Wednesday, January 11, 2017

LDS BOOK REVIEW: Saints at Devil's Gate: Landscapes Along the Mormon Trail


A beautiful art book from the Church Historian's Press, publisher of The Joseph Smith Papers.

From 1846 to 1869, some 70,000 Mormon pioneers traveled the Mormon Trail, the 1,300-mile route from Illinois and Iowa to Salt Lake City. In 2011, three award-winning Mormon painters decided to visit sites all along the historic route and capture the landscapes in oil. This full-color art book, featuring 52 landscape paintings, presents the fruit of their five-year project. Each painting is paired with journal entries or reminiscences from pioneers who made the journey. Essays by the authors and an artist interview illuminate both the art and the history of the trail.

The book gives written and visual context to the pioneers’ experience of the trail, bears witness to the land as it exists today, and links the experience of pioneers to the challenges of today.

Note: This book was published to accompany an exhibition of the same name at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City. Therefore, distribution of the book has been limited. Copies are available at the museum gift store, at, and at some independent bookstores in Utah.


The journey of the Mormon pioneers across the plains of the United States has been well-documented.  But I haven't seen a book quite like this one.  This book is a compilation of paintings that show some of the locations that the Mormon pioneers saw as they traveled cross country to the Salt Lake valley.  The work of three artists is included along with brief quotes from the journals and memoirs of a variety of pioneers.  This book is intended to highlight the gorgeous paintings that John Burton, Josh Clare, and Bryan Mark Taylor have completed.  There is an accompanying exhibit at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City.  I loved looking at the amazing artwork as well as reading the quotes that helped me imagine what it might have been like to witness these settings with the pioneers.  As I imagined what it might have been like to travel through what was then mostly wilderness, I got a feeling of profound loneliness.  These people sacrificed a great deal to be there and then struggled through sickness, accidents, exhausting walking, and cleaning and cooking.  When problems arose there was no 911 to call or cell phone to pull out, they only had themselves and the Lord to rely on.  I found it rather inspiring to read and look at this book and think about the challenges the pioneers experienced.  But it also inspired me with the wild beauty of some of these places.  And some of the quotes make it clear that the pioneers weren't blind to the beauty they saw around them.  Saints at Devil's Gate is a beautiful book that I can highly recommend to anyone interested in the landscapes that the pioneers found themselves passing through on their journey to Utah.

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