1845 to 1846 Major was commissioned and paid through temple funds to paint portraits of Church leaders to be hung in the Nauvoo Temple. Working with other artists in Nauvoo, Major helped complete two large historic panoramas. Indian Chiefs living in Nebraska and the Utah Territory stood silently in front of his scrutinizing gaze and talented hand. Crying babies, squirming children, proud mothers and fathers, elderly matriarchs and patriarchs posed for portraits by the British professional. He also sketched the scenery while crossing the plains, and later, he was assigned the duty of artist on an 1852 exploration trip to Southern Utah with Brigham Young.
Letter to Brigham Young dated March 21, 1848 and signed "Yours Affectionately, W.W. Major" Used by Permission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
William Warner Major and Sarah Coles Major were close friends of Brigham Young and his family. They dearly loved the President of the Mormon Church and Governor of the Utah Territory. Shortly before Major died, he composed a letter to Brigham Young. "I never forget you from morn till even," he declared.Two other letters Major penned to Brigham Young were signed, "Yours Affectionately." Brigham Young was included in at least five paintings by Major.
Salt Lake City
The Major family traveled to the Utah Territory in Brigham Young's 1848 company of 1,229 people. "Isaac Morley was sustained as President of the company, with Reynolds Cahoon and William W. Major as his counselors." When William Warner Major drove his wagon down the steep slopes of Emigration Canyon in September 1848, he was the first professional artist to enter the Great Salt Lake Valley.
There are no known pictures of William Warner Major Sr. The closest imagine we have of what he may have looked like are the pictures of his sons, Joseph Smith Major (1845-1872) and William Warner Major, Jr. (1836-1894).
William Warner Major Jr. with wife, Ellen Meek Major and children, Horace Legrand and Ellen Lavinda Major, 1884.
Joseph Smith Major, ca. 1866. Photograph in possession of Kathy Bennett Edwards, great great granddaughter of Joseph Smith Major.